Starting today through Wednesday, all American University undergraduates will have the chance to vote in a referendum on whether to increase funding for campus clubs and other student organizations. These groups get resources and support from the student activity fee, which is currently $88.50 per semester for full-time students. The referendum asks students whether that fee should be increased by $11.50 to $100 per semester. I voted "yes" on this referendum, and I think you should too.
Like all other students, I know how expensive this university is. My colleague Mark Lu wrote an informative piece on that matter in this publication. However, our clubs and organizations are worth the extra $20 per year. They create a sense of community and enrich students' time here, but they are consistently strained for resources. The activity fee that funds them has stayed the same for five years while costs consistently increase.
Ask any club leader and they will tell you that AU Club Council, which allocates funding, runs out of money every year without being able to give student groups the resources they need to continue to put on quality events for their members. Campus media organizations often have to cut back on projects like print editions in order to afford the equipment they need. The Student Media Board, which funds these organizations, recently expanded to include the Blackprint, an outlet for students of color. Media groups will need for funding to continue putting out top-notch content while also supporting new groups.
The student activity fee is the one cost we have at AU that directly benefits all students. While tuition goes to salaries and an often non-transparent bureaucracy, any student who wants to be involved on campus gets back what they put into student activities. If you ever see any of the exciting speakers, like Malala Yousafzai, brought to campus by the Kennedy Political Union, you benefit from the student activity fee. If you are in a competitive club that travels to conferences, like the debate or model UN teams, you benefit from the activity fee. If you pursue your passion for media by taking advantage of the WVAU broadcasting studio or the ATV film studio, you benefit from the activity fee. If you like to see artists and comedians like Hasan Minhaj on campus, you benefit from the activity fee. If you are at all involved with an organization on campus, you benefit from the student activity fee.
To sustain these benefits to students, funding needs to keep pace with inflation. AU has one of the lowest student activity fees among its peer schools. Even if the proposed increase to $200 dollars was passed, that would still be lower than Tufts University at $368 per year, Boston College at $344, and Washington University in St. Louis at $524. AU students put on impressive events for relatively little money. Increasing club resources will go a long way toward more and better programming and content from our campus organizations.
While students benefit from the clubs they join and the events the attend, there are also concerns about the transparency of the groups that allocate student money. These student-run groups, namely AU Club Council, Media Board, and Student Government do take meaningful steps to be transparent to the students they work with. All three have offices on the second floor of the Mary Graydon Center that are open throughout the week. Students are free to visit these groups to discuss any concerns they have. Student Government and AUCC publish all of their financial records online, except those that are contractually confidential. The Student Media Board has an empty budget page on their website, so there is an area that can be improved. In addition, the Undergraduate Senate, which creates and oversees the Student Government budget, has public meetings every Sunday where students can express their opinion on budget matters. These meetings are also live-streamed and posted on YouTube for anyone who can't attend in person. While transparency is a legitimate interest, these groups are transparent enough to avoid any concerns with giving them adequate funding.
Ultimately, the decision on this club funding referendum comes down to you. Do you want more and better club events and content for yourself and your friends? If so, invest in yourself and keep club funding up to the pace of inflation. This referendum is about supporting the best aspects of this campus, so we should support it in turn.