There are some concepts that sound great in theory when used on their own with little additional context — “sustainability” is one of them.
So when the University Park Undergraduate Association issued a survey earlier this week asking students whether they’d be willing to pay a “yearly small student fee that is dedicated for sustainable energy,” it would be no surprise if the results of the survey were overwhelmingly positive.
But before they’re asked to vote on whether they’d be willing to pay more money, students should at the very least be given a clearer picture of how that money might be spent. As it stands now, UPUA’s preliminary six-question online survey gauges student interest in a possible sustainability fee, asks for suggestions regarding appropriate pricing and asks whether this should be expanded to a campus-wide vote. The online survey released by UPUA doesn’t, however, spell out examples as to how such a fee might be used.
UPUA has made clear that this is just one initial step toward determining the future of a possible sustainability fee, but students are being asked to weigh in on a potentially significant change without even basic information about how this might play out.
For example, if UPUA has been looking into similar fees at other schools, can it point to specific projects those fees elsewhere helped to fund? And if so, does UPUA intend to use a Penn State fee for similar initiatives? Even though this is an initial step, UPUA should provide a clearer definition of what projects this money might support.
While representatives have indicated that the money could go toward projects ranging from recycling efforts to solar panels, that’s still a fairly broad indication of what to expect.
Beyond that, UPUA also needs to establish why this fee is being considered — what could this fee accomplish that existing UPUA funds, already drawn from students’ pockets, could not?
While UPUA is doing the right thing by seeking out student input on an additional cost that could affect many students — at the very least, on their Bursar accounts — it should consider reissuing a survey that provides a more concrete explanation of the goals behind this possible fee.
Before they sign on in favor of spending a few extra dollars, students deserve to know more about where that money might be going.