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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Lobo Letter

Student board must retain the right to oversee allocation of student fees

Faculty Senate President
fspres@unm.edu

Let’s talk about student fees. This academic year, the average undergraduate at UNM’s main campus is paying about $5,000 in tuition and $1,440 in fees. The net revenue of these mandatory student fees (not including special course fees) is about $30 million. About 50 percent of that is dedicated to debt service. Most of the $14.3 million that remains falls into a category called “student activity fees.”

So, how are these funds spent and who decides? Regents’ Policy 4.7 and University Business Policy 1310 (both available online) provide for a Student Fee Review Board to recommend how the student activity fees are allocated.

The SFRB, composed of seven students who are voting members and several non-voting advisors, typically requests proposals from units who desire funding from this pool, and then holds hearings to gather more information. After assessing all of this input, the SFRB votes on how much to recommend for each applicant unit. The units vary all the way from KUNM to CAPS, but also include the student health service, athletics, Information Technology and University Libraries.

The SFRB’s recommendations are conveyed to the Strategic Budget Leadership Team, which is composed of administrators, faculty, staff and the presidents of the two student government organizations, ASUNM and GPSA. The SBLT reviews the budget requests of the many parts of our complex institution and makes a series of recommendations to the president.

Although the SBLT can make different recommendations regarding the student activity fees from those of the SFRB, typically their conclusions mirror those of the SFRB, and at least they pass on the SFRB recommendations to the University president.

The president, in turn, formulates his budget request for the regents to consider. The regents are the final authority in approving the University’s budget for all of its activities in the fiscal year.

The regents can accept the president’s budget entirely, or modify it in any way they choose. They also receive the president’s recommendations of any increases in tuition and fees, and make those decisions as part of the budget process.

At the end of the day, the expenditures that are budgeted must equal the revenues expected so that the budget is balanced.

This process has worked fairly well for several years. The SFRB has taken its work seriously and has worked very hard to be fair and represent its constituents, the students of UNM.

In the last few budget cycles, the regents have exercised their authority to make changes to the recommendations they received regarding allocation of the student activity fees. In particular, they have moved more money into athletics than was recommended by the SFRB or the SBLT.

This past year, athletics received $4 million in student activity fees, or about 28 percent of the $14.3 million available. The other big expenditure is SHAC, which received $4.59 million, or 32 percent of the available funds. Together these two organizations will consume about 60 percent of this year’s student activity pool funds.

In an effort to codify this process, the regents’ Academic/Student Affairs & Research Committee on February 6 endorsed a proposal that would have the administration receive the SFRB recommendations for the four big units and then propose how to fund each of these from both student activity fees and from other sources. The SFRB recommendations on funds for student government and other student-only activities would flow through to the UNM budget unchanged.

Although the ASAR, which is composed of three regents and the presidents of the Faculty Senate, the Staff Council, ASUNM and GPSA, endorsed the above proposal, the next day the regents’ Finance and Facility Committee objected to this resolution.

Although not put in writing, my impression from the discussion is that some of the regents wish to exclude altogether from SFRB consideration the student activity fees that will be given to athletics, SHAC, University libraries and Information Technology.

This would strip out most of the funds available for SFRB recommendations.

Although this would stabilize the budgets of those units, it is on balance not a good idea. It corresponds to taxation without representation, which is never good. The president has stepped in, quite appropriately, to mediate the situation and to develop, with the leaders of GPSA and ASUNM, an acceptable compromise.

The Faculty Senate endorses this effort, realizing full well that at the end of the day the regents decide on the budget. But we do support the SFRB having the right at least to make informed recommendations about how student fees should be used.