YU Raises Student Activity Fee
The student activity fee for all undergraduate students has been increased by 67% this year, to $250, in the first raise in the student activity fee and student activity budget in years. The budget is used by the Beren and Wilf student councils to fund all student run clubs and events on campus.
In a statement to The Commentator, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Vice President for University and Community Life, wrote, “After it was suggested by student leaders last year to increase it, the YU administration decided to increase the student activity fee from $150 to $250 annually. It will go to student events and programs. For example, we will be increasing the amount of service learning experiences and the amount of money we will be spending on Shabbat on both campuses.”
One of the student leaders referenced above by Rabbi Brander was former YSU VP of Classes Aryeh Minsky, who stated, “We found ourselves increasingly restricted [financially], both in terms of student council events as well as club events. For smaller events, we often had to cut things like food, and for the bigger events, we either had to take things away or charge more money.”
As reported in these pages last year, the student activity fee has traditionally been funnelled directly towards student council budgets. However, it remains to be seen if the increase will be allocated according to the old status quo, or if it will be divided amongst offices directly involved with student activities, like the Office of Student Life, and the student councils more generally.
Yeshiva College Sophomore Dov Alberstone said about the increased fee, “If fifty dollars a semester is all it takes to increase the quality of student activities at YU then I’m absolutely for it. But if the funds don’t end up going to the students then it sounds like a scam to me.”
When asked about the increase, Dean of Students Dr. Chaim Nissel said “The student councils and the Office of Student Life work tirelessly to provide the most enriching student experience we can and I am confident that the increased student activity fees will allow us to provide even more varied socially, educationally and spiritually rewarding student experience.”
While an increase in funding isn’t necessary for student councils on either campus to continue their key operations, several council presidents welcomed the possibility of additional funds.
SCWSC president Keren Neugroschl explained, “We are planning new events that are both co-ed and campus-specific and organizing initiatives to increase communication between the student body and student council. Extra funding would definitely be useful, but regardless of whether or not we get it we're working to make these projects happen.”
Zach Sterman, president of YSU, asked Senior Director of the OSL Rabbi Josh Weisberg how the budget increase would affect student government. According to Sterman, the increase in the student activities budget may have been suggested by student government to the OSL, but the actual increase was conducted by higher-ups in the administration. It is unclear at this point exactly who executed the increase.
The Commentator published an in depth report last semester detailing how funding for student councils is divided and apportioned.
The funding for each student council is distributed according to the size of the student population of each program. On the Beren campus, funding for the three student councils is divided as follows: SCWSC receives 52%, TAC 38%, and SSSBSC 10%. In the fall of 2015, the most recent year in which student populations are available, this amounted to $74,412 for SCWSC, $54,378 for TAC, and $14,310 for SSSBSC, for a total of $143,100. According to the Beren Office of Student Life, these percentages are based on an outline in the Beren student constitution, and were determined back in 1995.
These proportions have not changed since then, despite some minor fluctuations in student enrollment in both undergraduate colleges on the Beren campus. Based on available data, from fall 2012 to fall 2015, Syms-Beren saw an increase from 47 students to 138, an increase of about 50%, while Stern College decreased to from 968 students to 816.
The budgeting on Wilf is slightly more complicated, with some allotments changing each semester based on student enrollment in Yeshiva College and Syms-Wilf. There is often a minor shift in funding between the fall and spring semesters and a larger shift over the summer. According to Josh Weisberg and OSL Director of Student Events Linda Stone, this is based on a contract, signed by the Wilf Student Council presidents in the year 2012-2013, whereby the council presidencies were consolidated from seven to four.
Sterman outlined the way in which spending is approved by the student activity councils. The student council presidents are given a budget every semester to fund every club and event over the span of the semester. The presidents then receive event request forms from various clubs and student leaders, and it is the presidents’ job to decide how much to spend on each event.
Speakers are often the largest expense of the student budgets, and if the student council deems that a certain speaker will be of value or interest to the students, it will often spend between $100-$300 to bring in a speaker. The club sponsoring the event must find outside donors if the funds designated by the student council are insufficient. For example, most of the funds needed to bring political pundit Ben Shapiro to campus last year were provided by outside sponsors. Shapiro is a well known personality, and his speaking fee far surpassed what the student council was able to afford. Higher scale events, such as Chanukah Fest, also take up a large portion of the budget.
Last semester the OSL posed the question as to whether or not the previous allotment system had worked effectively. According to a survey conducted last year by the OSL, 70% of student respondents believe the number of events on campus is “just right.” Just 17% answered that there were “too many” events, while the remaining 13% responded that there were “too few.” The Commentator reported in the spring of 2017 that Dean Nissel was more than satisfied by that overwhelming response, although he stressed there is always room for improvement in bringing new and innovative events to an ever-changing student body.