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When you register for a semester at Michigan State University, the university collects three taxes from you in addition to tuition.
A $3 FM radio tax funds the operation of Impact 89FM, MSU’s student radio station. A $5 State News subscription funds the publication of this newspaper. If you are an undergraduate student, an $18 tax is collected and distributed to ASMSU, MSU’s undergraduate student government (graduate students pay a $9.25 tax to their student government, COGS).
If you live on campus, an additional housing tax of $25 is collected for the operation of the Residence Halls Association, or RHA, the on-campus student government of MSU.
Last Thursday, ASMSU’s general assembly voted down a bill that would have transferred all ASMSU funds into on-campus accounts. Currently, ASMSU maintains two off-campus accounts: an operating account at PNC Bank and a risk management account at Morgan Stanley.
The bill was prompted by a memo sent to ASMSU President Evan Martinak by the university administration. In this memo, the administration threatened the “withholding of any further tax dollars until such time as the transfers are completed.”
Because the general assembly refused to approve the transfer of funds, it is highly likely the university now will freeze ASMSU’s on-campus accounts and future collection of the $18 student tax.
A freeze on the ASMSU student tax would necessitate a drastic reevaluation of ASMSU’s organization and the services it is able to provide. With this in mind, I think it is worthwhile to consider what services an MSU undergraduate student receives from ASMSU for $18 a semester.
The most tangible services are the material ones. MSU undergraduates can pick up three different newspapers each weekday from distribution spots around campus. This is an ASMSU service. Also across campus are free copies of the Red Cedar Log, MSU’s yearbook. Production of the yearbook is funded by the ASMSU student tax.
As the semester comes to a close, many students will need blue books for their exams. Free blue books are available at the ASMSU office and at the main library. Students who need iClickers for their lectures can rent them at no charge from ASMSU.
In addition to its own initiatives, ASMSU finances dozens of Registered Student Organizations, or RSOs, through its Funding Board and Programming Board. These RSOs, while not affiliated with ASMSU, receive the support of students through their channels.
While these are all useful services, they are not the most important ones ASMSU provides.
ASMSU recently renewed its long-standing contract with the law firm of Jeffries and Newton. This contract allows ASMSU to offer professional legal advice and counsel to all undergraduate students without charge. In my opinion, having a law firm on retainer is worth at least $18 a semester.
The most important thing ASMSU does is advocate for the student body. Each session, the general assembly passes dozens of bills intended to improve the lives of MSU students. In recent years, many of these bills have had large-scale impact. At the state level, ASMSU was instrumental in establishing the medical amnesty law that allows intoxicated minors to call 911 without risk of arrest. At the university level, the administration recently enacted a preferred name policy, an ASMSU initiative. This policy allows students to designate the name they will be known as in the registrar and in attendance rolls. It is vital to students who are in a sensitive place regarding their gender identity.
In addition to these initiatives, ASMSU student representatives sit alongside faculty members at nearly every level of academic governance, from the Steering Committee to the University Council. These representatives ensure students have a direct voice in matters of university policy and direction.
All these services now are at risk. Section II of the memo sent to ASMSU called for the student government to comply with the MSU Manual of Business Procedures. Most of the services listed above do not comply with this manual, and thus would be subject to dramatic change or elimination.
Section III of the memo called for ASMSU to revise its governing documents, the Constitution and Code of Operations, in order to align with university procedures. This essentially is a call to annihilate the autonomy of the organization. A student government budgeted by the administration, which has had its constitution rewritten by the administration and which in all matters is subject to the approval of the administration, is no government at all.
The general assembly took a courageous stand last Thursday by refusing to approve the bill brought before them by university administrators. ASMSU faces substantial challenges as it begins the next year, its 50th session.
As we move forward, it is worth remembering what ASMSU has provided to the student body. More than anything else, $18 buys an independent student voice.
—Milan Griffes is running for an ASMSU position and has not previously written about the topic for The State News.
Milan Griffes is a staff writer at The State News and a history junior. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.