Editor’s Note: Update 11/16/17: The Jon M. Huntsman School of Business announced it will assemble an advisory board to discuss differential tuition for the first time in December. Read full story here.
— Utah Statesman 📰 (@UtahStatesman) November 16, 2017
The Jon M. Huntsman School of Business collects more than $8 million annually through differential tuition. How that money is divvied up is supposed to be decided by an advisory board to the dean made up of students, faculty and staff.
That board, however, has never met.
The lack of a board’s existence hasn’t prevented tuition increases or stopped the dean’s office from spending the money from the school of business. On average, business students pay $2,000 per year more than other students at Utah State University.
In an interview with The Utah Statesman, Associate Dean Dave Patel — who was set to oversee the board until the 2017-18 academic year— originally provided a list of would-be faculty board members and said, “We met with Ben [Vera, 2015-16 Utah State University Student Association business senator]…it’s met once.”
The Statesman filed a public records request for all written records of any past meetings.
Patel then admitted the board had never actually met.
“Ben did remind me we never met as a board,” Patel said in an email to The Statesman. “Our best recollection is that we did not confirm a time when everyone could meet.”
“That is my fault entirely,” he added.
The Statesman contacted all five faculty members Patel said were on the board — two stated via email they had never been involved with this board or differential tuition, while the other three did not respond.
According to the one-page business charter for the differential tuition advisory board, “The board will review the use of funding provided through differential tuition and make recommendations to the dean regarding the use of funding.”
The college’s website states the funding is used for personnel — such as faculty and staff — “program support” and “administrative infrastructure.”
The Statesman has filed a public records request seeking a more specific breakdown than is provided on the website to examine spending while the board was non-existent and will provide more details as they become available.
Assembling an advisory board
Although the advisory board has never convened, 2016-17 USUSA Business Senator Nadir Tekarli said he tried to gather members and get meetings started, but faced obstacles when doing so.
“I honestly did not think it would be a big deal at all,” Tekarli said of recruiting board members. “This board, to me, was something that could build some more trust between students and administration, which I see as being a good thing for all sides, but unfortunately it wasn’t able to be that way.”
Tekarli said the board’s lack of meeting has been problematic for many business students.
“We’ve seen a lot of students complain about differential tuition,” he said. “Keeping it all in the dark is not going to make you any friends.”
Tekarli reached out to students from each department in order to convene a board, but said problems with administration kept that from happening.
“[The administration] seemed supportive but never really did anything about it,” he said. “As it stands, [the board] is just a charter.”
The board’s charter instructs the responsibility of chair to fall on the school’s current Associate Dean for student affairs, Vijay Kannan.
Making sure there is absolute transparency
“What we want to do is we want to make sure there is absolute transparency,” Kannan said, “The last time we met… it’s been a few years.”
That statement was later refuted by Patel in his comments to The Statesman.
Every level of the school of business should be involved in the process, according to the charter.
To provide input from all levels of the business school, “[board] members shall be selected through recommendations from the USUSA business senator, department heads, and the deans’ office,” the charter states.
These members are to include undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and administration.
It wasn’t even clear to some members how often the board needed to meet.
“The only time I’ve ever understood them to meet is when there’s a proposed increase,” said Cody Davis, the USUSA business senator, who is tasked by the charter with selecting students to sit on the board.
During his interview, Davis also stated the advisory board met “annually” and “as-needed”.
However, the charter stipulates they are to meet at least annually, “with additional meetings to be called as needed to carry out the responsibilities of the board.”
“It definitely doesn’t paint a positive picture of what the administration is,” Tekarli said. “It doesn’t make anyone think ‘oh, they’re trustworthy.’ I think there’s really no positive for doing this … it just seems lazy and it’s just generally a bad idea.”
The revenue from differential tuition increased just more than $3 million over the last five academic years, according to the college’s website.
How differential tuition compares with other colleges at USU
The business school is one of three USU colleges using differential tuition. The business school’s tuition is higher than that of the Caine College of the Arts and the College of Engineering.
Chris Terry, associate dean of the Caine College of the Arts, said the advisory board monitoring the art school’s differential tuition meets annually and provided documents detailing the committee’s decisions.
“Committees can be a pain in the neck,” Terry said. “It’s hard to have a big group of people agree on everything, but it is necessary … it’s about transparency, being sure everyone knows what’s going on, that’s why we have a committee.”
Terry added he feels no matter the amount of work it takes to find a time for meeting, the transparency that results from gathering a board is imperative.
The business school’s advisory board never met because, “it was really a scheduling issue,” Patel said. “We have 13 or so people — just getting everybody at a time conducive to meeting, that’s why we did not have a meeting last year.”
The College of the Arts’ advisory board follows a three-page charter, and raises differential tuition if a majority of the committee agrees to do so, contrasting with the business school, that has a one-page charter and has raised tuition without advisory board meetings.
While enrollment in the business school has increased 16 percent since 2012, revenue from differential tuition has increased 34 percent, without ever having recommendations from the board.
In an email sent to The Statesman, Patel said he received student input and has “met with the business council every year for the past six or seven years,” to discuss differential tuition. Tekarli, who led the 2016-17 business council, said Patel met with the council once to discuss the Huntsman-Koch donation, but did not discuss differential tuition.
“That was the one time he came to our meeting,” Tekarli said.
He said there are a lot of students who don’t trust what the Huntsman School of Business is doing with all the money students are paying.
“If you want students to be more trusting with what it’s being used for and with paying it, tell them what it’s for, have them understand what’s going on.”