Students dispute SMPA major fee

As student majors in the School of Media and Public Affairs grumble about a $1,000 fee that will become a permanent addition to their yearly GW tuition bills, GW Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz says that students are misinterpreting the purpose of the added cost.

Katz said the fee is needed in order for the school to remain competitive and may increase as the school gains prestige.

“You have to charge what is a competitive price to get the quality of student needed for a better program,” Katz said.

Students majoring in political communication, journalism or electronic media will pay $28,790 in tuition in 2002-03, compared to GW’s general tuition rate of $27,790 for next year. Students minoring in one of the three disciplines pay an extra $500.

The Student Association passed a resolution against the fee in 2000 after expressing concern that the fee would deter some students from applying to the program.

While SMPA interim Director Jarol Manheim said the money from the fee goes to building technology, Katz said the fee is split between facilities, curriculum and technology.

“The fee is applied, and all of the money collected from it is used to support, maintain and replace all the equipment in the SMPA,” Manheim said.

Many students said they do not use the equipment because it is not useful in their major or they do not have access to it.

Sophomore Suzanne Jordan said most of the equipment in the building is useless to her because she is a political communication major.

“I doubt that I would have a need in my classes, as they are right now, to use the equipment. Most of political communication is theory,” Jordan said.

Junior Jordan Vendetti, a political communication major, said, “There’s a lot more equipment in this building that I don’t use because I don’t take the classes (in which it is used).”

Professor of Media and Public Affairs Christopher Sterling said he has heard students complain about the fee.

“I know there is disagreement, grumbling and unhappiness about the fee, particularly among political communication and journalism students because of not (having access to the equipment),” Sterling said. “I’m not in a position to say whether it’s fair or isn’t fair, because I don’t have enough information.”

Katz said students should concentrate on the overall quality of the program and not the fee.

“I’m not minimizing the cost,” he said. “It’s clearly an expense. But you have to look at the fact that the program is very popular.”

Manheim said the presence of the equipment benefits all students, regardless of how often they use it.

“Students apply to SMPA knowing it is more expensive,” Katz said. “We’re not saying that every student uses every resource evenly. We don’t charge on a usage basis.”

Despite political communication and journalism majors taking fewer or no classes with access to the specialized electronic equipment, all majors pay the same yearly fee in addition to regular GW tuition.

“If it had been my choice, I would have used a different model,” Manheim said.

“I think it’s ridiculous that SMPA has a fee,” said junior Moani Wright-Van Alst, who minors in journalism. “That’s part of the reason why I’m not majoring in journalism.”

Katz also said the arrival of CNN’s daily political show “Crossfire” will increase the “market demand” for SMPA programs, possibly making the program more selective.

“‘Crossfire’ should increase demand for the SMPA programs,” Katz said. “It is a factor in raising tuition if it causes demand to increase.”

He said the fee will be part of the program for the “foreseeable future” and transactions with “Crossfire” will not affect decisions about the fee.

GW officials will not disclose financial figures but have said that CNN is
paying operational costs while GW promotes and publicizes the program.

Other students said a fee should be applied to non-SMPA students who take classes in the new building.

Katz said students from other majors do not have to pay course fees if their classes are held in SMPA classrooms that have better technology than other University facilities.

“We build all our classrooms to be multi-purpose,” he said, citing the Elliott School of International Affairs building due to open for the fall 2002.

Craig Linebaugh, associate vice president of academic planning and special projects, said Academic Affairs funds the technology in the six general-purpose classrooms in the SMPA building and provides facility maintenance for those rooms through the Center for Academic Technology.

Junior Dwain Smith is a political communication major and an electronic media minor. He said he uses SMPA equipment for only his minor.

“I’d like to think that all three majors could be treated the same. But I don’t think that paying the fee entitles you to use the electronic equipment,” Smith said.

The building’s equipment includes a “modern newsmaker studio” to hold media interviews, a building-wide fiber optic network that allows fast cable and wire service connections, a teleconferencing classroom to enhance GW distance learning programs and a student media center equipped for print, broadcast and online research projects.

Manheim said with MPA’s specialized equipment, maintenance and upgrading “can cost easily $200,000 or $400,000” a year. The cost varies depending on changes in technology, aging equipment and the programs’ needs.

Katz said the fee would not cover all technology expenses even if it were exclusively applied there.

GW announced the fee in November 1999, according to a Nov. 22,1999 Hatchet story. It went into effect in the fall of 2001. Manheim said the school’s directors were never consulted about the fee.

“We weren’t asked about (the fee). It was announced,” he said.

Katz said the fee is determined “centrally” by “senior administrators” under his supervision. It is then approved by the board of trustees after student leaders are given the opportunity to review it.

Some students were pleased with what they get in return for paying the fee.

“Even though I don’t get as much use out of the equipment, I think I get a lot out of the speakers, the programs, the building,” Vendetti said.
“It’s a beautiful building.”

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