October 14, 2004

Student Fees Committee Discusses Financial Issues

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The newly formed Student Fees Committee convened yesterday in White Hall to discuss the financial concerns of students and the topic of “nickel and diming.” Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, and Carolyn Ainslie, vice president of planning and budget, were in attendance.

The committee, comprised of two-thirds students and one-third staff, went over a survey to be distributed in November. “Nickel and diming,” a term used frequently throughout the meeting, was defined as fees Cornell should not be imposing and which appeared burdensome on the student.

“This student committee will be a University-wide, administration-supportive, student-led initiative,” said Josh Katcher ’06, student trustee and the founder of the committee. “Its goal is to make sure the University is aware of what is on the students’ minds.”

The initial goal of the committee is to make and distribute a survey that will outline the basic concerns of the students. After analyzing the data and feedback to see exactly which fees are considered of highest concern, the final goal of the committee would be to see what can be done to better the problem.

When asked what could be expected from the committee and administration, Ainslie replied, “To actually have a more systematic understanding about the fees.” According to Ainslie, all information about student concerns with “nickel and diming” has been anecdotal. “It will be helpful to have something very focused,” Ainslie said.

One topic that students discussed at the meeting was the charge to use the gym facilities. While gym access at other Ivy League institutions might appear free, Katcher went on to say, these fees are really embedded in other payments and are being paid for somehow. This concept, known as revenue neutral, describes how “if one fee is cut it has to come from somewhere else,” Katcher said.

“It is unrealistic to say, students find fees for fitness center objectionable — make it free,” Murphy said, “But is it more appropriate to have the fee imbedded?”

The majority of the meeting was spent reviewing the draft of the survey and discussing what type of language and layout would be most appealing for the final version. Many of the questions involved judgement and imprecise amounts of fees.

“Perspective is what we want,” said Jackie Koppell ’05, senior student-elected trustee, “It is not the actuality of what the students are paying, but what they feel like they are.”

A problem, according to Katcher, is that the excess charges put the student in an aggressive mindset and “make them not want to give money back as alumni.”

One issue discussed was that “many Cornell students may be paying exorbitant amounts and don’t really care,” said Erica Kagan ’05, Student Assembly president.

Discussing the specific aspects of the survey, it was mildly disputed which aspects were legitimate or not.

“It is one thing if its impeding your academic performance and another if it’s keeping you from signing up for a gym class,” said Prof. Lisa Earle , plant breeding and genetics.

Before leaving the meeting, Susan Murphy said that she “encourages students to ‘poke’ at the survey because they are going to be the ones who make the difference in what is done.” Having a mix of students and staff was critical for Josh Katcher in his formation of the committee. “When we do make recommendations it is going to be something they have to take seriously,” he said.

A final version of the survey is scheduled to be available to the student body early in November.

Archived article by Emily Gordon
Sun Staff Writer