Future course fees still to be determined

By Timothy Bearden

Despite previous reports earlier this semester, Columbia will not yet eliminate course fees from the college, Steve Kapelke announced to the Student Government Association on Nov. 18.

Kapelke said the board of trustees rejected the original plan to do away with fees and suggested the senior administration come up with a different plan. The elimination of course fees, as reported in The Chronicle on Oct. 27, would have created a $5 million hole in the operating budget.

“They didn’t say we couldn’t do that,” Kapelke said of the rumored course fee elimination. “But they asked the administration to … go back and look at other possible ways of dealing with the course fee issue, specifically the transparency issue, and come back to the board with other possible ways of dealing with it. That’s what we’re in the process of doing right now.”

Kapelke, who has been with the college since 2001, said the required course fees have been a continual problem for not only students and the SGA, but also for the senior administration.

“It’s a situation that I’ve inherited,” he said. “I don’t like the course fee situation right now. It is something that we need to do something about, but it’s a fairly complicated issue.”

Kapelke said there was a “series of complicated conversations” happening among the senior administration, but refrained from being too specific.

The senate asked Kapelke if he planned to deal with the transparency issue, meaning that the next plan was for the course fees and how the administration was going to address it. He was reluctant to say what the new plan was, and that because it hasn’t been brought to the board of trustees for approval, any speculation would be premature.

“The problem with talking about something prematurely is that it starts rumors,” Kapelke said.

Kelli Van Antwerp, vice president of Finance for the senate, asked Kapelke if he had a timetable for when more information might be released.

“I think the trustees would like the administration to act fairly quickly on this,” Kapelke said. “Partly because we feel the urgency in this, both in response from student questions and student requests, but also because it’s an issue we’ve been grappling with for a number of years.”

Despite the reluctance of the provost to give a plan or a timetable, Jessica Valerio, president of the SGA, said she was confident in the senior administration that something will be done that both the students and college can agree on.

“I think that Mr. Kapelke did the best he could,” Valerio said. “I think the information and the proposals and the plans are in response to our concern about course fees and their transparencies. I think that it was good of him to keep that information to himself.”

However, she was not expecting the presentation that Kapelke gave to the SGA. Valerio said she had hoped for something more concrete.

“When Mr. Kapelke and I had talked about him coming to talk to the student government, it was after two meetings when the original plan was presented at committee meetings,” she said. “I was hoping that those would go well so he could give us a substantial update.”

When Kapelke was asked in the meeting about where the course fees went, it came across as though he wasn’t exactly sure, which is an issue the SGA has been trying to address for at least the past three years.

“Course fees generally deal with such things as depreciation of things such as equipment,” he said. “If I’m teaching a film production course, it would probably deal with consumables like film stock.”

Kapelke said the course fees are probably averaged among sections of courses, which means if there’s 20 sections of a course, they take the median amount it would cost that course to operate and charge it to the students. The fees are then placed back into the college’s operating budget.

Valerio said she thought Kapelke “didn’t want to be so blunt as to say we have no idea,” but that’s part of what’s going on.

“I think that the administration has been open and honest about the fact that they do not know where the course fees are going,” Valerio said. “They’re going into tuition, they’re going into this big pool and they’re being used for God knows what. They’re being honest about that, and that’s good. They recognize that problem.”

Although there is still no evidence the course fee issue will be solved anytime soon, Valerio said she was confident the administration is doing what is in the best interest of the students.

“I’m confident there will be a plan that everyone will be happy with,” she said.