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OSAF nets student-fee hike benefits

Nine months after the announcement of a 45-percent increase in the student activity fee, it remains unclear how the University is using much of the $900,000 in additional funds.

The Office of Student Activities and Facilities has an approximately $1.3-million budget this year, after receiving more than $600,000 from the fee increase, according to The Chronicle's calculations.

The remainder of the increase went to an approximately $90,000 surcharge for Last Day of Classes festivities and to standard inflationary adjustments for Duke Student Government and Duke University Union budgets.

Although DSG and the Union both agreed to disclose their line-item budgets, OSAF Director Chris Roby-who was hired July 1 from Florida State University-declined to do so, saying his office has no obligation to break down its budget in detail.

"At FSU, everything was transparent-I'm very used to having open books," Roby said, contrasting it with his experience at Duke.

Roby split his budget into several categories and provided the percentage of funds each receives, but declined to supply further detail-although he noted that he believes his 14-person office is not given the financial support it deserves.

"This is my fourth institution and I've never seen projects so woefully underfunded," Roby said, adding that two staff positions remain unfilled.

Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, said he supported the $123 student activity fee increase even though the funds seem to be directed more at OSAF administration than at specific student groups.

"Let's remember that as a private institution, tuition and fees are all in one pocket-it's simply a label," Moneta said, noting that as a compensatory measure, requests for general tuition increases have been reduced and the student health fee has been frozen.

"We've been restrained and are trying to be responsible," Moneta said. "It's important not to isolate this."

He added that line-item budgets are not available for any of the University's administrative budgets.

Zoila Airall, an assistant vice president of student affairs who supervises OSAF, said some of the increase went toward hiring additional staff, adding that it would not be appropriate to reveal more specifics about the financial distribution.

"We don't have to say, 'We pay $10 for this curtain,'" Airall said.

The debut of the West Campus Plaza has created new funding pressures for OSAF, Airall said.

"We're pouring money into the Plaza," she added.

Over time, the activity fee increase will pay for more Plaza programming initiated by student groups, Airall said.

Melinda Roper, senior associate director of OSAF, said Plaza programming for the first five weeks of the semester was not her organization's responsibility, but it has been ever since.

Some student leaders whose groups have held events on the Plaza said OSAF is often helpful in arranging their events.

"A lot of groups get money if they need a stage or something like that," said Campus Council President Jay Ganatra, a senior.

Campus Council, however, did not receive any funding for its "Fridays on the Plaza" event in November, Ganatra said.

The International Association received $2,000 in programming funding from DSG, but none from OSAF for its "International FoodFest 2006," an October event on the Plaza, said senior Yubo Gong, the organization's president.

OSAF did provide logistical expertise, Gong said.

"They have a detailed map.... They know exactly how many tables will fit," he said, adding that OSAF helped set up the event.

Roby said the student activity fee increase was necessary because OSAF is taking over control of the Bryan Center and paying for its ongoing remodeling.

New couches, a fresh paint job, computer kiosks and new furniture on the patio are some of the recent improvements, Roby said, although he declined to specify the cost of any of the renovations.

"We want to continue upgrading the BC," he said.

Overall, Airall said the additional money creates a new funding model that pays in advance for student groups' expenses.

As an example, she noted that use of the Von Canon meeting rooms in the Bryan Center is now free for student groups.

"We're hearing students say they want more venues, more opportunities for social life," Airall said. "[The BC] needs to have less of an airplane hangar feel and be more of a student center."