The University of Minnesota’s graduate student government is aiming to introduce a campuswide referendum to place stipulations on mandatory student fees.
The Council of Graduate Students' proposal would require the creation of a student advisory board when mandatory student fees are introduced. Additionally, it seeks to place a two percent annual increase cap on all mandatory fees.
The referendum would be placed on the all-campus election ballot in April, if approved. It comes after the University implemented a mandatory one-time fee for academic records, which many graduate students say is an additional fee they do not need.
In preparation for another potential student fee, COGS wants these stipulations implemented to get students more involved in the process.
“There is no condition ... to communicate to students that they are going to levy a fee,” said Deepak Haarith, COGS vice president.“We are just trying to make sure that graduate students don’t get any shocks.”
Currently, the Student Services Fee already has a growth cap. In 2017, the state passed a law prohibiting the fee from increasing by a margin of more than two percent, unless otherwise voted on by the student body. COGS Speaker Scott Petty said that this rule should apply to every mandatory fee and that having student involvement is equally important in the conversations about fees.
“If your unit is going to be funded by a mandatory fee ... that means you invite students in to your administrative function and that there needs to be a student advisory component,” he said.
Getting the referendum on the all-campus election ballot requires student support. COGS leadership has to gather at least 600 hand-written signatures before the election. Last year, only 400 signatures were required.
Digital signatures do not count, which Haarith said makes it especially difficult and time-consuming for the graduate student government. However, Haarith said COGS leadership hopes that digital signatures will be allowed in time for the upcoming election and is currently working with Student Unions and Activities.
COGS President Kriti Agarwal said overall there is not enough student involvement in making decisions about mandatory fees but that a student advisory board can remediate that.
“I think from a student perspective, it gives you a better understanding and it gives some level of comfort when you know ... that there were students involved who deemed that these services merit this fee,” Agarwal said.
The goal for this referendum, Agarwal said, is to look out for students and student interests. She said it is frustrating when there is a lack of communication between administration and students on what a fee is paying for and when it will be introduced.
“That’s what my aim is — to add accountability, to add information,” she said. “Every dollar matters when student debt is already such a big crisis.”