Making our case for the activities fee

Numbers are a funny thing. Even the simplest ones can trip up the best of newspapers with the best intent. A recent article about the student activities fee, “YCC sees large fee opt-out” (9/20), seems to be the latest victim.

Because of the numbers, the article downplayed a seminal event. Yale students now have an autonomous source of funding for their activities — funding that’s independent from tuition changes, from varying yield from the endowment, from the whims of administrators, and recurring every year.

It’s not a small amount. It’s over $160,000. That is a lot of money and a lot of activities — and it’s a pretty reasonable amount for the first year of the fee.

The story of the activities fee is pretty simple. Eight months ago, many people (78 percent) said they wanted to do it. In September, when the moment came to actually pay up, fewer people decided to (63 percent). This should come as a shock to no one who’s ever tried to collect optional money.

It certainly was not a shock to us, and that’s why we’re not going to have to backtrack and make budget cuts.

The article also compared Yale’s opt-out numbers with Harvard’s. Now Yale-Harvard comparisons are always sticky, and this one is especially so. We called Harvard Undergraduate Council Vice President — and former Treasurer — Clay Capp to get to the bottom of the comparison. He said their fee has a slightly different history than ours.

Harvard’s started at $10. In 1981.

It is hard to make a valid comparison between a brand-new opt-out fee and a fee that has been an institutionalized part of the undergraduate bill before most current students were born. Capp told us that when Harvard’s fee was instituted, it took a while for students to warm up to it.

Capp only knew figures dating back to the early ’90s. If we had Harvard’s numbers from 1981, though, we would have been happy to compare them.

But the question on your mind should be: What do all these numbers add up to for me?

Our answer: The activities fee means that this year is going to see a marked improvement in campus life at Yale. It fills the funding void for a long list of integral Yale activities, events and groups that are habitually cash-strapped. The activities fee provides the money in a way no other source has, and it guarantees that this money will be there in the future.

For one, Fall Show is already bigger than ever before. Last year, there was no Fall Show. This year is the first time there have been two acts. Ed Helms from “The Daily Show,” who finished first in a student poll, is coming. And “Saturday Night Live” comedian Horatio Sanz is going to join us, too, along with his sketch comedy troupe.

Winter Ball, which had a small turnout last year, is going to be expanded into a school-wide formal dance like most schools have and many Yalies have long requested. A larger winter arts festival will give needed support to campus artistic groups. A host of Harvard-Yale festivities will make the Game better than it has ever been. And just wait for Spring Fling.

We’re also going to earmark money for college-wide events started by organizations outside the YCC and work with them to put on the events, too. So we’re expecting a few new Yale traditions to get started in the coming months, especially ones that bring different residential colleges together. We’re also going to guarantee tens of thousands of dollars in much-needed funding for club sports so that basic things like finding a uniform and getting to games will be a less of a travail in coming months. And the Undergraduate Organization Funding Committee’s budget will be greatly increased, meaning a number of groups will have the resources to do more than they ever have in the past.

Given all these benefits, the young fee is a real bargain, too. It is the cheapest in the Ivy League by far. We also specifically asked the University to increase its financial-aid budget to anticipate costs of the activities fee. That means students on financial aid are receiving extra funds this fall so they do not have to choose between supporting campus activities and having enough money.

Sounds like a lot to keep track of? Each college has a YCC member who has been designated to make sure that the college council, SAC and everyone else in the college understands the fee — and more importantly, how to benefit from it. As soon as we start allocating money, for the first time ever, the YCC budget will be accessible online at yalestation.org. And always feel free to e-mail questions about the activities fee to ycc@yalestation.org or to either of us.

As you can probably tell, the YCC is excited about what this year is going to hold for activities, for club sports, for individual organizations and for the campus as a whole. We know a lot of you are as well. And by the end of the year, the extra benefits from the activities fee will add a lot more than any numbers could describe.



Marissa Brittenham, a junior in Berkeley College, is vice president of the Yale College Council. Steven Syverud, a senior in Branford College, is the YCC president.

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