United Council seeking new source of revenue for time being

The United Council of UW Students is in a “state of financial crisis” after a line in the biennial state budget uprooted it’s primary funding source, according to a bill passed by the organization’s board of directors, Aug. 27.

“This summer’s decision was an attack,” United Council President Lamonte Moore said. “Legislators are trying to silence student’s voice.”

Budget language eliminated Mandatory Refundable Fees, a charge on top of tuition that has funded United Council since the 80’s.

In past years, students paid $3 per semester in MRF fees to United Council. Students could opt out of the charge if they didn’t want to pay. But under state budget changes, the $3 fee isn’t automatically added to tuition. Students need to opt in to pay United Council.

United Council Communications Director Matt Guidry said the state budget language didn’t outline how students can opt in to United Council fees.

The MRF charge wasn’t added to student tuition this year. There’s a donation button on the United Council website, but other than that, they aren’t sure how to collect opt-in money, Guidry said.

United Council reps will work with UW System legal staff to interpret the state budget lines, Guidry said.

After this summer’s budget decision, United Council board of directors began drafting changes to keep themselves afloat.

In a 10 hour meeting, Aug. 27, the United Council board voted to increase board member stipends from about $950 per semester to as much as $825 per month.

Moore said the board decided to pay members more because student staffers will be expected to put in more hours to keep United Council alive.

Moore said board members will need to be busy this semester. Members will need to fill out reports instead of a time card every other week to get paid.

“When I was a board member last year, we didn’t do anything, honestly,” Moore said. “We’re going to have to do more. Folks will get paid based on the amount of work they do. That’s our way of holding folks accountable.”

Last fall, Eau Claire student senate sent United Council a document airing concerns they had with the organization. Senate voted the next semester to cut its United Council campus membership.

“Definitely people had concerns about transparency,” Moore said. “Eau Claire had a problem with United Council… a lot of other campuses were disappointed also. We’re going to expect our students to do more to be transparent.”

United Council was founded in the 60’s as an advocacy group for Vietnam veterans and other student groups, Guidry said. The group relied on student donations and grants to function before the MRF policy was put in place in the 80’s.

Guidry said United Council will try to return to a donation-based funding system, seeking contributions from United Council alumni and students.

They are still figuring out how it will secure donations and grant funding. It recently formed a committee that will work to find revenue sources.

Moore said United Council can also partner with other organizations who have a similar vision to tackle policy changes.

Rachel Fleming is an Eau Claire native and United Council field operative, organizing and training volunteers on campuses in Northwest Wisconsin.

Fleming said United Council does more than just lobby state lawmakers and pursue policy changes. It also holds leadership training and teaches students how to lead an agenda and set goals.

“We’re still working with students,” Fleming said. “I don’t see us as just a lobbying organization. A lot of students want to get involved. United Council is also for training students to be leaders.”