All undergraduate and graduate students are required to pay a $72 Student Activity Fee once a semester, which funds several different aspects of student life at the university. But with the coronavirus pandemic upending the operations of so many organizations, the funding will be routed differently during the 2020-2021 school year.
While this fee funds several student-oriented services at the university, it also assists registered student organizations, said University of Iowa Undergraduate Student Government President Connor Wooff, even if those organizations are having to restructure events this fall to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“In the past couple of weeks, [the Student Activity Fee Committee] has met with some of our off the top organizations to understand how they will be programming this year,” he said. “A lot of them will need to change dramatically by the nature of size of events and social distancing… We’re looking at what organizations need from [USG] and how we can best allocate funds.”
In response to COVID-19, USG is ensuring students will be taken care of in cases of emergency by using some funds for an emergency fund similar to the one used to support students when they were sent home in March, said USG Financial Director Emily Hagedorn. She said USG is working with less funding due to summer fees not being assessed and lower student enrollment.
She said student organizations were fully funded by USG for the amount they requested for the 2020-21 academic year. USG is looking to help organizations embrace this year’s activities while staying safe, said Hagedorn.
“We’re prepared to help emergency services on campus if they need extra assistance, like the food pantry or the crisis center,” she said. “[USG] just wants to make sure that students’ needs are taken care of and no one feels like they have nowhere to turn if they need any kind of resources.”
One of these organizations is the UI’s Student Commission on Programming Entertainment [SCOPE] Productions. Assistant General Manager of SCOPE, Kristina Bozza said while student organizations look different this year, the funding they receive from USG is integral to keeping some normalcy for students this year.
“We’ve had to brainstorm a lot because [SCOPE] is an organization that has always done in-person programming,” she said. “We can no longer safely do that. We’re keeping things open and we are adapting our annual, free Homecoming concert into a live stream format. Student government and the homecoming committee and everyone are all aware that a lot has been taken away from the students this year…we wanted to make sure we still have some things that are still accessible.”
The Student Activity Fee was set to increase this academic year from $72 to $74 at the suggestion of USG and the Student Activity Fee Committee, Associate Dean of Students Bill Nelson said. The increase will eventually happen, said Nelson, and it will go to Bijou/FilmScene for the first year before moving into deferred maintenance for other uses.
However, due to the tuition freeze approved by the state Board of Regents for the fall semester in June, this increase did not take place. Nelson said while the fee will be reassessed via a Zoom meeting with the Student Activity Fee Committee, it is currently funding a plethora of central services for UI students.
“The Student Activity Fee supports several critical functions beyond registered student organizations,” he said. “People wonder about how the Student Activity Fee is distributed. The fee is broad based. It supports Student Legal Services and the Student Organization Business Office in totality. It provides partial funding for the UI cultural centers, our food pantry and clothing closet, and RVAP, as examples. Several essential services are funded by the fee and they are still being provided [regardless of COVID-19].”
Nelson said he has been impressed by USG this fall for staying committed to students and using the Student Activity Fee ethically and effectively.
“I’m extremely pleased with the commitment from our student government leaders and the Student Activity Fee Committee members to be very thoughtful about which essential programs, services, and activities need additional support at this time,” he said. “And their commitment to redeploying resources to support those critical and basic services to help students.”