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Green fee in works at Bemidji State

Students at Bemidji State University want to move toward a greener campus.

The BSU Student Senate passed two bills this month supporting the creation of a $5 student green fee per semester for all on-campus students and the hiring of a sustainability coordinator at the university.

"It's been two years in the works, if not longer," Student Senate President Cody Nelson said. "It's very unique and very progressive."

Crystal Middendorf, president of Students for the Environment at BSU, said students would pay the fee to offset the pollution they create while using university resources.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees will consider the proposed fee with other tuition and fees in May, said Bill Maki, vice president for finance and administration at BSU.

"We expect it to be approved," he said.

The fee would generate between $35,000 and $40,000 per year. The revenue would fund 50 percent of the sustainability coordinator position with about $10,000 remaining for BSU environmental projects. BSU would fund the other 50 percent of the sustainability coordinator position.

After 2010, Maki said, the hope is that BSU would fully fund the sustainability coordinator position and all revenue generated from the fee would go to environmental projects.

Maki said the university is in the process of finalizing a description for the sustainability coordinator position so it can advertise for the position this spring. He said the goal is to have the sustainability coordinator start by fall semester, which is when the green fee is proposed to take effect.

Maki said the sustainability coordinator would be a champion of sustainability issues at BSU and a go-to person with ideas.

"It's going to be a really broad position," he said.

One major responsibility of the position would be serving as a facilitator in BSU's move toward sustainability, acting through a collaborative process involving staff members, students, faculty members and administrators toward making BSU a more ecologically and economically sustainable campus community.

The sustainability coordinator would also be responsible for the education, communication, planning and management of environmental issues on campus and expected to participate in community environmental initiatives.

Maki said these types of positions are starting to become more common in higher education. He said green fees are also becoming more common, noting that Minnesota State University Moorhead and many private colleges around the nation charge a green fee.

He said he believes this is a type of fee that would work only if it is promoted by students. He explained that students are very sensitive to the costs of attending the university -- as they should be, he noted. He said tuition and fees have increase very rapidly throughout the past few years.

Students for the Environment surveyed students about the proposed fee and received 318 responses.

"We got really good support for it," said Middendorf, noting that the average amount students said they were willing to pay for the fee was $8 per semester. "Most students thought BSU could do more to be environmentally friendly."

Nelson said a green fee would support one of BSU's three signature themes: environmental stewardship. The university's two other signature themes are civic engagement and international and multicultural understanding.

"It's very exciting to see the students step up and support a core value of the institution," Nelson said.