Monday, March 06, 2006

Please vote 'yes'

This Tuesday and Wednesday, you will be asked to vote on three separate referenda questions. These ask if you support two scholarship programs, and if you believe the University should increase its commitment to minority recruitment. I strongly urge you to vote 'yes' in response to all three questions.

The first question involves the creation of the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship. This scholarship would be a new and enduring source of both need- and merit-based financial aid created by a refundable fifteen dollar fee. Five dollars goes toward the immediate creation of new scholarships and ten goes into an endowment, and the interest from the endowment will create a permanent source of scholarships.

The Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship will create a new surge of community service on campus. Every student awarded these scholarship dollars will be required to do fifty hours of community service to have their scholarship renewed. This requirement is based on the principle that by funding the scholarship, the community is making an investment in students, and these students will be expected to give back to the community.

Some have argued that fifty hours is too low of a requirement, but consider the following: 1) Students required to engage in service tend to enjoy it so much they continue giving back to their community beyond the required amount; 2) the program will increase service on campus; and 3) you can make a difference in fifty hours.

If this passes, next year there will be at least an additional $405,000 in scholarship funds available, and this amount will steadily increase. In twenty years, Student Affairs has projected the endowment will approach fifteen million dollars and over a million dollars in scholarships will be awarded each year. These amounts could dramatically increase if we succeed in getting alumni to donate to the program, and this is the kind of program alumni will be eager to

The program allows students to proactively solve problems facing our University instead of futilely asking the state to solve these problems for us.

The second proposal is the Students for Equal Access to Learning fee. This refundable fee is only six dollars. This organization was created to provide need-based financial aid in 1970, and students have continually voted to renew the program.

This is an extraordinary value because the state provides matching funds that double the amount of scholarship funds available. These are state funds we would not have access to without the Students for Equal Access to Learning fee.

The final question concerns minority enrollment. In the last few years, freshman enrollment has increased dramatically, but the number of minority students has remained stagnant or in some cases even decreased. For example, since 1996 the total number of freshmen enrolled has risen from 5,946 to 7,584, while the number of African Americans enrolled decreased from 521 to 499.

This proposal does not advocate the creation of quota systems or any changes in the way the Office of Admissions reviews applicants. Instead, a 'yes' response acknowledges the need for the University to more actively recruit underrepresented students to increase the strength of our applicant pool. Without a renewed commitment to minority recruitment we will lose out on both the intellectual quality of these students and the diversity of background that they could
offer this campus.

Answering 'yes' to these three questions will increase both the level of community service on our campus and the diversity of perspectives in our classrooms. While we can't guarantee success we do have an obligation to guarantee that others have an opportunity to succeed. We can fulfill our promise to future students through the power of pooling our resources.

It is a fundamental principle of our society that the cost of progress is often sacrifice. By making the modest sacrifice of endorsing these three proposals you can contribute to lasting progress on our campus. Please vote 'yes.'

Josh Rohrscheib is a third year law student, a guest columnist and the President of the Illinois Student Senate. He would like to thank Student Affairs, Vice-Provost Ruth Watkins and Financial Aid Director Dan Mann for their help with developing the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship proposal. He can be reached at

Published in the Daily Illini on March 6, 2006


Anonymous Stu Schaff said...

I think it is important to post responses to the proposals here for a balance of opinion.

As printed in March 6, 2006's Daily Illini.

Monday's editorial, "Leaving our lasting legacy," described a referendum that will appear in this week's student elections. The referendum asks the student body to support the creation of a $30 a year student fee to establish a new service scholarship. Ideally, this will get people involved in service by rewarding them with full tuition. However, our concerns extend beyond the low 2.0 GPA standard, and we ask that the student body votes against it. We fear that service will become little more than an obligation to maintain a scholarship. Further, the proposed numbers are too extreme. Fifty hours a year comes out to less than two hours a week. The typical volunteer in service groups does more than that each week throughout the community without any monetary reward, and students who need to do service for tickets are often able to pull off 25 hours within two weeks. The approximately $1.5 million that will be collected will look like it's going towards service throughout campus, but it will actually only affect a select few. And how are the recipients chosen? We don't know. The proposal that will appear on Tuesday's ballot doesn't address selection at all.

