Students eager to check their grades on SOLAR yesterday discovered a message informing them about a new $37.50 per semester fee, called the Academic Excellence and Success fee, which was approved by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo the day before.

Students are expected to pay $75, half for the upcoming semester and half for the current semester, which had four days left in it at the time of the announcement, by January 15.

This new fee comes on top of a 17% increase in fees announced last Spring and NYSUNY 2020, a $300 per year tuition increase that will raise tuition by $300 again for each of the next four years.

For out-of-state students, the retroactive fees are even steeper. The tuition increase of $670 per semester, plus the new fee, means that these students must pay $707 by January 15.

Students, many of who had objected to NYSUNY 2020 when it passed, quickly took to the internet to protest the fee. Most notable was a petition started by a Stony Brook student who gave his name as Jose Rivera and could not be reached for comment. It gathered over 1,500 signatures within a day of the university’s announcement.

The new fee was part of the NYSUNY 2020 plan that Stony Brook University submitted to the state, one which if approved by the governor would award the university $35 million dollars in a grant.

The fee, said President Stanley in his State of the University Address, “will allow the four University Centers to charge an academic excellence fee in recognition of their higher costs to educate.”

The SOLAR message explained how the money would be used:

“This fee will help bring the university much-needed resources to strengthen our academic programs in many ways, including improving the student-faculty ratio, providing timely access to classes needed for graduation, and creating new opportunities for students to work directly with some of the very best professors in the nation. The plan also provides for additional grants and scholarships,” it read.

Based on the University’s proposal, the revenue generated from the new fee will remain consistent at $1.9 million per academic year. State law requested that a five-year plan for the fee be submitted as part of NYSUNY 2020, and therefore it seems unlikely that the Academic Excellence and Success fee will rise each year like tuition.

Still, students using Facebook, Twitter and change.org, the site the petition was hosted on, had plenty of complaints about the fee.

“Adding an Academic Excellence and Success fee without really defining the proportions of what exactly it will go to is really just unfair,” wrote one student.

“Stony Brook, you have done more to slow down my graduation than anything,” wrote another student, who was skeptical that the fee would help improve class availability.

“This is ridiculous and Stony Brook needs to learn we’re not their ATM,” wrote another, echoing the picture provided for the petition, which was of a sign that read “Students are not blank checks.”

While complaints on the internet were common, complaints received by the university were not.

“There were some questions, some complaints, but not that many,” said an employee at the Student Accounts Office, the number for which was included in the statement informing students of the fee.

Undergraduate Student Government President Mark Maloof encouraged students to sign the petition, though he later released a Facebook status that corrected some factual errors in the petition’s description, such as the implication that construction and academic funds are interchangeable.

He emphasized the fact that students are being asked to pay the added fee not only for the Spring 2012 semester, but for the Fall 2011 semester as well. The fee is not due until the semester is over, so students will be paying an added fee for services already rendered. The university was not able to name another time in SUNY’s history in which this took place, though a spokesman did point out that the rules regarding fees had been changed in September.

“The timeline of events has not helped the student outrage. Students are upset that their tuition increased in light of SUNY’s largest donation, but it will not go to ‘pay the bills.’ It is an investment in our advancement not in our upkeep. I must begrudgingly admit that I am not against a fee being implemented by State legislature. I understand that students at University Centers have more opportunities and resources and, as such, they are more costly. I do, along with many students, have a problem with paying a fee for the Fall retroactively. The Fall semester is over and students will not be able to take advantage of what the Fall Fee would have provided. The students are retroactively paying but cannot retroactively receive the benefits,” wrote Maloof in an email.

Reporting contributed by Jennifer Novotny and Samuel Liebrand