The University of New Mexico’s Student Fee Review Board (SFRB) held its first of two student forums on Thursday, Oct. 15, with close to 50 attendees and board members participating via Zoom.
This year, 30 programs have applied for recurring funding, with six asking for an increase of more than $100,000 over what the board recommended last year.
The SFRB is a student committee — consisting of five undergraduate and two graduate student leaders — that meets annually to draft recommendations on how approximately $12.6 million in student activity fees should be allocated.
Every year, after reviewing the written applications and hearing from program representatives, the SFRB hosts student forums designed to provide an opportunity for students to “voice their support or objections to funding decisions related to student fees,” according to the SFRB website.
After the forums, the board participates in deliberations, ultimately agreeing upon recommendations that are sent to the UNM Board of Regents for final approval.
Of the nearly $12 million total in activity fees that students pay each year, Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) receives the largest portion at $4.2 million. SHAC has played a leadership role in University-wide coronavirus response planning this year and requested an additional $130,553 dollars in funding.
UNM Athletics receives the next largest portion of student activity fees at $3.3 million. The pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for the beleaguered Athletics program — most of the fall season’s games have been canceled, compounding an almost two decade struggle to cover yearly expenses. In addition to its existing student activity fee appropriation, Athletics has requested an additional $285,701 for next year.
The Student Union Building — which has lost nearly all of its space rental revenue because of pandemic related social distancing — requested $2.2 million this year, $220,000 more than the board recommended in recurring and non-recurring funds last year.
Recreational Services is asking for $812,178 ($35.63/year for a full time student) — an increase of $127,548 – in student activity fees, in addition to the approximately $157 in annual debt service fees students have been paying on the recently completed $35-million dollar Johnson Gym renovation. The renovated space opened at a limited capacity last Monday.
In addition to these requests for additional funding, two student groups have asked for large appropriations to establish new programs.
In the wake of rising anti-Asian racism spurred by the pandemic, students have proposed the establishment of a new ethnic center dedicated to providing community and academic support to Asian and Pacific Islander students. They have asked for $171,680 in recurring funds.
And for the second year in a row, geography graduate students have presented the SFRB with a request for $212,676 in recurring funds to establish a center for the Advancement of Spatial Informatics Research and Education (ASPIRE). ASPIRE aims to bring together faculty with research portfolios in a broad range of Geographic Information Science subfields, including spatial modeling, geo-visualization, remote sensing, and spatial statistics, according to their website.
At Thursday’s forum, nearly three dozen students spoke on behalf of both of the proposed new programs, the Community Engagement Center, the libraries, the Global Education Office (GEO), the existing and proposed ethnic centers, Enlace, and Student Publications.
Kiaira Patterson – a student employee who spoke on behalf of the libraries – said, “I am a supervisor here at the library, and I have a lot of positive experiences working with the libraries ... I have worked an extended hour shift every semester since I started working here, and a lot of students find that extremely helpful especially having a safe place to go at night to study and be safe. I think it’s important we continue that program in the future,” Patterson said.
Isabel Meza — a third year international civil engineering graduate student — testified that the GEO provided her with a place to stay, helped her find furniture and has connected her with scholarship opportunities.
“They have several programs including the ‘Lobo Friend/Buddy’ program. They have a lot of social programs ... especially now during COVID times. They work very hard to try to get us connected,” said Meza.
Regan Ruffin, a third-year transfer undergraduate student and a voiceover intern for the Re-Educated podcast at the New Mexico Office of African American Affairs, spoke on behalf of African American Student Services.
“Being that I am a transfer student, coming here I was really nervous and going to the ‘Fro’ they were very supportive. They connected me with student organizations like BSU (Black Student Union), Black Student Alliance, PMES (Powerful Movement of Educated Sisters) and UNM Black,” Ruffin said.
Nearly a dozen students spoke on behalf of Student Publications — a group that has previously been allocated one time funding and is appealing to receive $85,000 in recurring funds for the first time — defending their case that the opportunities presented by the academic community provided on-the-job training and a necessary service to the University community.
“I am a Navajo student and I started my professional career at the Daily Lobo in August of 2019. Since the pandemic started, my work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and other publications, and I truly do believe that the Daily Lobo got me here,” communication and journalism undergraduate student Sharon Chischilly said. “I want future students to have the same opportunities that I did.”
If the SFRB were to approve all funding requests, student activity fees would increase by $1,041,554, or approximately $45 per student. Students currently pay approximately $550 in student activity fees each year, depending on enrollment status. This does not include debt service, student government, class or curricular fees.
Earlier this year, students circulated an online petition calling for a reduction in tuition and fees given the financial strain they have been experiencing due to the pandemic, as reported previously in the Daily Lobo.
Editor’s note: The Daily Lobo is the independent student newspaper of the University of New Mexico. This year Student Publications — including the Daily Lobo — have requested $85,000 in student activity fee funding.
Lissa Knudsen is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lissaknudsen