ASOSU passes unprecedented resolution to reduce spring term student fees due to COVID-19

Associated Students of Oregon State University Speaker of the House Ian Walker speaks during the April 1 ASOSU Zoom meeting, where the House voted to lower student fees for spring term.

Jade Minzlaff, ASOSU Beat Reporter

As much of the campus has closed and classes are being offered remotely to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Associated Students of Oregon State University, OSU’s student government, has passed an unprecedented resolution to decrease student fees for the spring term. 

JR-11.03, “Resolution to Discount the Student Incidental Fee for Spring Term 2020”, passed both the Senate and House unanimously during public roll-call votes conducted via Zoom on March 31 and April 1, respectively.  

JR-11.03 proposed an 11.33% overall reduction in student incidental fees and is the first resolution to decrease student fees in OSU’s history. The resolution was created in one week by President of ASOSU Rachel Josephson, Vice President Kylie Boenisch and Student Fee Committee Chair Safi Ahmad, after the three approached Dan Larson, vice provost of student affairs and leader of OSU’s COVID-19 response, about the possibility of a reduction. 

As there was no pre-existing process for a student fee reduction, Josephson said that she was mindful that their actions set a precedent for future changes. 

“We need the power of deciding this to be through the students,” Josephson said, and said that ASOSU wanted to ensure that “students were the ones benefiting from the cut.”  

Each student fee-funded unit was given several days to provide an acceptable reduction to ASOSU’s Student Fee Committee, with strict instructions to maintain student employment at pre-cut levels, even for positions that were usually performed on-campus and would need to be adapted to comply with social-distancing policies. 

Each unit’s proposed fee reduction was vetted and finalized by the SFC, and the House and Senate voted to approve the overall reduction of 11.33%, instead of an individual vote for each unit, in order to maintain viewpoint neutrality.

ASOSU listed maintaining student employment as their top priority. Units were instructed to maintain their student employees’ previous work hours, and employees whose work required being on campus have been instructed to switch to remote work, such as process improvement. 

According to Josephson, Larson said that if the unit was absolutely unable to come up with any remote work, that they should contact him directly, in order to ensure no student workers lost income during the spring term. 

Before voting, Senators Nikolay Galtsev and Michael Haffner questioned why student fees for the Athletics fee unit had not been reduced by more than 10%, as all their spring sports events had been canceled. 

Ahmad responded that representatives for Athletics had cited unchanged expenses for athletics and a decrease in revenues from canceled games and advertising, had prevented a more drastic reduction. According to Ahmad, the Athletics department had initially suggested a discount of only 3% but changed to 10% after being encouraged by the SFC. 

Haffner persisted that regardless of their current expenses, “they’re not having to pay for a lot of things,” and said he would have preferred to see more data before acknowledging that a 10% reduction was reasonable. 

According to Josephson, OSU President Ed Ray approved it in the morning on Thursday, and the Board of Trustees will have to approve the decision before it is made official but didn’t predict any difficulties in gaining their approval.  

Josephson emphasized the importance of their process for the fee reduction, as most student employees are unable to file for unemployment. 

ASOSU is working primarily on student incidental fees and student-fee funded employment because that is what student government has direct control over, but that they are also aiming to maintain employment for students in any way they can, according to Josephson.  

Josephson clarified that ASOSU does not have purview over other fees, like building fees, and said that the ASOSU COVID-19 report on their website specified their goals and the scope of their control. 

Going forward, Josephson said they are all working as hard as they can to advocate for students and the OSU community during this time to meet needs and try to reduce student stress during the pandemic. Josephson and Boenisch were working with the Faculty Senate on the possibility of expanding S-U (satisfactory-unsatisfactory) grading options during the spring term, and this decision was passed on Wednesday. The Board of Trustees was discussing the possibility of reduced tuition during the spring term but this decision did not pass.