Monday, March 30

Student services fee emblematic of administration lacking financial transparency

(Tanmay Shankar/Daily Bruin)

For many students, the cost of attending UCLA is itself a burden. What’s even more of a burden is footing the bill so that administrators can pay for a red carpet photo shoot.

The University of California charges students a mandatory $376 Student Services Fee each quarter. This money goes toward a diverse array of campus programs for students, including health care, arts, fitness and career resources. UCLA claims the fee goes directly toward student interests.

But it’s unclear this money is serving legitimate student interests, or that it’s even being used efficiently. In some cases, the fee also funds unnecessary administrative positions, with continuously rising salaries.

But UCLA seems determined to cover up its mistakes and quell discussion. Administrators have entertained the idea of closing public and press access to fee distribution discussions, indicating a marked contempt for transparency.

Instead of being accountable and upholding equitability for students, UCLA has undermined those values through its handling of the student services fee. The continually expanding bureaucracy has driven up costs while providing no real justification for its own existence. As administrators continue to hire more administrators, students are left footing a larger bill.

Not only is the services fee inequitably distributed, it’s also counterproductive, said Zak Fisher, the incoming president of Graduate Students Association and a member of the Student Fee Advisory Committee, which disseminates student fees.

“UCLA sets up a giant bureaucracy to hide the fact that most of these services just pay administrative jobs and never help students,” Fisher said.

He added he believes programs misusing student funds include the Community Programs Office, the Bruin Resource Center and UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological Services.

Several of the programs funded by the services fee have few, if any, tangible benefits for students. CPO’s van fleet, for instance, supposedly gives rides to students off campus. Fisher said that not only is the fleet extremely expensive, but its actual purpose and function is unclear, demonstrating the lack of transparency about such programs.

And administrators in these programs simply continue to hire more administrators with no established roles, pushing the cost onto students. While the number of administrators at UCLA has tripled over the past 20 years, the burden of paying for college has grown for students even as it has declined for the state. Much of this cost lies in the expansion of UCLA’s bureaucracy, Fisher said.

“Half of every UCLA student’s services fee goes towards CAPS. Are we getting $550 of services out of CAPS?” Fisher said. “No – instead students wait several weeks, even months, before receiving help.”

Unsurprisingly, UCLA’s bureaucracy continually demands more money to meet its supposed needs. SFAC’s funding allocation documents, released by Fisher, show CPO’s funding requests increased this year because of line items such as a nearly $2,000 salary increase for the Community Service advisor.

And it only gets worse.

Last year, CPO spent more than $93,000 of students funds to continue operating a fleet of two hybrid vans. Other questionable expenses include almost $11,000 to purchase an iPad Pro, a MacBook Pro and associated technology. And another nearly $13,000 of funding was allocated toward professional photography material for CPO staff.

On the other side of the spectrum, the university continues to bloat administratively.

Students bear more of the cost of education than they did 20 years ago, said Nathan Brostrom, the UC Office of the President’s chief financial officer.

This administrative ballooning is made more problematic by the fact that the chancellor’s office discourages discussion about the issue and ignores dissent in SFAC meetings, Fisher said. As a result, potentially fruitful discussions about reducing wasteful expenditure aren’t had, and the problem is compounded.

“There are administrators I’ve worked with whose entire salaries are funded by the student services fee, and whose main job is to quell student dissent,” Fisher said.

He added he encountered immense difficulty making public SFAC’s data on the fee allocation. He said administrators have even suggested exercising prior restraint – or legal censorship of publication – in regards to Daily Bruin coverage on this issue.

That’s a disturbing allegation.

Moreover, the fact that this money goes toward providing administrative salaries is downright appalling. The “Student Services Fee” is for students – it’s not an administrative paycheck or a checkbook for iPad Pros, but that’s precisely what it’s become.

Though UCLA’s ever-expanding student body needs many of the programs funded by the fee, this shouldn’t deter us from demanding greater transparency. But the idea of students discussing and criticizing the allocation of the services fee seems to bother administrators. If anything, the lack of transparency on UCLA’s part suggests there is perhaps even more wasteful expenditure unknown to the public.

Four years at UCLA is pricey enough. We don’t need a bloated bureaucracy making it more so.

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