ASWOU makes a million dollar deal with WOU administration

Administration denies ASWOU the ability to collect IFC fees, instead offering a one million dollar stimulus

Sydney Carpenter | News Editor

Across Oregon, many universities are converting a majority of in-person classes to online due to COVID-19, Western is one of them. On Aug. 18, a group designated as the “reopening committee” voted in favor of Western holding 95% of its classes online. 

Based on the Tuition & Fees for the 2020 to 2021 academic year, student governed fees — such as Incidental Fees — could not be applied on the fall bill. At the time of approval, fee application was dependent on course delivery. If a student does not attend an in-person class on campus, then the fee would not be applied to their bill.

As a result of the online conversion, the Incidental Fee Committee estimated collecting only 5% of their anticipated 1.9 million dollar budget for fall term.

“I was on the committee … designed to reopen campus in a safe way, but I was the only student on that committee,” said senior public policy and administration major and ASWOU President N.J Johnson, “When we were putting together the email announcement…about classes being online I had expressed my concerns.” 

Johnson stated that the email indicated online students wouldn’t be paying a fee. He went on, saying he voiced to the reopening committee that the IFC was not consulted. Johnson said he was outvoted by other members of the reopening committee, resulting in no online students being charged incidental fees.

In the days following the email announcement, the IFC Steering Committee — a group tasked with reviewing and changing IFC bylaws — met on Aug. 31 to take action in response to the reopening committee’s decisions.

“We made two amendments to the bylaws,” said junior communications major and IFC member Makana Waikiki. “One of them was to allow a Special Committee to meet and it also specified who would be a part of the committee.” 

Waikiki voices how the committee felt it important to have more than one student in a room making decisions.

The second amendment gave the IFC control over defining what a fee paying student is. It is considered by the committee to be a historic change.

“We haven’t had the power to define a fee-paying student (until) recently,” said junior philosophy and English double major and IFC Member Nick Denning, “which is absolutely integral in us charging online students.”

After the bylaws were passed by the Steering Committee, the newly formed Special Committee sent out a petition to the student body, asking if they wanted to have a fee applied on the fall bill to fund the 15 programs covered by the IFC. On Sept. 2 the Special Committee convened to discuss applying applying a flat rate fee of $250. During the meeting Denning revealed the petition sent out by the Special Committee received over 300 signatures. Currently Western has 4,164 students registered for classes. 

On the same day of the Special Committee’s first meeting, Johnson reported he was contacted by President  Rex Fuller.

During their discussion , Fuller offered a one million dollar stimulus from the $53 per credit online tech fee approved back in April. According to the Business office the online tech fee is not new. In April when the Board of Trustees were finalizing billing, they took the difference of online tuition  — $228  —  and Oregon residency tuition  — originally $176 before the 4.55% increase in April — increased it by $1 and made it a separate fee for bill transparency.  According to Fuller, the $53 was originally intended for Western’s new Learning Management System called Canvas. However due to COVID-19, Western  entered a contract with Canvas that is funded by the CARES act until the end of 2020.

“Due to the unique situation of Fall 2020 being almost 95% online, I offered to ASWOU a $1M allocation of online course fee revenue to ease the revenue shortfall,” Fuller explained.

After talking with Fuller, Johnson said that he told the Special Committee about the million dollar deal immediately. However, the minutes from the Special Committee’s first gathering discussed applying a temporary flat rate fee of $250, and did not mention the conversation between President Fuller and ASWOU President Johnson. 

Although they were offered a million dollars, Johnson explained the fee application was still requested.

“We had two reasons we wanted to apply a fee,” said Johnson, “The first reason is to have a recognized student government.” 

The second reason Johnson cited for fee application was precedence.

“It’s about having your decision … through (the) proper process as stated in the IFC bylaws. We thought it was important … that those decisions were recognized.” he stated.

On Sept. 23, ASWOU posted a press release claiming the Board of Trustees were asked to meet in September to review the fee being discussed by the Special Committee. However, the Board affirmed they wouldn’t meet till Nov. 18.

“Chair Komp and President Fuller said it wasn’t advisable at the time. Because we have the million dollars from the tech fee that would buy us enough time to solve this problem collaboratively,” recalled Johnson.

In order to work with the Board of Trustees, ASWOU lowered the original $250 fee to $50 because the million dollar offer funded more than 51% of the IFC’s budget. Even so, ASWOU still wanted to establish precedence and the student body government as a legitimate power on campus.

Johnson went on to say that the Board of Trustees still did not want to meet, citing that they felt it would be better to apply a fee in the winter and spring. 

After being denied consultation, on Sept. 14 ASWOU submitted an appeal to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, requesting a third party to evaluate the administrative rejection process of ASWOU’s request to collect incidental fees. 

Negotiations regarding the million-dollar agreement spanned two days following the Sept. 14 HECC appeal.

On Sept. 16, ASWOU and WOU admin reached an agreement; the three terms of the agreement were not released to the IFC funded area heads until Sept. 17. In the joint email sent by Fuller and Johnson, the three conditions of the agreement were as follows.

First, the University will assess fall term fees based on the course modality of classes offered. For remote/online classes, a technology fee will be assessed while the incidental fee will be assessed on all face-to-face courses. 

Second, the university will provide one million dollars from the tech fee and the remaining funds will be drawn from student reserves. 

Third, ASWOU would drop its appeal to HECC.

ASWOU complied to secure the million-dollar stimulus for the IFC funded areas. After the deal, the IFC received 61% of their projected funds. 

Currently, all areas are being funded 25% or more and the IFC does not intend to apply fees this fall. 

Johnson says that the full IFC will be meeting to discuss what took place this the fall in preparation for winter and spring term. More information will be released when there are developments in the story.

UPDATE (OCT. 28TH, 2020 @ 2:09PM)

For fall term, students did not see an Incidental fee on their billing statements. As a result, IFC was not able to fund the areas it covers until ASWOU President N.J Johnson and Western’s President Rex Fuller made a million dollar deal giving the IFC 52% of their previously anticipated $1.9 million budget. However, the deal was made with the intent to fund the IFC for fall term.

“The online course fee is not designed, as a general proposition, to supplement incidental fees,” said Fuller. “Due to the unique situation of fall 2020 being almost 95% online, I offered to ASWOU a $1M allocation of online course fee revenue to ease the revenue shortfall to support student services funded by incidental fees.”

The IFC met on Oct. 22 to discuss plans going forward. The committee decided to make decisions only for winter term due to the money being unknown so far in the future, feeling it was better to take it term by term, and being able to effectively allocate funds to what best serves students. Currently, all seven IFC area heads are being asked to be prepared to present a 50% budget proposal at their next meeting on Oct. 29.

For the budget proposal, areas are being asked to base 50% funding off of last year’s allocation. In addition to running cost estimation, each department is being asked to present a brief presentation on where the money is going and what has been prioritized in their budgets. The IFC did not give the areas restrictions on what the budget can or can’t be used for.

At this time, President Johnson and President Fuller are revisiting the definition of a fee-paying student — a power the IFC implemented to their amendments in September, but not fully recognized by the Board of Trustees at the time.

All decisions regarding budget proposals and definition of a fee-paying student must be finalized before the first subcommittee meeting for the Board of Trustees, which meets around Nov. 11.

The story will be updated as more information is released.

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