By Nora Van Horn, Claire Kelling, Latisha Franklin, Warren Sipe, Megan Minnich and Jake Snyder
In their capacity as President and Vice-President of the UPUA, Erin Boas and Najee Rodriguez published an op-ed on March 22, 2022. The subject was a recent Student Fee Board vote to make an exception to allow a hearing for a student poverty unit. The article contained misleading information that resulted in personal and baseless attacks on members of the fees committee. To echo one of the last students who spoke in public, we wish the full context had been given.
As members of the University Park Student Fee Board, our decision to vote “no” at a hearing for a recently proposed unit on student poverty was not “regardless of student poverty.“We believe that students experiencing poverty deserve systemic solutions.
We support centralized institutional support for students in need. However, the student poverty unit proposal had several serious shortcomings that revealed a lack of institutional commitment to this project. These flaws prevented us from granting an exception to the costs board proceedings to allow for a hearing so late in our process.
Now, the university has pledged to provide internal funding to start this tuition-free project. We can move forward with this effort by holding Penn State administrators accountable to ensure long-term support; we, as students, cannot solve student poverty alone.
To provide context for our decision, new expense claims include three steps: a written proposal, an eligibility review, and a hearing. The proposal, due in December, is usually longer than 10 pages and indicates whether the project meets our guidelines and procedures. Therefore, we are able to make a rigorous assessment before the hearing. The main benefit of the hearing is the opportunity to ask questions and hear answers — unfortunately for this proposal, the author was unable to attend the hearing.
The Fee Board actually received two proposals on this matter, the first was submitted three days before Monday’s hearing vote, and the second the day before. The initial proposal had three major problems beyond the timeline:
- The request for $80,000 did not include what that money would be used for – there was no university approved “campaign elements”. We need to know what we are funding, or line items, so we can determine if they meet our requirements. It is inconsistent with Fee Board procedures and with our basic responsibility to manage student money to attempt to determine basic eligibility without a line item. We cannot provide a blank check to the university administration.
- One of the proponents, who would oversee the new student poverty unit, later clarified that he did not endorse the proposal and I saw him a few hours ago he was submitted. Given that this proposal seeks to create new administrative positions, a lack of buy-in or even basic knowledge on the part of the administrators involved was extremely troubling. A potential conflict of interest was also noted in the assignment of program responsibilities.
- The proposal did not specify whether the university would share the costs and for how much. High tuition fees, low stipends and salaries, and other university-controlled factors all contribute significantly to student poverty. The university asks the students to impose themselves to solve a problem caused by the university and Is have the necessary resources, clearly indicated by the fact that this unit will now receive funding next year without tuition fees. This discussion needs more time, time that we don’t have.
As a result of these and other concerns, a vote on a hearing was removed from the Fee Board’s agenda on Saturday, March 19, and a new university-approved proposal has been promised within the next few days.
The second proposal was sent to the Fee Board on Sunday afternoon March 20 24 hours ahead of Monday’s hearing decision. Instead of $80,000, he asked for $200,000 for a annual allowance, this is no longer a pilot program, meaning that students commit to it indefinitely. The proposal stated that it was just core funding — the university can come back to the Fee Board every year to ask for more money. No explanation was provided for the sudden increase of 150% in the requested amount. The proposal itself, and the precedent it creates, will have profound impacts on future students and needs to be thoroughly investigated.
This part is important: our vote finally concerned the advisability of granting a exception to allow this hearing so late in the process, it was not a normal hearing. All these questions and concerns without enough time remaining in our debate process all have a profound impact on our ability to grant an exception for this hearing.
This brings us to the moment of the proposal. Proposals are due in December. Our policies (page 4) indicate that we are not expected to consider new fee requests submitted during the spring semester. This calendar was not “in accordance with UPSFB governance procedures [and] Strategies.”
When it comes to previous, the a the other time we authorized a new overdue fee request was from University Health Services last year when they submitted a proposal almost the same to those of the previous year (a sentence has been deleted). The proposal was for the same level of funding for an initiative that was due to be submitted in December on a technical point only. UHS was dealing with a pandemic and welcoming a brand new director. This is absolutely no comparing apples to apples: A familiar return request submitted on February 3, weeks before the end of the hearings, against an all-new and changing proposal days before the final vote.
However, some members of the Fee Board insisted on the moment was not a problem.
This is unfortunately not realistic. Even ardent supporters of this initiative indicated an extreme lack of availability through a When2Meet survey organized by the Chairman of the Fee Board. Of the 140 hours of voting, which included 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day possiblewe had enough people to even do business, for only seven hours. Unfortunately, that’s how this semester point works. Nonetheless, we are committed to maximizing our concurrent availability to deliberate and extensively support student services while urging an academic response.
Students experiencing poverty deserve systemic solutions. That’s why we’re so happy to hear that a centralized effort on student poverty, made possible through all the incredible work of the Student Advisory Council on Student Poverty, will moving forward next year with the full support of the university’s internal funding and without any contribution to tuition fees. This is great news, and the entire Advisory Board should be proud of this achievement! We hope the university will continue to show this commitment and go above and beyond because students experiencing poverty deserve it – and because we as students cannot and should not solve student poverty alone. .
On the Fee Board side, we care about student poverty and want sustained, long-term academic support for students experiencing poverty. We hope you will consider our point of view. We appreciate your participation in the Fee Board process and hope it continues.
We have the opportunity to celebrate the start of the centralized effort on student poverty this year. To keep moving forward—for students experiencing poverty and the student body—we must value accurate information and accountability from our university and student leaders.
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