Last week, The Crimson reported that the College will increase the student activities fee—an optional sum paid by Harvard undergraduates as part of their enrollment costs—from $75 to $200 next academic year. The Office of Student Life will also form a committee of students and administrators to allocate the funds, which used to go directly to the Undergraduate Council’s budget.
These are welcome changes. Though campus social life has transformed in the past decade, and inflation has eaten away at the fee revenue’s purchasing power, this activities fee has held constant since 2006.
Furthermore, since 2015, University President Drew G. Faust has helped fund undergraduate social events by providing part of her discretionary fund to the College, which uses it to fund student social life. However, the certainty of this continued funding source is unclear given the presidential turnover.
Meanwhile, the Undergraduate Council—which is currently responsible for allocating the student activities fee funding—is struggling with a budget shortfall, and it drew down a third of its emergency fund earlier this semester to continue funding student organizations. Having faced these problems in the past, the UC called for a raise in the fee in 2012, to no avail.
We therefore believe that the current system of relying on Faust’s discretionary funding and still not having sufficient funds for normal UC operations is unsustainable. This raise will also bring the College’s fee closer to many of its peers. At Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Yale, and Columbia, for example, the activities fee averages $205 per year.
Furthermore, given recent financial mismanagement of the UC, we support transitioning control over student activities fee inflows away from the Council and toward a committee of students and administrators. Such a change will also allow for improvements in the distribution of funds between the UC, College Events Board, House Committees, and Intramural Council.
We do however remain concerned about the continuing voluntary nature of the student activities fee. The fee is not part of tuition, and students can avoid paying it by mailing a letter to the College at the start of the academic year. This is an unfortunate reality—it permits students to enjoy the products of the fee, such as events paid for by the CEB, like Yardfest, or organizations supported by the UC, without paying. This creates the potential of a problem akin to a tragedy of the commons, as any student not paying the fee can enjoy the benefits of those who do. Instead, the College should make the fee mandatory, yet, of course, provide appropriate financial aid for those students who require it.
It is also concerning that the College did not announce this fee change to students directly, and there is a level of disingenuousness in the College’s allowing students to opt out of the fee only by physical mail, while not making this possibility well-known. Nevertheless, if properly announced and formalized, a mandatory fee would avoid these concerns.
Student life at the College has remained an important and changing area of scrutiny. For the many students who attend and rely on events sponsored by College-support organizations, including student groups and the CEB, this increase in the student activities fee will ensure the continuity of their social life. As the College continues to change, supporting strong student social life is essential.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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