The officers of the Yale College Council can term the first few weeks of the new activities fee as a success if they want to, but the numbers suggest otherwise. When the fee was approved this spring, the projected take-in was $215,000 — enough to cover a better Spring Fling, more campus-wide activities and increased funds for organizations and club sports. Now that 37 percent of students have declined to pay it, the fee will net only $164,000, or almost a quarter less than the council had projected.
The immediate response from the YCC was to say that the numbers weren’t that far off from what they expected. But if the council believes it can simply shrug off the high opt-out rate as though nothing happened, it will likely doom the activities fee to failure — along with the hopes that the fee might improve campus life.
To ensure the fee’s success, the YCC and the Dean’s Office had an obligation to do two things: Make clear that it was optional, and convince us why we should still pay. In the past few weeks, the council did a poor job of accomplishing either of those missions. Instead, it allowed general skepticism about the value of a new charge and a few e-mails from isolated critics to determine the outcome. There was never an effort — particularly for freshmen who missed the fee referendum in the spring — to explain in detail why the fee was worth paying. At the same time, the YCC missed opportunities to give a taste of what the new money would bring by, for example, announcing the Fall Show act earlier. As a result, for almost two-fifths of Yale students, the fee just wasn’t worth it.
What the YCC must do now, then, is make a concerted effort to show that the past few weeks are not an indication of how the activities fee will be administered. Starting today, the council must see it as its mission to prove that the fee is worthwhile. That means following through on the organization’s earlier promises of transparency, but more importantly, it means offering the kinds of results students expect for more money. It also means that students will, with good reason, hold the YCC’s choices for the Fall Show and especially Spring Fling to a higher standard than in years past.
The activities fee deserves a chance to succeed — after all, other schools have shown that optional fees can work, so much so that students don’t bat an eye at paying them. If administered well, a Yale fee has the potential to create more and better campus-wide events and strengthen extracurricular life. We hope the disappointing returns from the fee do not make it impossible for the YCC to facilitate the kind of activities that can convince the student body that an activities fee is valuable. But regardless, we continue to believe — as we said last semester — that the continuation of the fee should be up for another referendum this spring. The fee should be given a chance, and we hope it works, but it should be up to students to decide whether it stays.
Yalies are not, by nature, a stingy bunch, but students are understandably wary of paying for something when they aren’t certain of its value. And with 37 percent of undergrads already taking a pass on the fee, the YCC has little time to waste in making its case.