While the Michigan Student Assembly approved proposing three student fee increases for the fall semester, and is currently making recommendations to University Vice President for Student Affairs Royster Harper, the decision will not be finalized until Harper makes a recommendation to the University Board of Regents.
MSA has asked the administration to charge students an additional $3.50 on their tuition bills for MSA fees. The increase would support expansion of Student Legal Services and an more money for MSA’s Budget Priorities Committee.
MSA President Jesse Levine said all three fee increases have the full support of the assembly.
“MSA wholeheartedly supports more legal counseling for landlord/tenant disputes, legal counseling for international students and an increase in financial backing to student organizations,” Levine said.
BPC, which is responsible for financing student groups on campus, gave out a total of $139,606.94 to student groups over the past year. $1 of the proposed increase would be put into the BPC’s fund and would generate an additional $40,000 for its budget, MSA Treasurer Devesh Senapati said.
“We had about $600,000 worth of requests from well over 300 groups,” Senapati said.
The amount of funding BPC provides student groups is on average about 33 percent of the amount they request. The proposed change would increase this number to 45 percent.
“That means more events and activities on campus,” Levine said.
In a ballot question during the MSA elections in March that asked students if they would be in favor of a one dollar increase in tuition to fund the BPC, 1,326 students, 62 percent of those who voted, agreed with the proposal.
Senapati said that in addition to wanting to make campus life more enjoyable, MSA wants to make campus life feel more safe. One way MSA hopes to do this is by expanding the services provided by SLS. Currently SLS has four lawyers on staff, who among dozens of services, represent students for MIP’s, DUI’s and some landlord-tenant conflicts. The other two proposed student fee increases, both $1.25, would cover two additional attorneys, one to concentrate on housing and one to specialize in immigration law.
MSA has recommended that a program called the Housing Legal Reform Project be added to the ranks of SLS, in order to focus specifically on housing, through litigation, data collection and lobbying. The HLRP would require one full-time attorney, whose salary would be funded by the student fee increase.
Lewis said the HLRP would be able to monitor specific patterns of complaints in Ann Arbor. For example, if the HLRP found a group of tenants with a similar complaint about a realtor, it could file a class-action lawsuit.
“Our office already does the day-to-day grunt work. We need someone to keep track of larger trends and watch the big picture,” Lewis said.
Levine explained that the housing attorney would be able to act on widespread campus problems, either by taking legal or legislative action.
“MSA is committed to improving off-campus housing for all U of M students by providing increased legal landlord/tenant analysis within the Ann Arbor community,” Levine said.
In addition to the hope of implementing the HLRP, MSA recommended a fee increase for expansion of SLS to protect international students. Lewis explained that immigration law is a highly specialized area, and that it is better if SLS can provide a specialist to students who are running into difficulty under immigration law.
A report was released by the Institute of International Education late in 2004 that said for the first time in more than 30 years, the number of international students in the United States had dropped. The numbers at the University were lower than they have been in previous years, although the school was still among the highest for international student enrollment.
In a past article in The Michigan Daily, Dr. Rodolfo Altamirano, Director of the International Center, attributed part of this decline to difficulty in maintaining legal immigration status in the United States following legislation introduced after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, such as the fees and application procedures for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
Levine said the rights of more than 4,000 international students are a major priority for MSA over the next year.
“International students should not have to worry about challenges to their status in Ann Arbor,” Levine said.
Lewis said that there had been greater interest expressed to SLS for cases involving international law. Lewis said the international specialist would be able to save some students thousands of dollars in legal services.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from students who have expressed a fairly urgent need for representation in cases concerning international law.”
Senapati said the current executive board and assembly feel that protecting students in the University community and improving the atmosphere are of the utmost importance.
“These fee increases are our number one priority,” Senapati said.
MSA hopes to implement all these services by next semester. Harper will make a recommendation to the Regents, who will eventually decide whether to approve the proposed increases.