Wisconsin Union portion of segregated fees create a wasteful, unnecessary burden on students

The segregated fees allotted towards Memorial Union is an unfair way of using student tuition to fund tourism. 

Image By: Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons - Richard Hurd

Anyone who sets foot on campus during the summer would probably agree that UW’s Memorial Union is the busiest spot in all of Madison — if not the entire state. Rain or shine, you will find families savoring $5 cups of Babcock ice cream, alumni bonding over $15 pitchers of Moon Man and lines upon lines of 30-somethings buying sandwiches, pizza and souvenirs. I like to think that my first-grade cousin could oversee the Union and that this place would still make a profit.

But that’s not the case. Each and every UW-Madison student pays $233.52 to the Union each and every semester. Collectively, UW-Madison students send a subsidy of $20 million to the Union each year. This is calculated by multiplying $233.52 by the number of enrolled students at UW-Madison, approximately 44,000. This fee is mandatory for all students, and it makes up the largest share of the UW’s mandatory “seg fees.” In other words, UW-Madison students are forced to take out student loans to pay for a tourist entertainment center. The Union, of course, benefits tremendously from this arrangement: They’ve built Union South ($98 million) and completed an unwarranted renovation of Memorial Union ($106 million) in the last decade alone.

The Union offers benefits to Madison: It attracts tourists and boosts the local economy, it employs hundreds of students and it offers social and cultural education through the Wisconsin Union Directory. But in wake of Governor Scott Walker’s $250 million cut to higher education and the crumbling state of buildings like Van Vleck and Humanities, these Union projects seem wasteful at best and downright corrupt at worst. University divisions like the Union and Athletic Department were not intended as commercial enterprises, but the present state of higher education obliges UW to seek funds through these channels.

I hope I see the day when the Union pays a profit back to the academic divisions of UW, just as the Athletic Department does today. That may be a pipe dream, but I call on the Regents, chancellor and governor to work to eliminate the students’ Union subsidy.

Adam is a recent University of Wisconsin graduate. What are your thoughts about the use of segregated fees to fund the Union and other tourist attractions? Send comments and questions to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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