Use of student fees criticized

Thousands spent on weekend retreats

By Jason Kelly

Contributing Writer

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013

SGA

CFF Archive

Students are concerned that the Activity and Service Fee funds may not be allocated properly. Many wish the funds were used elsewhere.

As UCF students grow protective of their pocketbooks amid tuition hikes and administrative salary raises, some say it’s time to trim the fat from the student-funded $18.9 million Activity and Service Fee budget.

Like so many semesters before, thousands of students will line up in Millican Hall or log onto myUCF Friday to pay their tuition and a laundry list of additional fees. One such charge, the Activity and Service Fee, will be collected to help fund almost $19 million worth of student services and events.

At a rate of $10.79 per credit hour for Florida residents, the fee may seem small, but it will generate the largest ASF budget in UCF history, which funds the Student Government Association and its affiliated agencies such as the Recreation and Wellness Center, the Student Union and the Office of Student Involvement.

For Aerospace Engineering junior Addi Stone that amounts to a pretty penny. By the time she graduates, she will have paid nearly $1,400 worth of ASF fees.

“It’s only $10.79; that’s about the cost of two meals on campus,” she said. “But it adds up.”

Stone said she values SGA services such as free Scantron forms and complimentary printing, but other luxuries she could do without.

She said the forthcoming satellite fitness center and mind-body studio at Knights Plaza, which will feature classes on everything from hot yoga to Pilates and even meditation, is an unnecessary luxury.

“Give me an extra library, maybe, but an extra gym? That’s not necessary,” she said. “I feel like the budget doesn’t need to be so high. Most people have iPods. We don’t need TVs in the Student Union playing music 24/7.”

Because the ASF budget is directly paid for by the student body, Stone thinks a larger chunk of it should be spent on funding student organizations.

For the current 2012-2013 fiscal year, $9.87 million — 52 percent of the budget — will be spent on compensating employees in 18 departments and agencies, while about $150,000 is specifically budgeted for registered student organizations — about a quarter of what it was four years ago, despite a $5 million budget increase.

Jazmine Salas is vice president of the UCF chapter of the Student Labor Action Project, an organization that advocates student rights.

“I feel like the way funding is distributed isn’t always fair,” she said. “The budget benefits certain organizations more than others.”
Salas doesn’t find it funny that the OSI will spend twice the amount of money on bringing in comedians to campus this year than SGA will grant in scholarships.

“Our top priority should always be education, and I feel like we’ve definitely lost our focus,” she said. “This is a university, not a resort. We should highlight our academic programs over our amenities.”

The senior social work major isn’t fond of some of student government’s expenditures last semester.

University records reveal that both SGA’s executive and legislative branches used students’ dollars to pay for separate out-of-town retreats at hotels.

On Aug. 2 and Aug. 3, SGA’s executive branch spent a total of $3,250.66 on a retreat that featured a catered lunch in the Student Union, a trip to Boing Jump Center, bus rental and lodging and a catered lunch buffet at Tampa’s Mainsail Suites Hotel.

On Oct. 20 and Oct. 21, SGA’s legislative branch spent a combined $8,467.12 on a retreat at the Hilton Melbourne Rialto Place hotel, which also included bus rental and lodging. Of that amount, $4,999 was spent on catering costs.

For the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1, SGA’s legislative branch is slated to receive $8,000 for its retreat, although the final ASF budget has not yet been approved.

Other departments and agencies, such as the Multicultural Student Center, also spend ASF dollars on retreats, although the amounts vary.

SGA public relations coordinator Oluwafunlola Falade and comptroller Jason Wojkiewicz, neither of whom attended the retreats, said in an interview that the functions allow new campus leaders to familiarize themselves with their roles in SGA through team-building activities.

“Think of it as an orientation for any job,” Falade said. “If we did not have an orientation to get familiar with roles and procedures, what you’re instead doing is paying an ASF fee for us to learn on the job for two months.”

Though UCF’s sprawling 1,415-acre campus boasts 156 buildings, Wojkiewicz says it’s not uncommon for SGA retreats to be hosted off campus.

“A lot of times, because of the vast number of people that there are, they generally do not take place on campus,” Wojkiewicz said.

As a campus leader, Salas understands the importance of team-building activities, but she believes hosting the retreats on campus would be a far more responsible move.

“Thousands of dollars? That is a lot of money,” she said. “You could hire someone who specializes in team building to put on a workshop and that would cost a couple hundred dollars, at most.”

Salas said the money spent on these weekend retreats amounts to what most registered student organizations spend in a year.

Of the 20 RSOs that received funds from the 2012-2013 ASF budget, eight received $8,000 or more. Starting with the 2013-2014 fiscal year, student organizations are no longer permitted to be listed as line items on the ASF budget; however, they can receive ASF dollars through the senate bill process.

SGA also spent $56,500 on lobbying firm GrayRobinson, $3,000 on a calendar advertisement deal with 24seven Pizza Enterprise, Inc. and $41,274.27 worth of promotional items including more than 20,000 T-shirts, sunglasses, koozies, reusable cups, cleaning cloths, pom-poms and rain ponchos.

“If we really want to invest in our students, then we have to put that moneyback into the classroom — that should be our priority,” Salas said. “The gym is nice. People really love the gym. But when it comes before our education, then we need to cut back.”

Wojkiewicz and Falade encourage students to provide feedback on SGA’s services and other budget expenses, and they welcome students’ new ideas.

“If students have specific feedback that they want to give us about the budget or the expenses, we need to hear that,” Wojkiewicz said. “We want to hear those things,” Falade added. “When we don’t hear it, it puts us at a disadvantage. We definitely want to be on a level playing field when it comes to helping students.”

Ajeeta Khanna contributed to this report.

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