SAFC brings concerns of student debt to university leadership

As the annual allocation process for the 2019–20 academic school year wraps up, the UW Tacoma Services and Activities Fee Committee faces three outstanding hurdles — renegotiating the University Student Y Center contract, the university’s looming budget deficit and who will ultimately pay.

Since its opening back in 2015, UWT and the YMCA have developed a relationship where the university pays for the building, some building maintenance, the YMCA’s supplemental staff and maintenance of the building’s exercise equipment. As revenue has been collected from students in order to pay for a loan on the building and Y membership fees, the facility has produced a $200,000 deficit every year. In the current contract, the YMCA charges students at a group rate discount. This rate is expected to change to adult membership rates, which would cause the yearly deficit to increase to an estimated $1 million.

This debt must now be dealt with by UWT staff, who were not present during the time that the deals were being negotiated. The debt was originally amassed due to student enrollment projections differing from actual numbers. When enrollment is lower than expected, the university must foot the bill to cover the rest of the costs. Additionally, with part-time students paying a prorated amount of the Student Activities Fee, the overall budget suffers because they are not receiving the full fee that was anticipated at the time that the contract was created.

SAFC members were approached last December in order to try to come up with solutions and give input on the issue so that administration could move forward with new contract renegotiations. SAFC also created a subcommittee to dedicate themselves to the issue and approved a list of items that members felt were reasonable concessions for a negotiation. While students had signed off on the UWY’s original contract, committee members were not able to be a part of renegotiations and were told that the contract was with the university, not students.

According to Sarah McDaniel, the SAFC chair, the UWY’s original contract has many issues.

“What is problematic about this is not just that we are forced with a bad contract, but that it is between two non-profit institutions who are putting more financial burden on students in order to maintain [it],” McDaniel said. “Students are already paying $180 a quarter for this service if they are a full time student, and about $90 for part time students. By having SAF revenues pay for the deficit, students are now paying twice for this issue.”

While the issue was pushed to the side during SAFC’s annual allocations, McDaniel collected information and read documents to get a better understanding of why SAFC and students might need to pay so high of a cost to eliminate the debt. McDaniel’s ultimate conclusion was that because students are expected to pay the debt, the leadership responsible for seeing the UWY contract through does not have students’ best interest in mind.

“The intent of any student program [or] service paid by students is that it should be financially stable through student money,” McDaniel said.“If not, then yes the campus and UW system can help cover [it]. I think it is clear that our campus is unable to do this, so the pressure goes back on students to afford it. While it is being said the pressure is on students to pay for the deficit comes through contractual agreements that clearly point to it, I believe that the campus’ own debt situation is the real reason.”

As time passed without a resolution being found, several recent meetings were put in place in attempt to resolve the issue.

In a May 6 meeting organized with two SAFC members, Chancellor Mark Pagano and several other UWT administrators, the issue of the debt and who must be held responsible for paying it off was discussed. During the meeting, Pagano explained why the central budget would not be able to continue to pay for the deficit.

“My belief is [that] this is an SAF activity and the way it was set up is that SAF funds would cover overages over time … and that’s what was believed when we signed the contract going forward so it was a university offer to pay for [the debt] two years in a row,” Pagano said. “We wouldn’t have had to as a university, but I could not stand the fact that our students in something very positive like this had to pay. So [the university] paid it two years in a row.”

This point was challenged by the SAFC, negotiating on behalf of what would be in the overall best interest of the student body. When asked about the hesitance to impose a higher fee upon students to cover the deficit, Mentha Hynes-Wilson, vice chancellor for Student & Enrollment services, explained the financial challenge of students at UWT and how the university aims to be urban-serving. Imposing more financial burden on students is something that the UWT administration tries to avoid.

SAFC members met again with Chancellor Pagano in a meeting held on May 10 and talked about how renegotiating the contract with the UWY reveals a lack of student feedback and involvement in the process.

During the meeting, Pagano showed committee members two proforma documents that projected 10 years into the future. The first document showed what would happen if all students — full and part-time — were asked to pay the full, un-prorated amount, in order to alleviate the deficit. The second document showed what could happen if students were not asked to pay. After suggestions were made, the meeting concluded with SAFC members wanting to talk about these scenarios and ultimately come to an agreement amongst themselves. Chancellor Pagano stated that he could not commit to anything other than being able to show SAFC and Associated Students of UWT and get input from the rest of the campus.

“It feels like something that should have been done before,” McDaniel said. “I think before any kind of agreement is passed on … [t]here needs to be student oversight on this issue as a whole and not just when there is a deficit to be picked up … I think there also needs to be work put in from the university and YMCA in recognizing the power that students have in this partnership and when contracts are renegotiated; we should not be excluded from discussions.”

Leticia Bennett

Leticia is the News Editor for The Ledger. She is a Senior majoring an Urban Studies and hopes to become an Urban Planner. She is interested in all things happening around campus and loves to learn new things and meet new people.