Come September 30th, the Wee Care program, a service on campus which provides child care to the poorest of families whose parents attend this University, will be $40,000 short in their budget due to a problem with the grant that funds them. This program is intended, obviously, to help poor families to escape poverty by offering cheap child care while the parents earn a degree, but it is in jeopardy of having to raise prices (currently families pay between $.75 to $2.50 per hour per child depending on income) and also having to stop offering its services during night classes. This would be a huge problem for the roughly one hundred families who currently use the program. Those who take only night classes because they work during the day would simply not be able to get the service, and thus Wee Care will, in addition to raising prices and cutting hours, be cutting families from the program.
Several weeks ago, knowing that they would be short and attempting to avoid the consequences of this shortfall, Wee Care approached the student government in order to ask for their shortfall to be delivered out of student fees. They asked for one student fee dollar, per student, spread over two semesters, to be allocated to them in order to stay out of the red.
As of last Thursday, the current student administration officially voted NOT to fund the Wee Care program. Come fall semester, getting a degree will be that much more difficult for our University’s poorest families.
Why did the vote turn out that way? Why all the fuss about a program which helps roughly one hundred families every semester? Shouldn’t we be jumping at the chance to help out these families, these fellow students? I thought we had family values around here.
I took it upon myself to understand the reasoning behind this decision. So I talked to our current Executive Vice President Trevor Tooke, who also happens to be running for Student Body President in this week’s election, about what happened and why. The reasons given for denying Wee Care the funds were basically three. First, it was thought that Wee Care does not benefit most students at the University; only enrolled families would be helped by this service. The second was that it was unclear precisely what the money would be used for, and whether Wee Care simply wanted it more than they needed it. In addition, the Student Senate did not wish to set a precedent for allowing them to come back and ask for money on a continuing basis.
To the first reason, I have this to say: as a Philosophy student, the Communications program does not much benefit me. Yet my tuition money helps to fund that department, and a hundred other departments on campus from which I receive no direct benefit. Of course, I have no problem with this because this is the model of how Universities work, and they have worked this way for a long time.
The analogy with Wee Care’s situation is obvious. But here’s another one anyway: not every student can sign up for the Buddhism class offered this semester. But this fact does not give us a reason to eliminate the funding for the Buddhism class. Not everyone can participate all the time in services that are nevertheless prudent for a university to have, like a class on Buddhism, or affordable child care for impoverished families.
Every student is provided the opportunity to sign up for whatever class they wish on a first come, first served basis, upon meeting certain prerequisites, and in this way is given the opportunity to be benefited by the education offered here. Exactly the same can be said of the Wee Care program. EVERY family has the opportunity to use the Wee Care service on a first come, first served basis each semester, upon meeting certain prerequisites, namely poverty. I can see no reason why this model, the model we use for every class, should prevent the program from being funded.
Student Body President Joseph Watkins has a rejoinder to this kind of thinking. His philosophy is that student fees should specifically be allocated to programs that are available to all equally, like the Student Center, activities, etc. where literally the entire school can participate. He thinks that the institutional money, and not student fees, should fund those programs that are beneficial to only a small number of students. There is something to be said for this line of reasoning and it is certainly more coherent than VP Tooke’s reasoning. Nevertheless, in this economic climate, with the institution facing severe budget cuts, and with their tendency to take seemingly forever to do anything, I wonder whether or not getting institutional money before September 30 is a reasonable solution. Student fees could fund Wee Care now, and for this reason, though I understand Pres. Watkins’ thinking, I don’t think his stance holds up.
To the second reason, that Wee Care was unclear about what they were to use the money for, I will say this: I asked Wee care what they would use the $40,000 for, and they said it would be used for salaries. So there’s your clear answer – to pay the people who work there. Simple enough. Now, however, the burden of paying the part time child care workers will be thrust upon those least capable of paying: the poor families in need of the service in the first place. If there was any debate about whether Wee Care simply wanted the money rather than needing it, let it be put to rest. They need it.
With regard to the third reason, about precedents, I would personally be glad to set that precedent. Universities are not just profit-making enterprises. They serve a social function as well, which is to improve the lives of the people who attend the university and the surrounding community. Failing to fund a program which helps the members of our community who most need to better their lives seems to violate that social function overtly. Fulfilling this function would have been relatively cheap as well. Wee Care’s request compared with a sampling of others made on the same day break down as follows: the Utah Transit Authority requested $6 in student fees per student, per semester for the next year; the sports program requested $11; the Student Center requested $1-$5 for a proposed NEW student center. And these were all continuing requests. Fifty cents per student per semester seems like a steal to improve the community, even a little.
Vice-President Tooke and President Watkins expressed a genuine desire to see the Wee Care program grow and be offered to more students in the future, but it is not clear how that will happen if the program is not funded, at least temporarily, by the student government of which they are both (and Tooke could still be, possibly next year) a member. This affordable childcare reflects the needs of our uniquely non-traditional institution. This administration should have funded Wee Care. The small amount of money would have helped the University bolster not only our status as a socially responsible institution, but also our dignity.