Students question Student Success Act fees
By Matthew Hunt and Ellis Cross
October 30, 2012
With university budget surpluses exceeding $7 million in the past three years without the Student Success Act fees, questions are raised about the need for new fees, the act itself and the missing Advisory Committee. The Student Success Act, which was voted on by the Student Senate, assigned a fee of $75 per full-time student, $50 for part-time student and $25 for summer classes. It also mandated an Advisory Committee, but after six months it has yet to be appointed. The Advisory Board is supposed to be made up of 6 voting members with the SGA president voting in case of a tie. Three members are to be appointed by the university president and three appointed by the Student Government Association president. The Student Success Act has provided over $300,000 in new student fees this semester without supervision of the Advisory Committee. Missouri Western students never voted on the new student fee. At the time of the Student Success Act vote in April, SGA officials said that there wasn’t enough time to do a student vote before the administration would have to cut student services to balance the budget. To avoid the cuts, the Student Success Act was hurried through to fund student services and save them from the chopping block. In initial forums with students and Student Senate before the Student Success Act passed, it was clear that the Advisory Committee would have a great deal of power and flexibility. “The Advisory Committee does have the power to reduce the fee or terminate it,” SGA President (at that time) Alison Norris said in a public hearing in the hall on the ground floor of Blum Union just weeks before the act was passed. No one argued with Norris even though the room was filled with SGA Senate, Western administration and faculty. “We have it (legislation) in there to remain flexible for the Advisory Committee,” SGA Chair of the Budget Committee (at that time) Amanda Johnson said during that meeting. The common belief that was propagated during these hearings was, that an Advisory Committee would be formed with authority to affect the fee amount. Griffon News has received a copy of the act from Student Affairs Administrative Coordinator Kathy Kelly, which states “[t]he committee also does not retain the authority to change the fee amount.” As the April 2012 SGA Senate meeting progressed, the gavel fell and SGA President Jacob Scott clearly announced the last vote was to amend the Student Success Act to not allow the Advisory Committee the power to raise the amount of the fee. Afterward, Clifford Peterson asked for clarification from the SGA sponsor of the bill, Johnson. Peterson asks if the committee would be able to reduce the fee and Johnson replied 'yes.' Student Gov. (at the time) Peter Gregory mentioned the last line, which states that all changes must go through the SGA. Then Gregory suggested removing the second to the last sentence of the act, which removed the possibility for the committee to raise the amount of the fee but would allow the committee to lower it. The vote was unanimous to remove this sentence. With that vote the power of the committee to change the fee amount went away. More important than the committee's powers is the fact that after six months of the act's passage mandating its formation, the committee doesn't exist. "We are waiting until Mel Klinkner's position is filled before creating the committee," Scott said. Many of those who pushed for the Student Success Act are no longer on campus. The SGA members that were involved and are on campus are Student Gov. Brian Shewell and Scott. “I think if I had to do it all over again I would,” Scott said. Scott does not stand alone in his support of the Student Success Act. Shewell also believes it is still a good idea. “I co-authored the act, and it is still something that is needed,” Shewell said. “With the act, the university can start rebuilding our reserves with money they were going to give to these programs that the act is now helping to support.” The present reserves are at $8.3 million. That is a 10-year high. That high has been obtained without a single dollar provided by the Student Success Act's new student fees to support student services. “The Student Success Act was created for the sole purpose to ensure student approved fees for programs and services for students,” Scott said. “SGA was aware of the lack of funding from the state as well our budgetary problems. “We took it upon ourselves to try to do what we could with what we had to correct the problem.” The “problem” at the time was a looming cut of 12.5 percent proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon. That cut would have meant $2.5 million less in state appropriations. Vice President of Financial Planning at the time was Klinkner. He was looking for a way to support student services and supported the Student Success Act. The SGA considered Recreation Services, Center for Academic Support, Student Success Center, Student Life and Career Services as the five main areas to support. The Student Success Act does spell out support for these programs on 2011-12 budget levels. The Memorandum of Understanding of the Student Success Act mentions the powers of the Advisory Committee and limits them to massaging the fee allocations among the five areas and they have the ability to report abuse of power to an Administrative Review. There is no mention of a way for the Advisory Committee to terminate this fee, even if the committee existed. All powers of changing the fee or eliminating the fee are up to the Student Senate and has to be amended by a 75 percent vote.