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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration

Vicky’s Doublespeak: ‘Students Have Control…’

“Students still have control…over where their activity fee goes,” said Vicky Triponey in an Aug. 31, 2004 article in The Daily Collegian. The collective response of the student body to this bold statement (and lie) by Triponey, Queen of Deception, should have been, “Hmm? Oh really?

Three years later to the date, I’m left wondering where this magical student control of our own activity fee is lurking. It must be somewhere on campus, right? Maybe it’s behind the JoePa statue? Or maybe on fourth floor of the Sparks building.

Or, maybe, just maybe, student control of the activity fee was dead and buried next to President Atherton the moment Vicky landed on campus. Cold and dead, just like so many of her foes would become over the next few years…the proud and tradition-minded Undergraduate Student Government (USG) now grimly among the deceased.

Lest I digress. Ah, yes, the activity fee. “Students still have control…over where their activity fee goes.”

Vicky Triponey is the head of a panel of delegates from select student organizations and various administrators from across the Commonwealth. This panel is called the “Student Activity Fee Board”, or SAFB for short. The whole point of this “advisory panel”, you see, is to give the impression that the activity fee is actually controlled by students.

Unfortunately, the truth is an ugly thing. The truth is, SAFB was created by and for Vicky Triponey to exert her influence and ultimately steal control of the student activity fee from the loyal and unsuspecting Penn State student body.

This Machiavellian task was accomplished rather quickly, and Triponey wields total power over how much the activity fee will be increased (because Penn State fees never decrease) each year, and to whom and for what purpose these precious monies — totally a whopping roughly $2.5 million — will be allocated.

In the old days, it was students in the University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC) that received all that savory student fee money, but Vicky scored the ultimate coup with the Queenly proclamation last spring that another of her beasts of a creation — the Funding Allocation Board — would place in her the power to deny students their last reasonable input into how their fee money would be spent.

This past summer serves as living proof, as Vicky Triponey issued her decisions — alone — about which student groups and organizations would be allocated money.

If we were to take Vicky Triponey at her word, we’d be living in a different world…

…a world where “students still have control…over where their activity fee goes.”

If only.

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There is no doubt that Old Main has unilaterally taken power away from Penn State students. They have also, in a less direct fashion, taken power away from the faculty. One can reasonably conclude that there is a policy in place of consolidating power in Old Main. Tripponey has not set this policy. Spanier has. You would be better taking aim at him, rather than his agent Tripponey.

Ok, lets clear up some facts here, LBW. The SAFB has been around since 1995 when the HUB expansion was underway. Bill Asbury was VP of Student Affairs, not Vicky Triponey. The SAFB was formed to set forth the student activity fee rules, and they actually are somewhat reasonable. Many of the original or still existing UPAC rules are based in SAFB policies. The SAFB has the primary role of broad based activity fee policy and fee increases for all campuses. The SAFB is required to approve all raises in an activity fee beyond the rate of inflation (which rate, we don’t know, as the Higher Ed price index is different from the CPI or even the PCE/PCE-core rate). While the SAFB is not 100% student controlled, the students seated on the board are from popularly elected positions. As thorough investigations into the SAFB have never been conducted, we do not know if the dealings of the board have ever been inappropriate or if the structure complies with court cases ruling that student activity fees must be controlled by students. However, there is only one major instance in which the SAFB ever significantly strayed from its policies. This was in 2002-2003 when the SAFB approved a fee increase for a new student health center, a decision which would have otherwise violated a provision in the SAFB policies prohibiting fees from going to capital projects.

One need only read the history of the student activity fee on UPAC’s website to see how much students have had a profound impact on Penn State through contributions of their personal funds to their projects. It is a shame that the system by which this process is fulfilled has deteriorated. However, Loyal Blue and White’s explanation is missing some key points.

Raises in the student activity fee are ultimately controlled by the Board of Trustees. Interestingly, the students first proposed the SAF to the Board of Trustees, offering up a willingness to be taxed by their alma matter for their own benefit. Since then, no such large delegation of students has directly appealed to the BOT for consideration of changes to the student tax. This has always been, in recent years, done through administrative conduits.

The average student, one assumes, is placing a duty in their administrators to accurately and fairly present the student opinion on the body’s behalf, since no reasonable student representation exists on the BOT today. The best way to convey to the BOT of student desires would ultimately be fee-increase referenda; however, no one has proposed that the SAFB go about moving to this conduit from the current one of the Vice President for Student Affairs.

Where the current administration does have a modified degree of control is in the Funding Allocation Board (FAB). While the SAFB continues its fee increase process under the same system, the methods by which such taxes are disbursed to student activities has changed. Now, a non-100%-student-controlled committee makes budgetary decisions. Additionally, these decisions do not (as with UPAC) go to the SAFB for appeal if need be, but in essence go to the administration. The Vice President for Student Affairs retains amendment power – or so it is said – over FAB’s decisions. While such power has yet to be exercised, the question is on the existence of such power. Does such power constitute an absence of control on the part of students? If yes, then this begs the question, is PSU in compliance with the court cases that have stated that student activity fees must be in the hands of students.

I close with the interesting note that Penn State seems to be a lot like Washington DC. Despite years of complaints, there has yet to be a solution for taxation without adequate representation.

[…] Vicky Triponey is really just plain horrible at her job. She takes things that aren’t hers (the activity fee), she has used a sledgehammer to destroy some of Penn State’s longest and […]

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