The ideal service campaign would include monetary grants and awards given to student-initiated service projects, students who already exemplify the sprit of service and citizenship, and organizations actively engaged in service. It would create the incentive to do good, encouraging both individuals and organizations to get involved.

Please vote against this proposal to create the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship. It's full of holes and only gives superficial support to campus service activities.

Civic involvement needs to become an institutional priority at our University and a good solution will require much more deliberation and collaboration with parties invested in service.

Allison Castillo, Perfect Prom Project
Laura Mottl, Habitat for Humanity
Liz Rice, Volunteer Illini Projects, Inc.
Stu Schaff, Illini Mentor Program

12:50 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

I just now saw this letter for the first time. I am currently drafting a reply to its authors and I will post it on the blog after it is sent.

These authors are obviously significant campus leaders whose opinions on these matters command our respect. I think the DI editorial presented the program in a way that created some confusion about what the scholarship is really all about.

1:48 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

Dear Allison, Laura, Liz, and Stu:

I’m writing in response to your letter to the Daily Illini. I wish we could have discussed this matter prior to your submission of the letter. I hope you will read what follows with an open mind and consider changing your position on the program. Either way, I believe we share many goals and in my remaining time on campus I am very interested in working with you to make it easier for service organizations to fund the extremely valuable work they do for our campus and our community.

I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, I have given more of my time, thought, energy and devotion to this idea than any other initiative I’ve worked on in the past year. I would really appreciate it if you could find the time to make it through this letter.

I believe your letter is mostly critical of the scholarship program because it fails to comprehensively address the needs of service groups on campus. The letter is also critical of the fifty hour requirement, and perhaps the amount of the refundable fee. The letter also notes concerns about how the scholarship will be awarded. I’ll do my best to address these concerns below.

I do not maintain that the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship is the ideal service campaign. I do think it will be a positive force on campus that will do substantial good and it will lead new students to get involved in campus service groups.

The primary focus of the scholarship is to find a sustained way of creating new need and merit based scholarships for students from middle and lower class backgrounds. The service component was included because of our philosophical belief that if your community is investing in you, you should have to give something back to the community. As student body president, in my opinion the need for these funds is urgent. In the opinion of the Director of Financial Aid, the need in this area will continue to grow; this is why we designed the scholarship to have an endowment that will also grow.

While the word service is included in the title, I believe the word scholarship makes it clear that these funds are not going to fund service projects throughout campus. We are not bribing people for volunteering or giving people a monetary award for volunteering, these students will be notified they are eligible for the scholarship and they will receive it, they will merely be told that if they want to have the scholarship renewed they are expected to give back to the community.

The fifty hour requirement is a point on which reasonable people can certainly disagree. I’m sure it’s true that the typical member of a service group does more than 50 hours of service a year, but it is also true that the typical member of the student body does not.

Let me clear up one relevant misconception from your email. An individual scholarship would cover no more than ¼ the cost of attendance, these are not full scholarships, they may in fact result in individual awards as low as $500 or $1000 per student per year. We have left administration of the scholarship to financial aid, but they have agreed to keep the amounts relatively low so we can maximize the number of students who benefit from the program.

We came close to deciding to set it at 100 instead of 50, some would argue 100 is still too low. The main reason we didn’t set it higher is that many students who are here that require need based aid are forced to work one or more part time jobs. One student in my speech class this semester actually works three part time jobs while putting herself through school. We didn’t want to create a requirement so large that it could become an academic hardship for a student in need, and erring on the side of a lower requirement protects us from putting people like my student in a tough position.

