“We can’t afford it.”
Any student trying to create change on campus has probably heard this line from the university administration before, whether while working on increasing the quality of dining on campus, decreasing the prices at campus-owned stores, or fighting for janitorial staff to have access to university libraries and athletics facilities.
But is it true? Would you know?
In 2002, the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) pursued an “Open The Books” campaign to attempt to have the university disclose more financial information to its students. As part of this group, we, alongside groups such as the Women’s Center and College Republicans, demanded accountability for how students’ money was being spent.
PSA also pursued making student government more transparent. We hoped that student government could lead by example. Quinten Steenhuis (H&SS ’04) introduced the Freedom of Information Act in 2002 and, one veto and rewrite later, a meeker version was almost unanimously passed by Student Senate in 2004.
In terms of student government, this is all ancient history. But I would like to congratulate the incoming student government on the occasion of their election. I would also like to make a challenge: Think beyond the activities fee.
Whether it’s being paid for via work, grants, loans, or rich parents, over $46,000 passes hands every year for every resident student attending Carnegie Mellon. When you look at that figure, though, you realize that the student activities fee is, quite literally, based on an error in rounding.
Carnegie Mellon students can’t afford to miss the big picture. While I could sit here and tout the university policy/student government line as to why tuition and the activities fee are completely different, the reality is that the distinction is artificial. How the university spends its — nay, how it spends your — money affects each and every one of you.
Don’t feel like you should wait for student government to come around before you make your voice heard. Deans, vice presidents, and even President Cohon all meet with students, and you all can, and should, be voicing your thoughts and concerns to them directly. If you’re so inclined, you can also contact your representatives in student government.
If enough students do this, perhaps one day student government will learn to follow the lead of the students and start caring about issues of significance, instead of mere rounding error.