ISA fee not a wise investment

NIU’s governing body, the Board of Regents, will be asked this week to approve a $1 NIU student fee which would generate new funds to go toward the Illinois Student Association. Like the fee for health insurance, this fee would be refundable at the end of the academic year.

The ISA plans to use the funds to create a constant student presence in Springfield and to lobby legislators for more funds for higher education.

The Regents did not take action on the fee last time they were asked, in May of 1987. It failed because the Regents were not given enough information about how the money would be used and how students who did not want to pay could get a refund. Many questions surrounded the establishment of the new fee at that time, and many qestions remain.

When the fee comes up again this week, the Regents should vote against it.

The fee does not represent the wishes of the even a large minority of the student body. A student referendum conducted last year to determine students’ attitudes produced only 299 votes in favor of the fee and 49 against.

Why should less than 350 students decide what the remaining 20,000 should do?

Student voter turnout at such referenda is invariably abysmal, and it would seem that any group wanting money could pass a referendum simply by getting a few supporters to get out and vote.

NIU students already spend more than $200 each semester on student fees, and the NIU Student Association already has given $300 out of its budget – which is supplied by existing student fees – to the ISA this year for membership dues.

Now NIU students are being asked to pick up a bigger tab by switching to a fee system for the ISA. It would seem that any new fee imposed on students at least be put toward a program that would have a direct, tangible return for those same students.

The ISA has not offered NIU much tangibly as of yet. It did save students money on posters for such programs as the Day of Action last year, but posters are small consolation for students faced with increasing fees.

The University of Illinois already has approved the fee for their students. But has it brought more money for higher education? The U of I remains the most expensive state-supported school in Illinois.

Furthermore, the ISA wants similar fees from several state schools. That means the group will have to lobby for all schools. And since the U of I will kick in the most money because its large student body, it is entirely likely that school will get the most attention.

NIU administrators, faculty member, students and other constituencies have put a lot of effort into lobbying for increased higher education funding already. The struggle for more state funding rightfully has been a central issue for all Illinois universities for years.

But how could the lobbying efforts of two ISA-placed workers in Springfield accurately be measured? Students need some reassurance that their money is being used in the most effective way possible.

No one can deny that NIU needs to continue its lobbying efforts if it is to get more attention from legislators representing their own voting districts. And, of course, the best way to be heard in Springfield is simply by creating a strong student voting block.

There is strength in numbers, but not necessarily when the numbers are higher student fees.