Following the resignation of its vice president of finance, the Student Assembly is trying to decide on a replacement as the end of semester funding cycle deadline approaches.
At the end of the S.A.’s Oct. 21 meeting, S.A. president Anuli Ononye ’22 announced that Morgan Baker ’23 had resigned from her role as vice president of finance, which oversees the appropriations committee — the body within the S.A. which allocates funding to student organizations on campus from the Student Activity Fee. In an email to The Sun, Baker said she voluntarily resigned from the position for personal reasons.
“I will continue to fulfill my duties as a good representative in the position of an Undesignated Representative At-Large,” Baker wrote.
The Student Activity Fee is a mandatory fee that all students must pay to fund student organizations. Currently, the SAF is $309 per year for every student. The S.A. determines how much money each byline funded organization will receive every two years. Byline funded organizations, which each get a fraction of the student activity fee, work as umbrella groups to fund other campus organizations.
The lack of a public rationale for Baker’s resignation has left some S.A. members scratching their heads.
“There’s a lot that happens behind closed doors,” freshman representative Andrew Juan ’25 said. “We have, one, S.A. members confused, and two, now we have the general population confused.”
Public conversations about the developments within the appropriations committee are suppressed, in part, by the committee’s rules. Members sign permanently binding non-disclosure agreements that bar them from disclosing the committee’s confidential materials, which include the information submitted by organizations in support of their applications for funding. Additionally, votes within the committee are anonymous.
According to Baker, the NDAs and anonymous voting procedures for the appropriations committee are required by the Student Assembly’s governing documents. Representative Valeria Valencia ’23 thinks the NDAs are useful because the committee deals with sensitive financial matters, but can make S.A. general assembly meetings more challenging as they cannot publically address members’ concerns about byline funding.
Vice president of internal operations Joseph Mullen ’24 said he thinks the NDAs shouldn’t be in place because they make it difficult for representatives to speak publicly about issues that affect students.
“The appropriations funding stuff is the one instance where we do have direct control over how these student organizations are getting funded and, to my mind, there’s no reason why that stuff should be private,” Mullen said. “If we’re directly impacting students, people should know what we’re talking about [on appropriations] publicly.”
Immediately after announcing Baker’s resignation on Oct. 21, Ononye tried to appoint Valencia, a member of the appropriations committee who was the runner-up to Baker in the internal election in June, to fill the post. Ononye made the decision on the grounds that other committees had previously filled seats based on standings in internal elections and that both Baker and Valencia had agreed to this move.
However, after multiple representatives noted that the S.A. charter does not provide guidance on the procedure proposed by Ononye, she gave the vice presidential position to Valencia on an interim basis.
The committee set up an election to fill the position on a permanent basis, a process that began Thursday with the nomination of two candidates, Valencia and Dillon Eisman ’22 — both of whom are currently on the appropriations committee. Neither candidate was given time at the meeting to discuss their platform or qualifications and voting was tabled until the next meeting.
“I want to ensure that the Student Activity Fee is being spent efficiently,” Valencia said in an email to The Sun. “I also want to work with the different byline funded organizations to find ways to make the application and byline process simpler and more accessible.”
Valencia thinks that the byline funding process this year was made more challenging by the pandemic because many organizations lost institutional knowledge of what a normal year looks like, making it more difficult to work through the funding process. She also sees room for improvement in how the appropriations committee interacts with byline funded organizations, as she feels institutional changes of switching back to in-person activities requires open communication.
According to Atif Akhter ’22, treasurer of the Cornell Interfaith Council — which receives byline funding, the process has not been easy. They had their hearing two weeks ago and have yet to hear a response on their funding status, which Akhter considers unusually long.
“During our meeting, it felt like we were graded on how well we could spend money,” Akhter said. Due to restrictions on in-person gatherings during the 2020-2021 school year, the Cornell Interfaith Council did not get to do as much with their byline funding that they would have liked, which Akhter hopes the committee takes into consideration.
”We submitted our application on time. We were early to our meeting. Everything was done by the rules,” Akhter said. “I’m just a little confused on why this is taking so long.”
If Valencia is elected to become the vice president of finance, she hopes to better address these concerns.
“Historically, the [appropriations committee] hasn’t been popular with the different byline funded orgs,” Valencia wrote. “Most of the time our only interaction with them is during their byline hearing but I think the system as a whole can really benefit from more collaboration so that everyone in the apps comm is really familiar with all the hard work that all the orgs put in.”
At the time of publishing, Eisman has not responded to multiple requests for comment.