As you know, statistics show that students who are required to engage in community service tend to continue to serve when they are no longer required to. Fifty hours should be enough for a student to determine whether or not they want to stay involved in community service. Requiring 50 hours of numerous students should also bring new members to your organization. The leadership center has offered to administer the scholarship and they plan to do so in a manner that will stress the educational benefits of service.

Regarding the amount of the fee, first I’d like to stress that the fee is refundable and any student who objects to paying this amount can have it refunded. Second, we went with this amount because we wanted to be able to arm financial aid with a significant source of scholarship resources. Students at UIUC still pay over 1000 less than students at UIC in student fees, and while I don’t think this justifies just any fee increase, creating a new and permanent source of scholarships is a worthwhile endeavor.

Regarding how the scholarship will be awarded, because the scholarship funds grow from 400,000 to over a million in the next 20 years (without any alumni support), we wanted to allow financial aid some flexibility in administering the scholarship. We have certain guarantees, such as the awards will not exceed ¼ the cost of attendance, and both need and merit will be considered, and the need bar will be high enough to include students from middle income backgrounds. Financial awards are made through a complicated process, and I believe at times on a case by case basis. Financial Aid is the most knowledgeable administrative unit in determining how to best use these resources and the Student Senate trusts them to use these resources wisely.

One point you might not be aware of, the scholarship is mostly designed to be a student initiated solution to a substantial gap in financial aid resources. Rather than relying on the state government, we are solving the problem ourselves. I believe alumni will be supportive of this initiative, and early reports from the U of I development team are also promising. If this is passed, I think its possible we might even be able to receive matching alumni funds for the early years of this project. During that campaign, I would be happy to ensure we are also asking alums to donate directly to service organizations on campus.

Regarding the needs of service groups, I would be very happy to work with you in finding solutions to the problems facing your organizations. I think the easiest solution is working with SORF to revise their bylaws and I’d be happy to help you advocate for that change.

I personally feel very strongly that this scholarship program would be a positive force on campus. It is fundamentally a scholarship program, not a service program, but the service component makes it somewhat unique among our scholarship programs. I believe the incorporation of the concept that students receiving these funds should give back to the community improves the program, but it seems to have resulted in the four of you lining up in opposition. I believe this is partially because the Daily Illini seemed to mischaracterize this as more of a service program than a scholarship program, and I can see why the four of you would object to that characterization.

I’m writing now to plead that you change your mind on this proposal. There is a pressing need for these scholarship resources, and I believe alumni will be supportive of the program. Please do not vote against this and urge your members to vote against it merely because it is neither a service program nor the ideal service program.

Substantial deliberation and collaboration went into this proposal, it was discussed in depth at Student Senate meetings, and throughout various levels of the university administration. Generally when I talked to members of VIP and people like Amy Sponsler, they seemed to support the concept, but there was concern that 50 hours was too low. For the reasons mentioned above we made the decision to stick to the 50 hour requirement.

I have personally invested a great deal of time in putting this question to the student body; I’ve been working on the proposal since last summer. The proposal is supported by the Chancellor, the Vice-Provost, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and the Director of Financial Aid, the Leadership Center and the Illinois Student Senate.

While you do not find the proposal ideal, your support or opposition for this proposal may determine its fate. I hope you will consider changing your position and supporting it. Ultimately, this will get new students involved in community service who may not have otherwise gotten involved, and it will create a significant and enduring source of financial aid. Please reconsider. I beg you.

If you are interested in discussing this further or knowing how you could help pass the proposal please feel free to contact me at any time.


Josh Rohrscheib

Co-President, Illinois Student Senate

3:00 AM  
Anonymous tc said...

Josh, very reasonable and well-expressed opinion.

This is a very good thing and I appreciate the amount of time you've worked on it.

I also applaud the fact that it is the students doing things for others like themselves without the intrusive presence of the State.


9:52 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

Thanks Tom - I really care about this one. Your support means a lot. You should tell all your students to either vote for this or you'll fail 'em all ;-)

12:30 PM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

Vice Provost Ruth Watkins sent the following letter to the Daily Illini today. I'm told it was sent too late for it to run in tomorrows DI, but it might be in Wedn.

