Rental fees irk student groups

A policy that charges student organizations as much as $425 a day per classroom to host events involving non-GW participants is drawing complaints from groups that say it impedes their ability to host annual programming.

The University created a policy in 2007 that charges student organizations an hourly or daily rate to use classrooms for events involving people unaffiliated with the University. If the organization requires a room with more than 100 seats, invites more than 100 people or needs more than one room, they will be charged between $100 and $425 a day per classroom – half of the regular rental fee.

Previously, the University did not have a written policy on classroom rental for student organizations, instead assessing fees on an individual basis. The policy does not apply to student organizations hosting only GW participants and does not count guest lecturers as people who are unaffiliated with the University.

Many organizations holding events had already booked their rooms before the University enacted the policy last year and now worry that it will strain their already-tight budgets as they prepare for the upcoming year.

“These charges make it economically impossible for us to ever host a debate tournament,” said Michael Buckwald, vice president of the GW Parliamentary Debate Society.

The Parliamentary Debate Society holds debate competitions in the collegiate debate circuit for about 400 students and requires the use of around 40 classrooms. Even if it uses only the cheapest classrooms – which are subject to availability – Buckwald said the debate team will owe about $8000 to host a two-day competition under the new policy.

Also as a result of the policy, the debate team has already had to cancel a tournament it runs for inner-city high school debaters in association with the D.C. Urban Debate League.

“As it stands, we’ll no longer be able to offer such assistance since the rooms would cost thousands of dollars,” said Buckwald.

Bethany Thomaier, chair of the International Affairs Society, said that her organization’s ability to host the annual Model United Nations event could be hampered by the new policy. The event brings almost 1,000 middle and high-school students to the University.

Thomaier, a senior, said that they plan to hold the Model United Nations on campus this year, and she hopes they will never be forced to look for other venues.

“We love hosting the event on campus, and the high school and middle school students love being here, so we’re hoping looking for alternative venues never becomes necessary,” Thomaier wrote in an e-mail.

University Registrar Elizabeth Amundson said the new policy allows the school to standardize which groups get charged and under what conditions.

“The policy was intended to introduce equity into the (classroom-usage) process,” Amundson wrote in an e-mail.

Jeffrey Lenn, associate vice president for academic operations, said the new policy is subject to possible reviews and reforms.

“What we’re trying to do is make our policy as responsible as possible to student groups, but we’re not quite there yet,” Lenn said.

At least one other school in the area does not charge space fees to student organizations hosting these types of events.

“(The University of Maryland) charges its students only for the use of audio-visual equipment when using classroom space,” said Karen Laumann, a representative of the operations office of the University of Maryland. She said this policy includes the use of multiple rooms and events attended by non-UMD students.

Thomaier said she worries that the policy may cause GW to lose the prestige of hosting certain events on campus.

“The University certainly has a right to charge for the use of their facilities,” Thomaier said. “But at the same time it’s important to keep in mind that we’re organizing an event that reflects very well on the University.”

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