UHS policy and Patrick’s plan discussed at SGA meeting

By Ashley Berger

In Monday’s meeting, the Student Government Association (SGA) discussed a variety of issues concerning students at the University of Massachusetts.

Cade Belisle/Collegian

The first major topic of the night was on the rapidly approaching Lobby Day, which will be held this year on March 5. This annual tradition for SGA members is held in Boston, where student supporters from across the state will travel to the statehouse to speak with representatives and senators about the need for more funding towards public higher education.

Vice President Garrett Gowen and Speaker of the Senate Hayley Mandeville both said the idea that Lobby Day will provide an outlet for students to make an impact on the future of public higher education

The Chairwoman of the Student and Diversity Engagement Committee, Aviv Celine, stressed the importance of this upcoming event by explaining that as a result of last year’s advocacy day the state added an extra $5 million to the public higher education budget.

In detail, Celine also delved into Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed “50-50” plan. This plan, if passed, she said, will give more funding to public higher education institutions, therefore making college more accessible and affordable to students.

The plan will bind the state into a commitment of equally splitting the costs of going to state universities with students, Celine said. This goes for the students in the UMass system as well as in community colleges throughout the state.

Celine gave a brief history of the UMass campus, saying that it was built because of the Morrill Land Grants back in the 1800’s that called for institutions to be created to provide educations for those who could not attend elite colleges.

Celine said Massachusetts ranked in the bottom half of states in terms of providing funding for public universities, encouraging the senators to invite their friends along for the trip to the statehouse in Boston.

“The more people that go and tell the senators or representatives that this needs to be done, the more they are going to have to listen,” said Celine.

The main motion of the night, presented by Sens. Hunter Parent-Wetmore and Anne-Marie Mombourquette, asked the SGA to denounce any future University decisions to create contracts with the loaning company Sallie Mae, which offers private student loans and insurance, for potential billing purposes.

While the two senators said there is no indication that the flagship campus has made any sort of move to sign contracts with the multi-billion dollar company, both the UMass Boston and Lowell campuses have utilized this company, and the potential fear is that it could become a system-wide policy.

The motion, which did pass, named Sallie Mae as an overall bad business, pointing out its current involvement in litigation for violations of federal security laws.

Later, Sen. Dave Morin made an amendment to the agenda and added a motion regarding the University Health Services (UHS) policy on waiving the Student Health Benefit Plan (SHBP). The motion would be a recommendation to the administration prompting them to give students the ability to waive student health insurance at the start of either semester if they obtained comparative health coverage.

As it stands now, the SHBP is an annual plan, yet students are billed at the start of each semester. Morin said the insurance company used by the school for UHS collects bills on a half-year basis, so it is by complete discretion of the University that this rule is in place.

The motion also noted how the University fails to make clear that there is a late waiver to cancel the fee, and, as it stands, the University promotes that there are no exceptions, making it hard for students to find the correct information.

The motion prompted an unusual debate, instigated by Sen. John Rockwell, who argued that this recommendation should not be rushed prior to its presentation to the UMass administration.

He advocated that the Senate ensure the motion’s perfection, seeing no need to rush the passing of it.

Against Rockwell’s plea, the motion passed.

Ashley Berger can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated that the date of the Public Higher Education Advocacy Day. The event is scheduled for March 5.