November 15, 2007

S.A. Funding Policy Challenged by Alums

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The executive committee of the Student Assembly has made several “clarifications” to appropriations funding decisions this semester, which some of the people who wrote the rules feel were unauthorized.
As a result of some recent decisions made by the appropriations committee of the S.A., the class councils may be reduced to holding as little as one event a year.
The committee has spent the past few weeks deliberating on byline funding for student organizations, and is set to present those results today at the general S.A. meeting.
“The Class Councils are under siege by the S.A.,” said Vince Hartman ’08, president of the 2008 Class Council. “This is a power struggle.”
Each class council typically holds 12 to 14 events per academic year, according to David Bell, advisor to the lowerclassmen councils. Last June, the councils requested $2.50 per student specifically set aside for class events, as funding from the student activity fee. On Monday, the appropriations committee voted to reduce the amount to $1.00 per student. This decrease from $3.00 last year leaves each class council with an approximate total of $3,000 to put on events.
“The amount of money is not enough to do anything with. It’s barely enough to do one event,” Bell said. “[This] could debunk the entire council. I hope that’s not [the S.A.’s] intention.”
Hart­man contends that when the committee presents its decisions on byline funding to be reviewed by the S.A. today it will be operating on a flawed interpretation of the S.A. Charter.
On Sept. 26, S.A. President Elan Greenberg ’08 sent an e-mail to S.A. members containing a “clarification” of the byline funding procedure. The e-mail stated that the Executive Committee unanimously decided that the “majority vote of the appropriations committee constitutes a decision … [appropriations committee decisions are] not required by the charter to be presented to the [S.A.] prior to the submission of a completed budget.”
Stephen Blake ’05 and Nick Linder ’05, who served as executive vice president and president of the S.A., respectively, in the 2003-2004 academic year, found Greenberg’s clarification problematic. Blake and Linder were responsible for re-drafting the rules governing the fee-setting process in the spring of 2004. Input was elicited from student groups and administrators, and the S.A. confirmed the amendment to the original Charter, named Appendix A. The terms of this appendix were designed to deal specifically with the byline funding process.
“The president or the executive board shouldn’t be interpreting anything,” Blake said.
The clarification also states, “If the sentiment is appropriate, a member may ‘Motion to Disapprove’ the decision of the appropriations committee to be passed by a vote of no less than 2/3.”
Linder added that this “clarification” e-mail from Greenberg means that the decisions by the appropriations committee “become the S.A.’s decisions without voting on it except for a 2/3 motion to disapprove. There’s no such thing anywhere of a ‘disapproval.’ … The appropriations committee’s vote is then binding on the S.A., and this is an awful lot of power to that committee.”
The implications of this change, according to Linder and Blake, are that the “students’ money are in the hands of the unelected people [of the appropriations committee].” Linder estimates the committee is in charge of $5 million collected from the student activity fee. The committee consists of six S.A. membersselected during internal S.A. elections in addition to nine appointed members from the community, according to Adam Gay ’08, S.A. vice president of finance, who chairs the committee.
“The [current] S.A. leadership determined it would create its own rules through an ‘interpretation’ of Appendix A. We use ‘interpretation’ loosely because that decision, which usurps the S.A.’s authority, is most truly characterized as an unauthorized revision,” Blake wrote in an e-mail to The Sun. “Rather than permitting the Assembly to approve the fee, the leadership’s ‘interpretation’ only permits your elected representatives to disapprove of a decision made by a few, and only then by supermajority vote.”
Greenberg told The Sun yesterday that this clarification added steps to increase transparency and accountability to the process. Those steps require the appropriations committee to present its findings at the S.A. meeting every week, which the Charter “did not require, but we decided to add it,” he said.
“Despite the Appropriations Committee’s status as a committee, the charter only stipulates that it is not required to present regular updates. It does not provide a mechanism for ensuring accountability within its own guidelines,” Greenberg said. “Although the Appropriations Committee was not required to submit its decisions, they are still subject to oversight, and we invoked the right to provide oversight for the benefit of the campus community.”
The appendix addresses this issue, stating that the budget be considered “open legislation” for “all regularly scheduled business meetings during the fee-setting semester,” requiring that the budget be available for amendment by majority vote.
Linder and Blake also wrote that “no amendments to this appendix may be considered during the fall semester of a funding year,” and claimed that the executive committee could not issue decisions — unanimous or not — to be implemented as a whole.
Greenberg contested this claim, saying that the executive board had the authority to issue this decision, and that the note of clarification was “confirmed by the parliamentarian [Austin Redmon ’10] and signed off by the Office of the Assemblies.”
Gay added, “The Office of the Assemblies ensures us that we are following the correct procedures,” and referred The Sun to speak to Peggy Beach, communication manager in Day Hall.
In regards to the clarification e-mail, Beach said to The Sun, “That is [the executive board’s] prerogative. It’s what they’re supposed to be doing. Whether that is the correct interpretation, I don’t know. … It may be cause for further investigation.”
“The decision to provide oversight to the Appropriations Committee weekly, while not required, was in no way a violation of the charter or any standing rules of the Student Assembly,” Greenberg said. “This decision solidified the Executive Board’s commitment to providing the most open and effective byline process for the duration of the fee-setting semester.”
Moreover, Hartman said that the exact terms of the Appendix A have not been followed; thus the committee’s recent proceedings would be voided. One section states, “At the fifth regularly scheduled business meeting of the S.A., the V.P. for Finance shall present the SAF Budget of the appropriations committee under ‘business of the day.’”
Sept. 20 marked the S.A.’s fifth meeting, but, according to Greenberg, the committee does not plan to present the SAF budget until Nov. 29, the last meeting of the semester. The appendix also states that if the procedures are not completed “in their entirety by the last day of classes of the fall semester, the total fee amount shall be set at the same level as in the current funding cycle.”
Linder said that the S.A. is “almost entirely autonomous. Its principal check and balance is the students. Beyond that … the president [of the University] gave the power [to set the student activity fee] to the S.A. and can choose not to accept the assembly’s decision until they follow their own rules.”
Aside from Hartman, many other sources contacted by The Sun feared that the executive board was exerting authority over the S.A. that it does not legally have under its Charter. An e-mail exchange acquired by The Sun through anonymous sources tackled the question of byline funding and whether it could be discussed on the executive board mailing list. In the exchange from Sept. 23, Greenberg reprimanded a particular S.A. member through that mailing list, stating “There is very little action I can take … should you choose not to be a team player and abide by certain rules that the executive committee chooses to enforce … In the future, I’d advise that you not tell the S.A. president to fuck off because certain things I don’t forget.”
The e-mail raised concerns among S.A. members.
“The attitude of the executive board toward the rest of the S.A. needs to change,” said Mark Coombs ’08, director of elections and former S.A. executive vice president. “The assembly’s attitude toward the community needs to change. … this board needs to re-examine its style of leadership. As executive vice president [last year], I was there to facilitate, not to dictate. This board might do well to consider that as an option.”
Coombs is a Sun columnist.

