As the semester winds down, reading period comes with its anguishes but also its particular pleasures. Formal season, study breaks, and College-wide events dot our calendars for the next few days. Unfortunately, these events meant to reinvigorate the student body come with a cost — and that cost has recently risen to unprecedented heights.
Last year, students saw a more than 150 percent hike in the Student Activities Fee — an optional sum rolled into the enrollment costs for Harvard undergraduates — raising the fee from $75 to $200. At the same time, the Office of Student Life — which had formerly been in charge of decide how to allocate these fees — has been incorporated into the newly formed Dean of Students Office. This body now administers these funds, which are used to support student-led House Committees, programs organized by the College Events Board, and student extracurricular organizations through Undergraduate Council grants.
While we support efforts to promote programming and opportunities for student collective enjoyment, we continue to be troubled by the optionality of the fee, as well as the limited extent to which the University publicizes it.
As it stands, students are not directly informed about the fee’s optionality (aside from its mention in the College’s student handbook). That poses the potential for problematic imbalances between those who ultimately takes advantage of this loophole and those who would perhaps be most benefited by it. Why some students skip the fee, while many students on financial aid may go on paying it, strikes us as largely counterintuitive. Especially as the number of students who opt out has risen, we puzzle over why the fee hasn’t been standardized.
Nevertheless — despite our concerns — the fee is ultimately optional. Given that fact, we hope the College seeks to better publicize future changes in the fee, as well as the process by which students can opt out. Students should have the knowledge and agency to understand these fees and decide for themselves if they would like to contribute to these funds. Two hundred dollars should not be yet another hidden bonus in the labyrinth that enrollment costs already are.
Moreover, as the DSO now takes charge of these funds, we urge them to listen to student input and preferences in their dispersal. Though a large portion of the fees eventually fall under the purview of student-run organizations like the UC and CEB, the decisions made at the DSO are the first step in this process. And before distribution begins, the DSO should be taking into account what organizations and programs best serve student interests. Events such as Yardfest, HoCo activities, and formals are only more enjoyable if they are planned and funded with a better understanding of student interests.
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.