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Student scripts way out of special fees requests

With the buzz on campus about the amount of money that voluntary student organizations (VSOs) receive from students through the special fees process, Paul Benigeri ’15 has a simple solution—a computer script allowing students to opt out of the special fees process.

Benigeri, a computer programmer who has worked on projects like the music site Dancing Astronaut, published his script after finding out “by default [students] are billed almost $150 every quarter to fund student groups.” Through a simple copy-paste mechanism, students could waive every request by default.

According to Benigeri, the script has had some impact.

“Over 2,000 people viewed the site and over 400 people were on it for an extended period of time, so that suggests that they probably used the script,” he said. “Unless they were just reading the three paragraphs I wrote for over two minutes.”

If 400 undergraduates actually ran Benigeri’s script and waived every single special fees request, they would shave over $110,000 from the special fees budget.

“I think most people don’t really know about what is happening with money they are contributing to the budget,” Benigeri said. “I think that this should be either an opt-in policy or the process should be made much more public.”

Nanci Howe, Associate Dean and Director of Student Activities and Leadership (SAL), argued against the use of the script, noting that special fees decisions aren’t made under the table but rather are determined directly by students every election.

“The special fee is the opportunity for any student group to apply directly to apply for money in the election and to have students directly vote,” Howe explained.  “If a student does not agree with that group, I hope that they vote in the election and vote that fee down in the election.”

Benigeri’s link gained traction on social media, but it prompted some criticism.

Daniel Smith ’12 M.S. ’13 posted about the script on github—the same code-sharing site it was originally posted on—requesting its removal or amendment.

“The way it is currently, where you have to individually uncheck these boxes, you have an awareness of the impact you’re going to have to every single dance group, every single cultural club, every single play you’re removing funding from,” he wrote.

ASSU Elections Commissioner Brianna Pang ’13 pointed out the serious implications of waiving special fees.

“There are a lot of implications that people don’t think of. All of the groups are able to get a list of all of the people who have defunded from the group,” she said. “Let’s say that you defund legal counselling, and let’s say that in May you get into trouble with alcohol or something and you need some kind of legal representation…You wouldn’t be able to use that resource at all.”

She emphasized, however, that students struggle to understand the ASSU and its special fees process.

“Students are currently voting up a group during spring elections, and then coming back in the fall, realizing that those groups are going to be asking for money, and then requesting waivers,” she said.

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