When Romeo Salazar ran for treasurer of Friends of Graphic Design, a student-run group that supports, discusses and explores issues related to graphic arts and design, he campaigned on the platform that he would net the group more funding.
Salazar got the job, and just weeks ago the Organization Budget Council, a student committee that determines how money generated from student fees is dispersed, approved Friends of Graphic Design for the funding bump. Their annual budget was about to triple.
“It was a major accomplishment,” Salazar said.
The elation was short lived, though. Not long after the OBC approved the group’s increased budget, Salazar received word that the Student Organization Application and Recognition committee, which defines and sets requirements for student groups, had decided differently.
Friends of Graphic Design was changed from a Recognized Student Organization to a Department Sponsored Organization, a new category of student group making its debut this year.
That meant the group’s budget wasn’t going to triple. Rather, there wasn’t going to be a budget at all.
Recognized Student Organizations receive their funding from student fees allocated by the OBC. Department Sponsored Organizations, on the other hand, rely on academic departments and fundraising to finance their activities.
Suddenly, the burden of funding Friends of Graphic Design had been relieved for the OBC, only to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the School of Art and Design.
“It was completely out of left field,” Salazar said. “It shocked everyone.”
Friends of Graphic Design isn’t the only student group facing recategorization. Thirteen groups in total were designated Department Sponsored Organizations after an annual audit by advisers in Student Activities and Leadership Programs. At press time, six groups are challenging the decision.
SALP recognizes five types of student groups: Recognized Student Organizations, Student Operated Services, Affiliated, Forming and now Department Sponsored Organizations.
Of the five groups, only Recognized Student Organizations receive funding from the OBC.
Courtney Bailey, a SALP adviser for arts, advocacy and political student groups, and adviser to Friends of Graphic Design, said the Department Sponsored Organization category looks to clarify how student fee money can be spent.
Bailey said the new category emphasizes that student fee money should be spent on events and programs open to all students, not just those within a specific department or major. Groups should also pose little or no physical, financial or reputational risk.
Recognized Student Organizations that did not meet these criteria were identified by their respective SALP advisers and their statuses were realigned. Bailey said Department Sponsored Organizations are still eligible to receive Student Travel and Speaker Board grants.
The groups selected to become Department Sponsored Organizations were able to appeal the decision before the SOAR committee at a May 9 meeting. Another meeting was scheduled to announce the result of the appeals on May 16, but was delayed.
An unlucky number
Salazar, the Friends of Graphic Design treasurer, said the appeals meeting felt like an ambush.
“The fact of the matter is that they had our adviser, who we should be able to depend on for our best interests, basically judge that we don’t fit the requirements of a [Recognized Student Organization] anymore,” Salazar said. “I went in there feeling confident about my arguments. I left feeling completely destroyed.”
Salazar said he believes Friends of Graphic Design was changed to a Department Sponsored Organization because the SOAR committee lacked an understanding of what the group actually does. This sentiment is shared by members of other affected groups.
Morgan Andrews, a captain of the Concrete Canoe team with the Portland State chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said the SOAR committee thought her group required a faculty adviser to be able to hold their events.
“We view our faculty adviser as more of a resource for knowledge,” she said.
Andrews said the SOAR committee felt the club catered to a very specific type of student, and therefore should not receive funding from student fees. Andrews said she noticed similarities in the selected groups.
“They all happen to be [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] groups,” Andrews said, “which is unfortunate because all of these science, math and sometimes art groups are targeted as niche groups that only cater to a certain group of students, but then that eliminates that whole group of clubs.”
Salazar said graphic design students have always felt as though they were being pushed out of the university.
“We all go to that dinky art building over there, and we’ve always felt like we’ve been disconnected,” Salazar said. “Now that our involvement with SALP is possibly damaged, it feels like we’re basically just going to be stuck in the art department, like we’re no longer going to reach out.”
Chelsey Allen, vice president of the PSU chapter of the Supply and Logistics Management Association, said she did not agree with the new categorization. Allen said she worried about the impact the new category would have on student involvement.
“The recognition eliminates OBC funding for student groups, which limits the amount of events that can be held to get students involved on campus,” Allen said.
Ethan Seltzer, interim director of the School of Art and Design, said the committee’s decision came as a surprise. Seltzer said his department, which could soon be responsible for funding not only Friends of Graphic Design but the III-Dimensional Arts Association as well, had not been contacted prior to the SOAR committee making their decision.
“We are completely caught by surprise late in the budget process, with no resources to backfill,” Seltzer said.
Seltzer said the assumption that the School of Art and Design is intimately associated with every aspect of Friends of Graphic Design is completely unfounded.
“I’m not involved with planning their events, I’m not involved in conducting their events,” Seltzer said. “I don’t even know what their events are. It’s a student group. We don’t sit around and plan events for the Friends of Graphic Design, they do it and they let us know what they’re going to do.”
Seltzer said the School of Art and Design has not budgeted for any student groups next year. He said his department does not fund student groups with department resources and never has, and that the School of Art and Design does not have the resources to do so, even if they wanted to.
Katie Jundt, associate director of SALP, said the decision to add the Department Sponsored Organization category began years ago. She said SALP headed the initial research into how the category would be defined by collecting information from other universities.
“It seemed like we were really getting to the point where we needed to define what truly belonged under a department and what was best served under SALP,” Jundt said, adding that SALP group advisers were faced with a difficult task.
She said advisers were asked to fill out worksheets regarding their student groups’ activities and liabilities. The worksheets informed the placement of the groups.
Jundt said the job of SALP advisers is twofold: to advocate for student groups and to uphold university policy.
“We like to think that those can work together, but in instances like this it’s difficult because advisers want their groups to do well, succeed, get funding and all those types of things,” Jundt said. “But when they have to go off a worksheet, their hands are kind of tied.”
Jundt said she thinks the reason departments and student groups are upset about the Department Sponsored Organization category is because it came after the university’s budget cycle. She said departments submit their budgets in the fall, around October or November, but that they didn’t know about the change until late winter term.
“I think a lot of people were taken off guard about how they would support the groups if they don’t have the budget for it,” Jundt said. “I will be the first to admit, though, that I think we definitely could have done a better job reaching out the academic departments, as well as students who were potentially going to fit into that category.”
Aimee Shattuck, director of SALP, said the SOAR committee decided to table the decision on recognizing the Department Sponsored Organizations so they could have more time to talk to the academic departments.
“I think that was, on SALP, a missed opportunity to have more of that conversation,” Shattuck said. “I think it’s just, for us, not totally understanding how the academic departments worked and who to talk to. We should have reached out more.”
According to Salazar, though, the damage already done might prove to be irreparable.
“If it comes down to it, and we are no longer a student organization, it is possible that we will cut ourselves off completely from SALP,” Salazar said. “We don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy anymore.”