SFC votes to defund Panther Shuttle


The Student Fee Committee (SFC) voted on Wednesday, April 10, to defund the Panther Shuttle and Weekend SafeRide bus, effective in the fall semester of 2019.

According to the SFC, the decision was made in order to abide by President Nook’s request to hold tuition and student fees “flat.”

Committee members Kristen Ahart, former Northern Iowa Student Government (NISG) Vice President, and Vice President of Student Affairs Paula Knudson were present at the weekly NISG Senate meeting on Wednesday, April 24 to explain the decision. Their presentation was featured at the meeting in response to growing student opposition that culminated in a 500+ signature petition.

Beyond last week’s Senate meeting, no formal announcement has been made by the SFC to make these lost services known to the student body.

Roughly 10 students were present in the gallery on Wednesday evening, five of whom made public comments.

“I love to see the engagement. They were respectful, they voiced different concerns, they spoke up and I am really proud of our students,” Knudson said following the Senate meeting. “These are hard decisions and you should be concerned because they affect your experience and it’s your money.”

Full-time students are charged with mandatory fees in addition to the price of tuition. These charges are known as student fees. For the 2019-20 school year, each student is projected to pay $351 towards student fees, a number which has remained static from last year.  

According to Ahart and Knudson, that money is split up into two categories: A student activities fee and a student services fee.

The student activities fee provides funding to organizations such as: NISG, music, theatre, the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center (GBPAC), intercollegiate academics, the Northern Iowan, family weekend, the Campus Activities Board (CAB), Service and Leadership Council, the Office of Student Life, Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice, the Green Fund, Gender and Sexuality Services and Military and Veteran Student Services.

The student services fee currently provides funding to Intercollegiate Athletics, the Panther Shuttle and the Weekend SafeRide. The proposed cut to the bus services leaves Intercollegiate Athletics as the sole item in the student services fee.

Based on projected enrollment for the 2019-20 school year, it is estimated that each student will pay $229.50 towards the student services fee. Estimates place the total amount at $2,023,553, all of which would be given to the Intercollegiate Athletics, according to the Student Fee Committee.

In an effort to keep student fees flat, the SFC was forced to make cuts in both the activities and service fee categories. According to Knudson, a total reduction of $400,000 was needed. The SFC decided to reduce the student activities fee by $150,000 and the student services fee by $250,000.

The student activities fee amounts to roughly $1 million, whereas the student services fee amounts to roughly $2 million. Ahart and Knudson said the committee is not allowed to cross funds from the student services fee to the student activities fee.

Their proposal resulted in a 100 percent cut to the bus services and a 10.4 percent cut to the Intercollegiate Athletics services.

The estimated contribution per student to keep the bus services active is $21.70. Senators during Wednesday’s meeting questioned why one service was cut entirely while another only received a small reduction.

“That is just how the money ended up,” Knudson said. “No one came into the discussion saying let’s hold athletics harmless.”

According to the new budget proposal from the Student Fee Committee, Intercollegiate Athletics is receiving an increase in funding as a result of the cut and use of reservation funds. Knudson said that cutting the bus service accounted for the necessary reduction and allowed more reserve funds to be allocated to Intercollegiate Athletics.

It is unclear how much of the reserve funds will be alloted to Intercollegiate Athletics or how much of the fee initially allotted to the bus will be transferred to Intercollegiate Athletics. During the Senate meeting Knudson said “a little [is going] to athletics.”

Beyond financial matters, SFC presented an additional reason for their decision to defund the shuttle. According to Ahart, the Committee agreed the bus is not a benefit to the entire student body because the route does not cover certain areas around campus. Ahart said there is a “disparity for East Hudson”, referring to the bus’s main route of travel.

Students in the gallery who spoke against the decision accused the SFC of prioritizing athletics over education. They asked why transportation to and from class was not considered to be a fundamental right of every student.

Responding to their concerns, Ahart and Knudson cited a graph which depicted the decreasing utilization of the Panther Shuttle. According to the data, there were roughly 20,000 rides taken by students on the shuttle during the 2018 academic year. This number does not reflect the number of individuals who rode the bus, but rather, the number of rides taken in general.

Carter Williams, junior philosophy major, is a frequent rider of the Panther Shuttle.

“I have seen the people who ride it [the shuttle] — the people who need it. Next year I will not need the bus, but I know that a large number of people will,” said Williams. “This cut is one that is racist, classist and ableist. The people behind it neglect to feel that way; but the student body as a whole does. It should not be approved.”

On Friday, April 26, the Senate posted a resolution directed at the Student Fee Committee. It recognized NISG’s failed attempts to acquire access to the new budget proposal after repeated requests. The resolution further stated the “plethora of concerns from students” regarding the proposed extermination of the Panther Shuttle and Weekend Safe Ride. The Senate referenced the Iowa Code, a body of laws under the Iowa legislature, specifically as it applies to the Board of Regents. As written in the Iowa Code, Chapter 262, Section 262.34B, the Student Fee Committee is required to “provide a copy of its recommendations to the recognized student government organizations at each university and those organizations may review the recommendations and provide comment to the president of the university and the state board of regents.”

The Senate resolution stated, “[T]he committee response have [sic] been inadequate to the requests to obtain a copy of the recommendations from the Student Fee Committee.”

After the Senate meeting on Wednesday, April 24, in which access to the proposed budget was granted, the Senate began making comments.

According to Chad Schafer, NISG Chief of Staff (19-20), the NISG Upper Cabinet met with President Nook on Friday, April 26, and presented him with their amended proposal. The content of their proposal is unknown.

President Nook is scheduled to meet with the Board of Regents on Monday, April 29. At that meeting he will present the new budget for approval.