Seventy-five dollars is a lot of money. It can get you 68 purchases on the McDonald’s dollar menu, 44 trips on the subway with a CharlieCard, 37 loads of clean laundry, 15 one-scoop waffle cones at JP Licks, a full magical day of fun at Disneyland, or maybe even a flight home. This sum is also the amount that students are charged on their termbills each semester by Harvard to fund student groups and support the activities of the Undergraduate Council.
Although funding for the UC promotes opportunities for undergraduates to enhance college life and advocate for changes in curricular, extracurricular, and residential policy, the fee should not be included in the termbill. Only fees for mandatory items—such as tuition and room and board—should be automatically charged. Students should have the option of including extra fees on their termbill, such as the UC fee, only if they so choose.
As it stands now, however, the UC fee automatically appears on every termbill, placing the burden on students to remove it—that is, if they’re even aware that it can be removed. This strategy smacks of disingenuousness, akin to burying the unsavory conditions of a business agreement in fine print. It puts undue stress on students with financial hardships who have to scramble to make sure they aren’t making unnecessary payments. Even more outrageously, students are required by the Student Receivables Office to submit a letter if they wish to waive the fee. Those who do not want to or cannot support the UC because of personal or financial reasons should not have to go through the hassle of writing this letter, buying the envelope and stamps for mailing it, and taking the time to deliver it personally.
If SRO administrators do insist on placing the UC fee onto the termbill, however, the least they can do is make more of an effort to inform students that waiving it is in fact an option. The College makes a commendable effort through e-mail and letters to inform students that the Harvard University Student Health Plan Supplemental can be waived. Although the HUSHP Supplemental is optional, it still deserves to be part of the termbill because, unlike the UC fee, it is necessary. Before the College knows whether a student has adequate health insurance, it is reasonable to first charge students with the fee in case of a life-threatening emergency. Since the UC fee does not carry such importance, the SRO has an even greater obligation to either ensure that students are aware that the fee is optional or remove it from the termbill altogether.
This is not to say that the College should not support the UC. Like many student clubs, the UC can charge students who wish to be active members of the UC. The UC can even encourage students to pay the fee by means of e-mails, door-to-door visits, letters, and posters. However, an optional fee is only optional if students are aware of their options. The SRO needs to change the method of charging UC fees so that it does not trouble students and reflect badly on the College. Besides, the last thing Harvard wants is for disgruntled students to realize too late that, instead of investing in the UC, they could have bought comfy, warm clothing and boots for the chilly winter drawing ever nearer.
Eric E. Liao ’13, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.