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Graduate student groups find different answers to increased recreation fee

October 26, 2023
<p>The construction site of where the new Student Recreation and Wellness Center will be built at Cherry Lane Park. Photographed on Sept. 13, 2023.</p>

The construction site of where the new Student Recreation and Wellness Center will be built at Cherry Lane Park. Photographed on Sept. 13, 2023.

Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

While Michigan State University says their new Student Recreation and Wellness Center will “support students’ overall wellbeing,” graduate student groups have expressed concerns about the hefty fee attached.

Students’ yearly recreation fee has been raised to $340 to account for the project’s $200 million budget. That’s $140 more than last school year.

Construction started on the 293,000-square-foot facility last month, which will replace IM West when completed in 2026

In addition to paying for the new recreation center, MSU deputy spokesperson Dan Olsen said the increased fee gives the community access to previously unavailable parts of the IM facilities. This includes workout rooms and turf fields that were previously members-only. 

Hannah Jeffery, president of the Council of Graduate Students, or COGS, said that cost can be a major financial burden for graduate students. A survey she conducted of 122 graduate students found that around 90% didn’t want it.

“(The results were) concerning to me, because that question has never been asked of the students by MSU administration before,” Jeffery said.

MSU administration has since started working with graduate student leaders, including COGS, to establish a fund that will provide financial assistance to graduate students most affected by the increased fee, according to spokesperson Olsen. Neither Olsen nor Jeffery were able to say when the fund will be completed.

Jeffery said Student Life and Engagement, the Graduate School, and the Office for Research and Innovation have collectively pledged $5k-$10k toward the fund. Aid will be distributed by Student Life and Engagement

The Graduate Employees Union, or GEU, isn’t convinced that this is the right solution. GEU representative Milos Sretenovic and GEU president Cheyenne Kleiner told The State News in a joint email statement that while they were not included in the creation of the fund, and its existence only shows that the university recognizes its harmful financial impact on graduate students. 

“Their solution is a bandaid,” Sretenovic said in an email. “Grad students are not paid a living wage and this is a significant amount of money that could be used to pay for necessities.” 

The GEU has been distributing a petition to make the fee optional, which they’ll present to the Board of Trustees at its Friday meeting. So far, it has gathered over a thousand signatures

Graduate teaching assistants who are members of the GEU are exempt from paying the fee under their union contract with MSU. But the GEU claimed MSU tries to charge them anyway

GEU said graduate TA’s temporarily see the recreation center fee on their bills at the start of the semester, when MSU has yet to process their exemption, which leads to confusion about whether they have to pay

“They can have the fee waived later, but MSU has no incentive to fix their system because many TA’s are not aware of their rights and pay the (nonrefundable) fee anyway,” Sretenovic said in an email

GEU hopes to change this when they renew their contract with MSU this spring, as well as protect grad TA’s exemption from the fee.

“We do not know what their intentions are yet, but the GEU will be ready to oppose any attempt to remove this protection at the bargaining table this spring,” Sretenovic said in an email

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