Vice Provost Watkins is a remarkably good administrator and every student who knows her, trusts her.

March 6, 20006

Dear Students,

This week, you have the opportunity to express your opinion on creating a new scholarship program, the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship. This scholarship proposal was developed for students by students. The Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship will enhance access and reward excellence for both undergraduate and graduate populations, benefiting University of Illinois students as soon as next year and for decades to come. This is your program and your opportunity. The Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship is a creative and visionary proposal that, if approved, will help students enroll at the University of Illinois, and will assist students in completing their degrees. This scholarship proposal speaks volumes about the loyalty and commitment of the University of Illinois student population.

Ruth Watkins
Vice Provost

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Stuart Warren said...

The semantics of the requirements are not the only point of opposition that many of us have to the scholarship initiatives. As the above letter alludes to and I discussed in my own letter last week, one of the main problems is using a student fee to fund it. A $15 per semester fee does not sound like much, and for many people it isn't, but these fees add up and the University and University affiliates have a habit of tacking these things on to get a little bit of extra money on the side. But the more important issue is not money but principle; student funding goes against the very nature of scholarships. The idea is to let successful people and organizations outside the pay-to-play academic system give students a financial helping hand, but if we start subsidizing ourselves based on some arbitrary standards bad things will happen. As an out-of-state student I am already used to having to pay more and watch others get a (relatively) free lunch, so I cannot allow myself to become part of the problem by endorsing its exacerbation.

In other words, if ISS, SA, Mr. Mann and Ms. Watkins worked to obtain outside funding from business or charitable organizations I would fully support this, but in taxing the student body we are, to adapt the old adage, robbing Peter and all of his friends to pay Paul. A good place to start might be the cities of Urbana and Champaign since the community-service requirement would benefit them most.

1:22 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

Stuart- You raise some good points, the one response I have to your criticism is that one of our motivations for doing this is that by taking a proactive position ourselves, it is easier to ask alums to match our efforts. Early reports from Student Affairs indicates that the UI Development team is very optimistic that if this passes we will be able to get a substantail amount of support from alumni to match the funds provided by students.

Your letter was well written and well researched, I wish those writing yesterdays letter would have researched this a little more carefully. Reasonable people can disagree regarding the virtue of a refundable 15 dollar fee to create an endowed scholarship fund. We believe it will give financial aid a great deal of power to recruit students with need and merit. I would like to point out, this fee is refundable and if you have strong objections to taking part in the program, if the referenda passes, you or any other student can have the fee money refunded.

Best regards

1:29 AM  
Anonymous tc said...

Actually, it looks like the city of Urbana itself needs an aid package. The amount of area removed from its tax-base in the last couple decades has put quite a hole it its pocketbook.

Add to that the generally Socialistic bent of the Urbana City Council, and you've got a recipe for fiscal problems.

The fee is refundable. This means that the students are not being asked to toss in any more money than they want to. This renders the financial part of your argument moot.


8:29 AM  
Anonymous To the Victor said...

If the scholarship passes, you shouldn't go out of your way to work with those people, it doesn't sound like they would budge at all to work with you.

To the victor goes the spoils. Good luck Josh, I hope your scholarship passes.

1:21 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

Proposals 1 and 2 passed, # 3 did not. Racism everywhere....

8:37 PM  
Anonymous tc said...

What were each of the three?


8:16 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

TC - 3 was the nonbinding question on minority enrollment. Both of the scholarships passed.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

The Board of Trustees passed the resolution creating the legacy scholarship. Thanks so much to all those who helped make it possible!

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on - you know very well that recruitment of minority students takes money away from our pocketbooks. Think, man! I prefer to choose my own charities than have them chosen by a government. How could a sane and rational person want to force people to donate to some arbitrary cause? Charity is a matter of free will and doing good, not something people should be forced into by a government's accord.

9:36 PM  

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