I recently came across this headline – “Tennessee Students Must Now Opt In To Pay Programming Fee After ‘Sex Week’ Controversy” (7/7/14).

(ohhh that UT, the *other* UT)

I generally think choices are good, but this particular choice may ultimately actually be… bad?

In a nutshell, college students often pay a small but mandatory “activities fee” once per semester or quarter. This money goes toward all kinds of events, student clubs, and on-campus programming – events that all students may attend but all students may not be interested in.

An important thing to note here is that student activity fees are in no way related to state funding, etc, even at a state school. So, put simply, all kinds of college-typical events are not actually funded by a university’s respective state or its endowment – they’re funded by this mandatory, separate, collective student fund.

In my two-ish decades in and around higher ed, I’ve noticed a tried&trite, yawn+meh phenomenon related to this specific fee spring up fairly regularly…

Some students feel grumbly about these fees – they don’t want to pay for other students’ activities and/or stuff they themselves are not interested in. And every year, these folks need to be reminded that all students are required to pay in, thus everyone’s activities are being subsidized by others who may not be down with their specific club. No student is exempt.

A collective fund that supports everyone’s social growth – it’s a pretty simple concept that’s easy to get behind, right?

Except that in some ways, I always got it. What if you were that commuter kid who never had the time/opportunity to attend any of the campus fun? Aside from that being a really depressing college experience, it would absolutely suck to have to pay for everyone else’s enrichment while you were stuck in the van pool. Or what if you were just a generally sullen non-participater? Certainly you’d rather spend your bucks on stormy music and angry cigarettes!

In these instances, I always got it – you should have the choice to pay in.


What about all the activities you don’t know exist and/or don’t know you want when you’re paying your fees for the whole entire term? (Angry Music Smoking Club!!?)

Or, what about all the activities you want but, for various reasons, can’t opt to pay for overtly – that secret snowboard society or French theatre discussion group… or gender and sexualities related support and/or cultural clubs and communities… or just that one group of idiots who had the taco bar on Bruin Walk?

Imagine if your pre-college powers-that-be were anti-taco, anti-theatre… or anti-gay. What then?

In this respect, a mandatory fee is very important – it sets a baseline of access for all students, many of whom are young and dumb or shell-shocked and shy… and all of whom are just trying to figure it out.

So when I read that UT(ennessee) recently made their activities fee optional due specifically to people complaining about Sex Week events that were (I assume only) partially funded via mandatory student activities fees… well, I was reminded of the grumbly students who don’t want to pay for others’ activities and of the assholes that would hassle gender and sexuality related activities at UCLA, CSUN, UT, and College of the Canyons.*

le sigh.

I get the need for choice; but having been around conventionally college-aged learners for the vast majority of my adult life, I also get the need to set a baseline (like a mandatory student activities fee) in a university environment.

Like everything social, this is a very complex issue… but honestly – all it’s gonna take to get this *repealed* is a gaggle of first-year students getting booted from a campus showing of The Lego Movie. Then everyone will know the power of mandatory student activities fees!

So at least there’s that.


(pictured: lots to learn about!)

*I never heard about or experienced any hassling of this nature at Southwestern University, USC, Ventura City College, or Austin Community College, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.

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