March 29, 2007

Debate Team Denied S.A. Funding

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The members of the Cornell Debate Association, no strangers to public speaking, have lately had to use their discourse skills in an unexpected arena. In light of recent controversy over the submission of their Spring 2007 budget, members of the Debate Association appeared at the meeting of the Student Assembly on March 8 to appeal the decision of the S.A. Financial Committee, and later the Appropriations Committee, to deny them funding from the Student Activity Fee for the current semester.

A main point of contention at the meeting was that the SAFC received only a paper copy of the Debate Association’s budget and not the necessary online portion. The SAFC felt that the Debate Association had neglected this step altogether. Furthermore, the SAFC claimed that the paper copy of the budget submitted by the Debate Association was actually a previous year’s budget.

“Over 350 groups did click submit and their budgets did make it to us online; this group, their budget did not,” said an SAFC representative at theMarch 8 meeting.

Originally, Debate Association President Nick Stone ’08 said that the group’s senior advisor, Jackson Taylor ’07, submitted the budget online, and that the missing budget must have been lost due to a technological error. He has since said that the group unintentionally submitted the wrong copy of the form.

“They think that we failed to submit an online copy,” Stone said, “[but] we use templates from previous years to fill out the budgets. [It appears] Jackson submitted one of these past budgets and since it was a link from a past year, it obviously didn’t work.”

The SAFC took issue with the printed screen shot of the online copy that the Debate Association submitted as evidence, saying that it came from a local hard drive and not the S.A.’s website. Stone said this is because it was e-mailed and then printed from a University printer. Additionally, the SAFC felt the submission of a previous year’s budget was intentional and that the budget had not been approved by the group’s faculty advisor.

“They attached a letter from their advisor; it is from the fall. They never had their advisor look at this budget, never had her sign this budget. They clearly saved last year’s budget forgot to submit their budget, and turned in a false budget. They lied outright,” said the same SAFC representative on March 8.

“We realized we were in fact in error, but we meant nothing malicious,” Stone said, adding, “[These accusations] caught us by surprise. They seem to be due to monumental incompetence on behalf of the member of our organization that prepared the forms.”

Stone is also in possession of a string of e-mails from the group’s faculty advisor giving them permission to attach the previous years’ letter since she was not able to sign the form in time.

The S.A. ultimately denied the Debate Association’s appeal based on the discrepancies in their application but the result of the SAFC’s accusations of fraudulence, another more serious issue was raised that could potentially have repercussions beyond the SAFC’s refusal of funds.

“This is a very serious case because if we do rule that the SAFC did not err and that you did act unethically than we have an obligation to report you to the Judicial Administrator,” said S.A. Vice President for Public Relations CJ Slicklen ’09 at the March 8 meeting as he urged the S.A. to bring the case before a third party.

“They were denied the appeal for not getting the form in on time,” said S.A. President Kwame Thomison ’07.

“No comment, and I think that is all the S.A. is ever going to have to say about the issue,” Thomison said in response to questions about the accusations of unethical behavior made at the March 8 meeting.

“We made an honest mistake. The S.A. made the right decision [to deny the Student Activity fee for the current semester]. We have had a very good relationship with them in the past and hope to continue that in the future,” Stone said.

“The Student Activity Fee is intended as subsidiary funding. If they can continue without it, more power to them,” said Thomison when asked about the Debate Association’s activities this semester.

Stone said that the loss of funding has caused them to “significantly reduce” some activities, but that the Debate Association continues to provide training and that they have not had a problem retaining members.

Whether or not a J.A. investigation into the issue of unethical behavior is being conducted is unclear at this time.