Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer

Student Assembly meets in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room.

January 25, 2016

Student Assembly Determines Budget Surplus Plan Only Days Before Activity Fee Vote

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Even though 16 of the 27 organizations funded by the undergraduate Student Activity Fee received either no increase or a decrease in allocations for the 2016-18 funding cycle, the Student Assembly still voted 23-1-0 on Dec. 3 to recommend an overall Student Activity Fee increase from $236 per student to $241 per student.

President Elizabeth Garrett, who accepted the allocation recommendation Dec. 15, will now recommend $241 as the undergraduate Student Activity Fee to the Board of Trustees during the board meeting this week.

If the allocation recommendation is approved by the trustees, the S.A. will receive an increase from $1.90 to $2 per student. However, less than two weeks before the S.A. was required to vote on the final Student Activity Fee recommendations for the 2016-2018 funding cycle on Dec. 4, the S.A. still had not determined how it would spend its approximately $40,000 surplus.

In order to request an increased student activity fee allocation from $1.90 to $2 per student, the S.A. needed to present a byline packet to the appropriations committee that outlined, among other things, its budget and how it planned to utilize any funds allocated, according to Shivang Tayal ’16, S.A. international at-large representative and appropriations committee member.

However, after the S.A. tabled a resolution that proposed spending $15,000 of the surplus on iPads on Nov. 19, the assembly still had not decided fully what they would put in the byline packet that would be sent to the appropriations committee. As a result, 17 S.A. members convened an executive session on Nov. 22 to discuss how the budget surplus might be spent ahead of the presentation to the appropriations committee following Thanksgiving break on Nov. 30.

The Nov. 22 meeting, which S.A. president Juliana Batista ’16 informed The Sun and the Office of the Assemblies was an executive session, was announced on the S.A. listserv prior to the meeting and involved an informal vote. Members present discussed a plan to spend the surplus funding advocacy centers, a diversity innovation fund and the Cornell Social Consultants, according to Tayal.

Executive sessions, however, are only to be held to discuss confidential matters and may not involve any policy determinations, according to S.A. bylaws. The Nov. 22 meeting has no minutes, according to Gina Giambattista, director of the Office of the Assemblies, who said executive sessions are closed and off the record.

However, contradicting Batista and the Office of Assemblies records, S.A. Parliamentarian Jordan Berger ’17 said the Nov. 22 meeting was in fact not an executive session but an informal meeting, which, according to S.A. bylaws, is held for for the S.A. “to set goals and priorities.” Informal meetings may not include any legislative decisions and must have the S.A. attendance policy enforced.

“The S.A. member who tabled [Resolution 32] referred to it as an executive session. Juliana continued to use the terminology as to not confuse students further,” Berger said. “We did not believe this was an issue as the meeting that we had was still allowed within our rules. The meeting for all intensive purposes was an informal meeting but referred to as an executive session.”

While the S.A. surplus budget was planned to be addressed in the Nov. 22 meeting, it was not officially designated until after the appropriations committee reviewed their request for an increase and made their recommendation. This proposal was then presented and voted on as part of the complete Student Activity Fee allocation on Dec. 3 before it was sent to be approved by President Elizabeth Garrett, according to Berger.

It is not clearly stated in the S.A. charter or bylaws whether discussion and planning of the spending of S.A. money, which stems in large part from undergraduate tuition, constitutes a policy determination or a confidential matter.

While the appropriations committee is chaired by Matthew Stefanko ’16, S.A. vice president of finance, a non-S.A. member of the appropriations committee chaired the committee during discussions regarding the S.A.’s funding, according to Tayal.

Despite contradictory reports on the nature of the Nov. 22 meeting, Tayal said he was confident that protocol was not violated during the meeting.

“In my last one year there has never been a discussion on how the S.A. allocates its surplus publicly,” Tayal said.

He added that students had ample opportunity to object to how the S.A. planned to spend their money during the Dec. 3 meeting when the total Student Activity Fee allocation was voted on and that the Nov. 22 meeting, which was held two academic days before the presentation of the S.A. byline packet to the appropriations committee, was to discuss initiatives the S.A. had long wanted to fund.