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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: New sociology fee unfairly burdens undergraduates

Many sociology undergraduates were upset to see a new $300 fee posted on their bursar’s accounts this semester, in addition to the rest of the already onerous tuition fees they must pay. This annoyance was compounded by the recent transition for sociology from a department into a school and the lingering suspicion that this fee would pay for the increased cost of administration.

None of the $151,200 raised by the fee will be spent on faculty. A committee of student volunteers will vote annually on how to allocate the fee. Still, some will question whether this considerable fee is worth it.

Ultimately, given the increased budget cuts the university will be facing this year, this charge is the tragic consequence of a state government that does not adequately value its public education and is committed to the failed policy of austerity. This makes the fee necessary for the school to remain competitive.

Celestino Fernandez, a professor of sociology and a university distinguished outreach professor, pointed to various other programs that have instituted similar fees, including sociology’s downstairs neighbor, the School of Government and Public Policy.

“We are not by any means first or unique in this respect,” he said.

Fernandez explained that the decision to implement the fee was originally undertaken because of calls from students, particularly from the Sociology Club, for tutoring for the core classes Social Research Methods and Social Statistics. This is one of the four areas in which 86 percent of the money will be spent. The other three are internships, a new career planning service and a full-time academic adviser for Sociology. The remaining 14 percent will be spent on a need-based scholarship.

John McNeil, the new full-time academic adviser, said that not having to serve undeclared students and linguistics majors has allowed him to cut down the waiting time for students to get an appointment, which used to be as long as two weeks.

The student committee will also have the power to use fee monies on an individual basis. For instance, if a student wants to present a paper they wrote at a regional American Sociological Association conference, the money could be spent on this.

Still, the fee could cost the school students, as had happened to the Honors College when it implemented a $500 yearly fee.

Moreover, graduate students do not have to pay the fee, but they still benefit from it in some ways, including access to advising and career services. Graduate student Dee Zuganelli reflected on the change from department to school, saying it is “a way of building up our cred within Social and Behavioral Sciences and a way to resist our program being merged or culled out for other units.”

The fee is at least nominally part of the upgrade to the School of Sociology, and the improvements in the ranking and strength of the program may benefit graduate students more than undergraduates.

Tracy Bacon, a sociology graduate student, added that she laughed when she saw the new cost referred to as a “small fee.” She said that “Bergesen [Director of the School] told the grad students that the change was so we could have more opportunities to grow and remain competitive with other top sociology departments” and that “we’ve gotten more faculty and programs,” which again suggests an unfair emphasis on the top-ranked graduate program.

That this fee is necessary to provide these fairly basic services is upsetting. However, in light of recent and upcoming budget cuts by the state, it is needed. The lawmakers in this state, particularly the Republicans, must change course and adequately fund the UA so that this substantial fee can be reduced or reversed. In the meantime, graduate students should help fund the necessary services that make the school prestigious and their degrees competitive.


Martin Forstrom is a senior studying sociology and Latin American studies. Follow him on Twitter.

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