A proposal set to appear before the University System of Maryland's Committee on Finance this Thursday would eliminate the requirement that advisory committees be consulted in imposing non-mandatory student fees.
Some University of Maryland students are speaking out against the proposed changes, particularly in light of the controversy surrounding the international student fee implemented last year.
The international student fee — which is $125 each semester for full-time students and $62.50 each semester for part-time students — did not go through the Committee for the Review of Student Fees before it was imposed, then Graduate Student Government President Stephanie Cork said last year.
Student Government Association President AJ Pruitt said the proposed changes, which appear as an agenda item for the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday, enable the sort of action that led to the fee's proposal without the consultation of relevant groups.
"We sort of had everyone admit that the process wasn't followed, but then we didn't do anything from the top levels of leadership. … We didn't do anything to right that wrong," Pruitt said. "All we've done is now we've changed the policy to make it easier the next time we want to do something like this."
The international student fee was considered mandatory under the old policy, but under the proposal, it would be non-mandatory, which means it wouldn't have to be reviewed by an advisory group. The group should be made up of "an appropriate number of students and stakeholders representing each area supported by a student fee," according to system policy.
The old policy stated that mandatory fees included "fees and charges applicable to a specific category of student according to enrollment status during the standard academic year." Under the proposed changes, mandatory fees would be limited to ones "required to be paid by the entire undergraduate and/or graduate student body."
As written, the draft policy would mandate that student groups affected by a new fee be consulted at the time of its establishment, but not before.
Caden Fabbi, the system's Student Council president, said he was surprised by the policy draft. Fabbi said his group passed a resolution in May calling on the system to clarify its policy on student fees.
"My understanding this whole entire time was that there wasn't going to be any less student input for academic or non-mandatory student fees … so I was pretty caught off-guard when I finally received that draft," he said.
Fabbi, who is also the GSG's chief of staff, said he is speaking with system student body presidents about the proposal and intends to speak against it at the Thursday meeting.
"Essentially what they're saying is that, 'OK we broke the policy, but we make the policy, so let's change the policy,'" he said.
According to a summary of the changes on the system website, the amendments are intended to clarify what constitutes a mandatory fee and streamline the fee imposition process.
But Pruitt said the policy should do more.
"My hope would've been that through this process the system would have come up with a policy … that everyone could follow that would get us all to the same place, that would give us all a best practice and have every campus abide by it. I don't think they've done that," the senior economics and government and politics major said, adding that there should be more specifics about the makeup and powers of student fees advisory committees.
System spokesman Mike Lurie said in an email that if the changes are passed by the committee at its meeting on Thursday, the full Board of Regents will likely vote on them on April 20. He noted the summary's wording "serves as a comment from the USM."
The summary notes the changes were based on student concerns.
"Last year, a group of students came forth with concerns regarding the implementation of a new non-mandatory fee. After discussion and an internal review of the policy, it was determined that several technical adjustments and updates to the policy were in order," the document reads.
But the proposed changes go against the system's ideals of shared governance, Fabbi said, and what the student council intended.
"We hear the USM administrators and we hear [this university's] administrators bragging about our robust system of shared governance and how students and faculty and staff are all included in the decisions that are made on the campuses," Fabbi said. "And this just really flies in the face of all that."