Student Fee Committee Unit Survey
Representatives share their thoughts on the SFC
Eastern Oregon University students have several ways of keeping up with the various funded clubs and units on campus, from social media to press releases and even newsletters. For more behind the scenes information, especially on funding and support, the Student Fee Committee maintains an online archive of all its public minutes. The Voice looked into these minutes before when discussing the SFC, but spoke little with the units themselves. Early in fall term, however, The Voice reached out to 11 of the SFC funded units to gather their thoughts and opinions on the SFC and the current funding process. Outreach was made difficult due to confusing, and sometimes missing, contact information on various unit webpages.
Of the 11 units, three representatives have responded as of the time of drafting: Michael Hatch for the Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP), Professor Mike Heather for the theater department, and a third anonymous unit representative. For reference, the OAP has been an SFC funded unit for roughly 50 years, theater more than 20 years and the anonymous unit less than five years after having lost its funding previously. The survey consisted of 15 short and long response questions. In addition, Mike Heather was asked four unique questions in a separate interview.
All three representatives gave varying responses to the questions, though Hatch and the anonymous representative (who will simply be referred to as anonymous) were more positive while Heather was more critical of the SFC. To begin, unit representatives were asked how their, or their unit’s, experience had been during prior budgetary planning periods. Anonymous was satisfied and felt the SFC to be supportive and easy to work with. Heather was frustrated and felt the SFC lacked an understanding of what theater does for students. Hatch gave a more neutral response, describing the process as familiar and straightforward.
Next, units were asked if they felt satisfied with their treatment from the SFC. Anonymous said yes and Heather said no. However, Heather did elaborate on theater’s dissatisfaction in the separate interview, giving a multitude of reasons, including a misunderstanding of theater operations, reasons for theater’s increases in spending budget deficits and belief that the SFC focuses exclusively on the theater’s poor budget years (i.e., over budget years) while ignoring their good ones (under budget years). Heather noted how increasing material costs such as plywood increasing from 17 to 40 dollars a sheet, the inability for theater to reuse materials after fabrication, and the inconsistent nature of audience turnouts to offset costs, among other factors, are not fully understood or acknowledged by the SFC.
In summarizing these frustrations, Heather stated, “From theater’s point of view, the SFC has never understood what we do, how we do it no matter how often we try to explain it to them. They don’t reward us when we are under budget and they just get after us when we’re over, but we’re consistently over because of labor and material increases and to try to provide the best experience for our students.”
Hatch, who requested that any quotes from his responses be used in their entirety to avoid missing context, gave a detailed answer in the survey, stating:
“I believe the SFC is, for the most part, fair and equitable to most units. However, I know there are several units that continually run annual deficits and while the SFC may want to subsidize those units because they believe they serve the best interests of students, I do think there needs to be more accountability of those units for not staying within their allocated budgets.
During my tenure at EOU the budget allocated by SFC has always been below the amount requested by the OAP. This is likely a consistent experience across units. Advocating for my unit, I will say outdoor equipment is expensive. The OAP doesn’t charge students for most rentals, which lifts a major financial barrier for students in engaging in outdoor activities, but limits the OAP’s ability to generate revenue. Currently, the OAP generates about a quarter of its budget through revenue sources like gear rentals and climbing wall fees. While this helps augment the program budget and fund student employees, it doesn’t cover all the maintenance and replacement costs associated with maintaining a large inventory of outdoor equipment.”
The next several questions asked the representatives to discuss if they had difficulty getting their requested funding both prior to and during COVID-19 as well the most recent 2020-21 budget planning period, and if the SFC gave feedback. Anonymous described how, after initially losing funding, the unit made several changes to cut costs including covering expenses with donations and having students help with some of the work. Since being refunded, they keep budget costs and increases to a minimum and have had no serious issues.
Heather claimed the theater has never had an easy budget planning period, received no feedback from the SFC, and had their student incidental fees (SIF) budget cut by 75 percent during COVID-19.
Hatch gave detailed, neutral, answers. OAP has had a consistent process and no major budget complications from the pandemic. Hatch fairly recognized the SFC’s efforts to fund all units appropriately, especially given competing interests and ongoing budget constraints, but noted that the SFC has never been able to fully fund the OAP and wondered what criteria the SFC uses to evaluate its units. Hatch further noted that OAP drastically reduced its expenditures during COVID-19 and even ended up with a budget surplus of $4000. Hatch also discussed the budget rollover process and believes units should be allowed to keep budget surpluses by default without need to go through the approval process. Heather noted during the interview that Theater only received $4000 of the $11000 they had leftover during the 2016-17 budget year.
Moving away from specific experiences, the final questions focused on current and theoretical SFC practices. The first of these questions asked the units what their thoughts were on the SFC lacking a dedicated guideline or ratio for how it distributes funds. Heather believes the current system to be unfair and inappropriate while both Hatch and anonymous believe that uniform cuts, at least based on fixed percentages, would unfairly hurt some units more than others, though Hatch believes the SFC should have a set of consistent metrics to evaluate unit funding.
When further asked if a set of rigid or mandatory distribution guidelines should be implemented by the SFC, Heather believed such a move would be a step in the right direction while Hatch further elaborated on his belief that units should be funded individually, but a clear set of criteria should be in place. Anonymous did not answer claiming to be too ill informed.
Units gave their thoughts on the SFC using committee member awareness and familiarity with units and student involvement as a funding criteria. The responses were more negative. Hatch further reiterated their previous call for increased guidelines to compensate for bias while Heather called the system impossible due to inconsistent representation. Anonymous, however, was the harshest, stating, “That is a terrible idea. This seems like funding of ’pet projects’. If we are to truly offer a robust selection of student activities, there may very well be activities folks on the committee are not familiar with, especially if most of the members on the committee are from a particular college.”
All three representatives repeated these sentiments when asked whether they believe committee member bias and knowledge of units may cause an unfair distribution of funds. Heather suggested funds could be distributed by a non-student committee while anonymous suggested a student body vote could be implemented. It should be noted that the SFC does not actually allow committee members to vote on the final budgets of units they are directly involved in and that, according previous SFC chairman Zach Cahill, the SFC does attempt to maintain a diverse committee of students to represent all unit interests but have had limited applicants in recent times.
Lastly, representatives were asked to give their thoughts on the SFC folding units into academic programs, a recommendation by the SFC for both Theater and The Voice. Anonymous was a big proponent of the idea, believing it would protect units from funding cuts and force EOU to adequately fund the departments they belong to. Heather was also a proponent of the idea but was frustrated by the SFC’s handling of the transition thus far. According to Heather, the SFC has been pushing Theater toward academics without properly establishing the new funding system, defunding Theater outright without communication whether they would receive a new budget at all.
Once more, Hatch gave a detailed response and emphasized the need for clear funding criteria, telling the Voice:
“I’m concerned if the SFC doesn’t have or isn’t evaluating units utilizing a consistent set of metrics. There are many reasons to keep a program funded beyond mere financials. In a vibrant, inclusive, and representative society we support programs that broaden our understanding of culture, lift up minority voices, and support student health and well-being.
The key here is to implement a standardized set of evaluation criteria that are adaptable across time and space. Times change, values change, expectations change, and student interests change. Some programs over time lose their effectiveness and support of the student population while others gain in popularity and ability to connect with student interests.”
This concluded the SFC unit survey. All other unit representatives are still free to reach out to The Voice and complete the survey as they see fit. For more information on SFC practices and activities, see The Voice’s previous articles and the SFC public minutes.
SFC minutes examination: https://www.eou.edu/voice/2021/05/12/sfc-minutes/