JOHN PERRIN
Student Senate Committee-on-Committees Chair
Tonight, Student Senate will be voting on the implementation of a $150 fee that would fund the improvement, renovation, and construction of student centric buildings, such as Powell and Weaver.
The first thing I would like to discuss is the amount of the fee. I would like to provide a little bit of historical context to this amount. When we as a Senate were approached last year with a fee proposal, it was a collection of fees that funded various projects. That grouping of fees was significantly higher than the proposal this semester. It included, among other things, a $50 per semester athletic fee, a $50 per semester campus enhancement fee for unnamed future projects, and a $167 per semester fee to pay debt service on a new student center. As Senate, we approached this budget proposal the way we do any other proposal. We looked at the total amount, the other funding that the administration had obtained, and the impact on students as a whole. We determined that we did not support the fee proposal as it was. This year, the University has taken part in several other avenues for fundraising, provided a plan for this proposal, a firm start and end date on the fee, geared the proposal specifically to student centered buildings, and reduced the amount of the fee significantly. They listened to the elected student representatives, and changed their proposal based on input from Senate – and, by extension, the students who elected us.  The survey posted by the Eastern Progress asks a question, “Would you support the fee if it was lower?” I feel that this question adds an inherent bias to the survey. By planting the hypothetical idea that there is a possibility to pay a lower fee, it automatically paints the proposed fee in a negative light and skews the question. I feel that if the true purpose of the Progress survey was to gather information for the vote, they would present only the facts and not deal in theoretical questions that aren’t on the table.
The second thing I would like to address is the idea of student representation. The charge has been levied that we have not done enough to gather student input. First, I would like to talk about the three ways that this fee could be approved. The Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) sets certain guidelines that govern the application of student fees. The first possible way to approve the fee would be for 25 percent of the student body to vote, and over half of those to vote in favor. The difficulty in getting that many people to vote is much like the difficulty in getting people to vote in local, state, and national elections. The 25 percent requirement would mean that roughly 4,100 students would need to vote. When myself and my friend and fellow Senator Damir Siahkoohi created a survey last year to gather the opinion of students on the fee proposal, that survey was emailed multiple times to every student enrolled at EKU. Over two weeks, we received a little over 1,400 responses. If those responses had been votes in a referendum, even if all 1,400 were in favor, it would not have been approved by the CPE. The second way to approve the fee would be for the Student Regent – in this case, the SGA President – to vote in favor of it at the Board of Regents meeting, meaning that one person would be voting on behalf of the entire student body. It was immediately determined that this would not be a good course of action, for obvious reasons. That leaves us with the third option, the student legislative body (Student Senate) voting 75 percent in support of the fee. This was the best way, in accordance with CPE guidelines, to make sure that student voices were represented, but to also be sure that enough votes would be cast to formally decide the issue. As far as how well students are represented, several senators have been continuously updating me on the progress they’ve made in obtaining information, the surveys they’ve created, the groups and clubs they’ve talked to, the opinions of the departments and organizations that they are in, and the opinions of professors, advisors, faculty and staff that have been part of this university and work with the student population on a daily basis. I think that the idea that just because someone from the Progress has not been available at each and every one of these formal and informal meetings to witness them must mean that Senators must not be doing their due diligence is unfair to the Senators that I have personally witnessed put in weeks of their time in order to make sure that they are voting with their constituents in mind. I have absolute faith in every person in Senate – I firmly believe that they will do what they feel is right based on the information they’ve gathered from the students they represent.
The biggest factor that I have considered in coming to a decision has been the question of affordability and opportunity. As someone who has paid for school through a combination of Pell Grants, funds from various jobs and a significant amount of student loans, I absolutely understand the importance of affordability at our University. For many, like myself, the affordability of this institution is the primary reason that I was able to come to college, and I’m not ashamed of that – I’m thankful that a low cost institution was available to me. And during my time here, I have developed a love for Eastern that I will carry for the rest of my life. I’ve worked for the last three years on this campus as a student worker in an amazing job. I’ve been to concerts, sporting events, and Chautauqua lectures. I’ve obtained an excellent education. I got involved in activities and organizations, including Student Government, where I not only met some of my dearest friends, but was also provided with an opportunity to give back to the campus community that has given me so much. And all of this was because this institution was where I could afford to go. There will be many students in the future who, like myself, will come here because it is affordable, and I think it’s important that we maintain that.  At some point, though, we have to make the decision – should we tell these students that because we are low price, we will provide low quality? I’ve seen the discussion of why people who will not benefit from the buildings provided by the fee should have to pay it. So much of our education is gained in more than just the classroom – in college, we learn to become productive, successful members of society. Shouldn’t we, as Colonels and as members of this campus community, be willing to work together to provide the best opportunity for everyone? Isn’t that what we as a society should strive for? That is the question that I have been seeking an answer for during this process. And after discussions with countless people – full and part time students, non-traditional students, graduate and doctoral students,  faculty, staff, and administrators at all of our campuses who work with our student population every day, I will currently be voting in favor of the fee. Almost everyone I have talked to has either been in complete support, or has told me that they feel like the benefit outweighs the cost of the fee. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this – or anything else, really – I am, have been, and will continue to be available to talk.
John Perrin can be reached by email at john_perrin@mymail.eku.edu, and on Twitter @johnperrin119.