SAFEguarding student life: Vote yes on fee reforms

December 1, 2010

“As students concerned with building a campus community … we believe that a current systematic neglect of student life issues means a neglect of the whole person. The Main Campus manifests this neglect primarily in areas of the funding of student organizations and activities.”
These words are not recent—they were written by student leaders in a report on student life at Georgetown in the spring of 1999, but unfortunately they ring just as true nearly 11 years later. Our student activities budget continues to languish, and the gap between us and our peer schools continues to grow at a dramatic rate as a result. The student body must act together to remedy this growing problem through the passage of Student Activities Fee and Endowment Reform.
Ten years ago, largely in response to the 1999 report, students voted to establish a yearly Student Activities Fee. This was a marked departure from previous policy, as students were taking it upon themselves to administer and distribute activities funding independently for the first time. The referendum creating the fee also created a Student Activities Endowment held in shares of the University endowment. Half of the $100 Student Activities Fee went into the endowment each year, with the hope that it would grow in value to the point that its yearly interest would eliminate the need for the fee altogether in about a decade.
Today, it is clear that this vision is unrealizable. Real costs have risen dramatically for clubs as inflation has driven prices up, while the University has exacerbated the situation by increasing reservation fees on student space. This year, the Student Activities Commission was forced to make across-the-board cuts to its clubs due to unanticipated shortfalls.
The University’s failure to provide the $3 million it promised and the volatility of the stock market have hobbled the Student Activities Fee Endowment. It now holds approximately $2 million, nearly $8 million short of what its overly-optimistic creators envisioned it would be today.
Meanwhile, peer universities have continued to widen the gap in activities funding. While Georgetown has allocated approximately $350,000 per year from the fee since its inception, last year alone Stanford collected nearly $2.5 million, and Duke nearly $1.4 million. Neither school enrolls as many students as Georgetown does.
The Georgetown University Student Association, having heard the concerns of advisory board members and club leaders alike, has determined that student activities at Georgetown have reached a breaking point. This fall, they launched an intensive listening campaign to solicit ideas on how the Student Activities Fee could be improved, holding a series of town halls and open meetings for the Georgetown community to provide suggestions. The result of this semester-long process is the SAFE Reform referendum, which will be voted on by the Georgetown student community on Dec. 7 through 9.
We believe that the SAFE Reform proposal is the silver bullet to solve the student activities shortfall. It proposes that the whole Student Activities Fee go toward student activities. This would stop contributions to the SAFE, leaving that $2 million dollars to continue accruing interest within the larger University endowment. The reform also proposes that the fee increase by $25 next year and $25 the year after that, bringing it up to $150 during the 2012–13 school year.
These two provisions would bring the amount available every year to approximately $1,050,000. Finally, the reform would tie the fee to inflation beginning in 2013–14 and allow the student activities funding mechanism to allocate the interest gained on the Fee Endowment. These measures would finally create a sustainable system of student activities funding at Georgetown that would improve our competitiveness with peer schools.
If this referendum passes, it will mean a cultural change for student life on campus. Gone will be the culture of austerity, which has too often required advisory boards to tell clubs what not to do, rather than to help them make their goals a reality. Suddenly on the table are chances to offset dues for club sports, to increase opportunities to give back through the Center for Social Justice, or to mitigate creative constraints placed on the performing arts by tight budgets.
As SAFE is still unlikely to reach its original goal even 20 years from now, we Hoyas must acknowledge that the system as it stands is unsustainable. In the face of this harsh reality, it’s time to take matters into our own hands once more. We encourage all students to vote yes on SAFE Reform.

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    An excellent op-editorial. I just want to make one point to counter one of the points vote no side has been making.

    Q: “The Student Activities Fee was implemented so students in the future don’t have to pay fees at all. By halting our contributions to the endowment, we’re robbing future students of a no-fee world.”

    A: Yes, it’s true. If we stop contributing to the endowment, future students will have to pay for their student activities fee, just like we do.

    First, the proportion they will be paying is so minuscule compared to their tuition, room and board that the savings from not having a fee does not justify diverting thirty years’ or more worth of current students’ fees — millions of dollars — to do so.

    Second, even if we think the savings aren’t minuscule, the amount of money is _still_ not going to be adequate. Students in 2030 will get the inflation-adjusted amount of whatever $350,000 is (or less), which we have shown is already *presently* inadequate for clubs and student life.

    Let me show by example. Imagine if, instead of 2001, GUSA and the students implemented the fee in 1980. In 2010, the endowment has finally matured. Hurray! cry grateful students. Thirty years’ worth of students, from the past, from 1980-2010, are on hand to symbolically hand current students’ a check from the endowment for the amount this year they won’t have to pay. You know how much that check is worth for every student?

    $50. FIFTY DOLLARS. It would be the same as if those 30 generations of students had just paid $50 for themselves, instead of an additional $50 to the endowment for the future students (inflation downward adjusted, of course). Tuition today is $51,543. $50 represents a savings of (wait for it) 0.097%. That’s less than one tenth of one percent. Let me repeat, THIS ENDOWMENT WILL HAVE SAVED STUDENTS LESS THAN ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT OF THEIR TOTAL BILL. And that’s what it’s going to be whether it’s now or in 2030.

    And it will still be inadequate! As we’ve seen this year, SAC and other organizations had to make across-the-board cuts of almost 30%. And that’s not to mention the mindset SAC already has to make, as Adam and Sam point out above, of a denier of funds rather than an enabler of student life.

    In short, all this talk of robbing the ‘future’ is ridiculous. We’re robbing ourselves by not contributing the money now for a flourishing student life worthy of our school and our peer schools.

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