The class councils also requested $7.50 allocated toward convocation, and $4.50 toward Senior Week. The committee voted to allocate $5.00 toward convocation, and met the $4.50 request.
“I want to re-emphasize that we are voting to give them an overall increase in their funding to $10.50. At $10.50, Class Councils would represent a significant portion of the student activity fee, and would have one of the highest appropriations of any group on campus,” said Arjun Natarajan ‘09, S.A. vice president of public relations. “We could not validate recommending their requested allocation — an allocation of almost 50 percent — but we did see the need for an increase in their convocation and senior week funds to improve those programs. Events held by class councils in the past have been very hit or miss, and we hope that our suggested budget decrease will encourage to better apply their resources.”
Last year, the class councils received a total of $9.00; this year the committee allocated a total of $10.50 even though they requested $14.50. Although the fee toward convocation was doubled, the councils remained discontent about the decision.
Last April, The Sun reported, “The [convocation] must work with approximately $30,000 to offer the speaker, taken from the Student Assembly’s student activities fee. On average, speakers of such caliber demand anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 for large-scale events such as Convocation. Additionally, while many other schools offer honorary degrees to such speakers, Cornell’s tradition dictates that no honorary degrees be given.” With an allocation of $7.50 per student, the councils would have approximately $90,000 to give as an honorarium to the Convocation speaker.
“It takes much more than $100,000 to bring a speaker, not including production,” said Eddy Gumbs ’07, who was president of the 2007 class council. “It would be much more than we can handle. [$90,000] is still meager. We need more money than that.”
The administration has already agreed to cover the costs of production.
He said, “Even when we didn’t have a decrease [in the general budget], people still griped about the Convocation speaker. People are going to be upset and blame the S.A. if they’re [dissatisfied with this year’s speaker].”
He added that the seniors on the S.A. should be voting to increase funds for convocation and Senior Week, because Senior Week tends to “run at a deficit.”
“The success of convocation is dependent upon the stability of class councils,” Hartman added. “When the [S.A.] cuts the core funding of class councils, it will only be detrimental to the speaker we can obtain for convocation.”
Although the overall allocation to Class Councils increased, Hartman believes that re-allocating money to Class activities from Convocation and Senior Week would certainly not provide the councils with enough funding to find a top-tier speaker.
The Office of Alumni Affairs released a statement yesterday evening, stating, “Given your current positions on the Student Assembly, you likely know that the foundation of a solid class connection is built while you are students. It takes effort throughout your undergraduate years to nurture a formidable class spirit through well-planned and fun activities that are open and appealing to all members of your class.”
“A budget decrease this large will be a devastating blow for the Class Council organization. It scares me to think that in one byline funding cycle the [S.A.] could destroy an organization as old as Cornell itself,” said Lorraine Gregory ’08, vice president of programming for Class of 2008 Council.
“Our programming is going down the drain,” added Caroline Newton ’09, president of the 2009 Class Council. “It’s a shame it’s come to this.”