New fee option sparks debate

As the deadline for opting out of the Yale College Council’s student activities fee nears, some on campus have voiced concerns about the lack of direct communication between the YCC and students explaining the fee and how to waive it.

While the fee is automatically billed to students’ bursar accounts, students can choose to opt out of the fee through the Student Information Services Web site. But some students said they were unaware of this fee cancellation process, and although parents have been notified of the procedure to opt-out of the fee, it can only be waived by someone with a NetID and password. Last night, in a public move against the fee, a widely-sent e-mail urged students to decline to pay.

Students voted overwhelmingly in favor of the $50 activities fee in a January referendum last year in which 45 percent of the student body participated — the highest the YCC has seen for a vote or election in at least five years. The fee will finance events such as Spring Fling and the Fall Show.

But in the e-mail last night, sent 10 days before the deadline to opt out, Daniel Wiznia ’06, on behalf of a body calling itself “Students for Responsible Student Governance,” instructed students on how and why they should waive this charge. Calling the fee a “slush fund,” Wiznia said the YCC should conduct fund-raisers to collect money and expressed dissatisfaction with the process of last spring’s referendum.

“I think now you really have to go out of your way to waive the fee,” he said. “It’s really not fair.”

Wiznia’s e-mail claimed the YCC is secretly billing the entire student body and that paying the fee will decrease the council’s accountability to students, among a list of 10 reasons to opt-out of the fee.

But YCC President Steven Syverud ’06 said he does not believe Wiznia’s claims or his reasons for opting out of the fee have any merit.

“I think each of the reasons is categorically wrong,” Syverud said. “It would be a waste of time to even address them.”

Syverud said a letter, which was sent along with students’ financial statements and went out to the parent of every student at Yale in April, “clearly states what the fee is and how you can opt out.” But some students said they never learned of this letter and still did not know how to opt out of the fee when interviewed prior to receiving Wiznia’s mass e-mail.

“I didn’t even know that I was going to be charged anything for anything,” Tommy Crawford ’09 said. “That’s terrible if the students don’t know about it.”

Wiznia’s e-mail was sent after many interviews for this story had already been conducted. Both Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg and Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said before the e-mail was sent that they had not been approached with grievances from students yet.

“I haven’t received any complaints personally, and I have had people come up to me … all saying how excited they are about the potential that the revenue has created for a really good fall show and a good spring band,” Salovey said.

Trachtenberg said that she expected if any complaints were voiced, they would likely be made after the deadline, Sept. 15, when students would realize they had missed the chance to opt out.

None of the students surveyed prior to Wiznia’s e-mail had opted out of the fee, although some said they likely would. Some knew about the fee and its uses, while others were not aware the fee existed.

While Beth Roy ’09 said she was not aware of the fee, and will now opt out, Jason Lacerna ’07 said he had not known about the fee, but will not choose to opt out of it.

“I don’t really care, it just gets billed to my parents, I guess,” Lacerna said. “But I can see how someone not in my situation would mind.”

The YCC will not know how much money the fee has raised until the deadline to opt out has passed, but based on opt-out rates from schools with similarly structured activities fees, former YCC Treasurer Andrew Schram ’06 has estimated that the fee will bring in $215,000.

Part of the money will go towards bringing back the Fall Show, and improving events such as the Winter Arts Festival, Winter Ball and Spring Fling. Some will be distributed to club sports, and the rest will be distributed to student groups throught the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee and the new Intercollegiate Initiative Fund, which gives money to students who propose events for the wider student body rather than a single residential college. The YCC will accept proposals for the new fund throughout the year, Syverud said.

“Once we know how much money we have, we’ll begin talking to groups and accepting proposals,” Syverud said.

Syverud said the YCC will publish its expenditures on the YaleStation online portal, so students can see where the activities fee money is going.

“We’re also going to do much more this year than we ever have in the past to be more transparent about where our money’s going,” Syverud said.

Yale students paid a similar activities fee about 25 years ago, Trachtenberg said, but some students complained that the process for waiving the fee was not sufficiently publicized, and the fee was integrated into general tuition.

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