In last night’s ASUA Senate report, my colleague brought up the implicit trade-offs in the Rec Center’s new “more than a weight room” model. But there’s another drawback to the continued creep of Tyrannosaurus Rec: further complication of once-simple student fees.
First, a review. The $306 Health\Rec fee is a textbook case of logrolling. On its own, a popular but ridiculous luxury like the Rec Center would have a tough time selling further expansion without weathering some criticism. Campus Health faces the same problem in reverse. It’s hard to attack expanded healthcare for students (as Campus Rec interim director Mark Zakrzewski put it in his presentation to the ASUA Senate last night, “what’s more valuable than your health?”), but the program doesn’t carry the same populist cachet as throwing open the doors to a gleaming new gym. By rolling both programs into a “health and wellness fee,” each one gets the money it wants without facing the scrutiny it fears.
Now, the new stuff. Like just-cloned dinos grokking doorknob mechanics, the philosoraptors at Campus Rec have come up with a new way to funnel fees where they don’t belong. As they explained at last night’s meeting:
“Our program by almost every metric is completely different than what it was last year at this time,” Zakrzewski said. “It’s much more than just a weight room.”
Offering numerous non-fitness related programs is a philosophical change for the recreation center, he said.
“We want to make the Rec a destination to study, hang out with their friends, get a healthy snack and obviously use the facilities,” he said.
To that end, the Rec Center now includes a tutoring center, a computer lab, a restaurant, an instructional kitchen, and a gift shop. Expanding the definition of “recreation” (sitting in the tutoring center! sitting in front of a computer! sitting at the electrolyte bar! sitting in the test kitchen! buying fresh spandex!), is a sort of ex-post facto logrolling (call it sawmilling), bringing programs like the Bookstore and the Student Union to the fee trough far after the fact. Clever girl.
Of course, the snack bar and gift shop probably don’t directly receive money from the Health\Rec fee. That’s what makes them especially dangerous. As Zakrzewski makes clear, both services “were introduced to keep current fees flat and help generate revenue for the center.” By their very location in the Rec, they benefit from the student fees that made their new digs possible. Those fees allowed UA to build a Rec Center well outside our means. Now we need to peddle chicken wraps and branded water bottles to keep running it. And by the time the next fee increase rolls around, neither function will seem so strange.
Follow fees long enough, and it’s easy to fall into a sort of conspiratorial thinking. Surely there must be a cabal of administrators locked in the Student Affairs conference room, brainstorming clever new ways to fleece the peasants! But as satisfying as it is to point a finger, there’s no one administrator or office to blame. Megafauna like our Rec center evolve slowly, expanding by quiet, incremental steps to fill new niches in the campus ecosystem. When times are good, they eat up all the funding they can find and grow huge. But when the climate changes, they become very vulnerable—and need more fees to keep from going extinct.