Podcaster Farah Eltohamy sits down with State Press politics editor Vandana Ravikumar to discuss the Barrett administration's proposal to the Arizona Board of Regents to raise the honors college fee. The two go over why students are concerned about the increase and the lack of communication from Barrett.
Farah Eltohamy: As of the current 2018-2019 academic year, Barrett students pay a mandatory fee of $750 per semester, on top of tuition, to receive added benefits of the honors program. Since 2009, the Barrett fee has gone up by $250 every five years. The fee was originally $250, was raised to $500 in 2010, and is now up to the current $750 in 2015.
With the 2019-2020 academic year coming close, the Barrett administration has once again proposed to increase the fee to $1000, a move that has been met with an overwhelmingly negative response from students. The administration's reasoning behind the increase was that the new funds would be allocated to paid internships, study abroad programs and paid research opportunities.
Vandana Ravikumar: My name is Vandana Ravikumar and I am the politics editor for the State Press.
Farah Eltohamy: From the results of the poll conducted by USG, the overall concern among Barrett students is that they don’t know how the fees will be used. Why is there so much confusion over the increase? Is the disconnect fully on the Barrett administration to blame?
Vandana Ravikumar: I think one of the reasons why there's so much confusion about how the fee is going to be used is because the information was originally given to students through these meetings that were held on the different campuses. A lot of students couldn't go to those meetings, they would hear about it from their friends or other people on social media who had attended them.
There was a lot of potential I think for people to talk about it a lot but not really know what the fee was going to be used for and for Barrett to not have their fully formed narrative ready and available to students right away. That's something that they kind of tried to remedy by sending an email out to all the honor students after all the meetings that happened, but by then I think the dialogue had already been opened up and a lot of people already had their opinions formed on it. I think that helped really build that opposition to it among the students.
Farah Eltohamy: Was the reaction from Barrett students to this current proposal similar to the previous fee increase in 2015? Was there any more transparency from the Barrett administration last time?
Vandana Ravikumar: From what I've heard, Dean Jacobs said at one of the meetings that I attended that there was not much backlash in 2015. But I've also seen some students from around that time say that they weren't really informed about it and the fee was just raised. I was not a student in Barrett at that time, so I can't really speak to what it was like, but I think it's possible that maybe they're trying to be more vocal and transparent about it now and then the raised awareness is itself kind of a catalyst for people being upset about it. People can't be upset about something that they're not aware of.
Farah Eltohamy: Although the increase will apply to Barrett students of all campuses, will the way the money is being used change to cater to meet each campus’ separate needs?
Vandana Ravikumar: That's what the Barrett administration has said. They said that about 80 percent of all Barrett students are on the Tempe campus and the Tempe campus is obviously the one that has the most Barrett resources right now — the whole honors complex, everything.
But they said that they would like to build Barrett up more on the other campuses because the Tempe one is already fully established. But on other campuses, Barrett doesn't have that presence where it has its own building, even its own classrooms in some cases. They said that they do want to allocate some of the money towards being able to make Barrett more robust on the Poly, Downtown and West campuses.
Farah Eltohamy: It is my understanding that, when USGT passed Senate Resolution 8, it opposed the fee not because they condemn Barrett, but because of the lack of transparency surrounding the decision. What will happen now? The proposal has already been submitted to the Arizona Board of Regents, and if ABOR approves of it, will USGT’s decision still matter?
Vandana Ravikumar: In terms of the resolution that USG Tempe passed, it's not exactly a condemnation of the fee itself. It's that they feel like Barrett did not inform the student body enough about it and was not communicating with them effectively about it. They've said that they could support the fee increase just if Barrett is more open about what it's being used for and has that communication with them.
In terms of that resolution I'm not really sure what the next step is for them. I think they're hoping that the Barrett administration will respond to them in some way and we'll try to facilitate that transparency that they were doing and I think they did so in that email. As for what students can do with ABOR, ABOR is only going to vote on this matter in April. They do have a student regent who is supposed to represent us and students can also try to get their voices heard by the Arizona Board of Regents because they're kind of the last step. It doesn't really seem like a Barrett is mulling over whether or not to pass the fee increase. It seems like they're kind of past that point and they're waiting for able to make the next move.
Farah Eltohamy: If the Barrett administration would have been more transparent with the increase, would the backlash still be as strong? How important is the affordability aspect to Barrett students?
Vandana Ravikumar: There definitely still would have been some backlash. There always is with fee increases, especially because we're all college students and we are already paying tuition and things like that. People are really wary of things are asking them to pay more money, especially a couple hundred dollars more per semester. I think that if there was more transparency from the beginning, people would maybe not be as resistant to it, because a lot of the responses in the survey that we looked at were saying that people disapproved of this proposal because they just don't know what the money is being used for. If they were able to really understand what it's being used for and see a purpose in it then I think they would maybe not be as resistant.
But going to the affordability of it, I think inevitably there definitely will be students who cannot afford the fee increase. There is a certain bottom line I think for some students where they have to decide, "Well even if I understand where the fee is going, I can't afford to pay it." I don't know how that really shakes out for the entire Barrett student body, but I'm sure there will be some students who probably will have to drop Barrett because of it.
Farah Eltohamy: For the State Press, I'm Farah Eltohamy.