Guideline changes spark debate
In an effort to clarify and simplify the process of student fee funding, last year’s Student Fee Committee (SFC) spent almost three months revising its guidelines, which will be presented to the student senate for approval this week.
According to Tracy Earll, SFC chair, the changes to the guidelines are “extensive.” A few changes involved merely correcting grammatical errors and updating names, while other revisions increased required attendance of SFC members and added consequences for missing deadlines.
The new guidelines also increase senate involvement in the process of student fee funding for Portland State groups. The current guidelines require the senate to review the SFC’s budget when it is completed. The revised guidelines allow for the senate to see the budget right after the initial allocation by the SFC and again when it is completed.
Earll and fellow SFC member Chase LoGreco worked on the guideline revision, citing the change as a step to empower the senate. According to Earll, the SFC had the senate in mind when revising its guidelines.
“We sat down and said, ‘How can we include the senate in this process?'” Earll said. “My thought was to include the senate much earlier in the process.”
While the SFC states that the changes made to its guidelines were to mostly clarify and update, some students active in SFC-funded groups are speaking out against the changes.
“It’s a power grab,” Reina Abolofia said of the revised SFC guidelines. She is a member of the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) and is the student senate pro-tempore.
As pro-temp, Abolofia is responsible for creating the senate’s agenda each week. The SFC is required to present its guideline changes to the senate at the first senate meeting of the fall, but Abolofia deliberately left this off the agenda.
“I feel like I was standing up for student group rights,” Abolofia said of her decision. Student government’s system of checks and balances, however, put the SFC guideline changes on this week’s agenda. If the senate does not vote on the changes by Oct. 15, the changes will automatically be approved.
The senate will have the opportunity to approve or disapprove of each guideline change at its meeting, but Abolofia is clear in her complaints.
Abolofia and Caine Lowery, a former student senator and member of the Black Cultural Affairs Board, both feel that the changes make the SFC guidelines even more unclear while also hindering certain student groups.
An important point of contention is the change in one sentence. The current SFC guidelines states in Article 3, Section 2 that eligibility for funding is for “programs or activities providing an educational and/or cultural experience, or service on campus for Portland State University students.”
The revised guidelines moves the phrase “on campus” so that the sentence says “programs or activities providing an on campus educational and/or cultural experience, or service for Portland State University students.”
Earll stated that this was to clarify the sentence so that “on campus” refers to all that follows it.
Abolofia and Lowery expressed concern over this because they feel it limits the abilities of student groups to hold only on-campus activities while also leaving the sentence ambiguous.
“It’s not a justified action to take,” Lowery said, noting that student groups with national ties could be affected by this change.
Earll states that it does not change the meaning of the rules of eligibility, it only clarifies.
“It seems just as unclear, just as vague,” Abolofia said of the revision.
While Abolofia stated she felt that this change targeted OSPIRG, Earll maintains that the guideline changes do not target any particular group.
This particular eligibility requirement was cited as a reason for OSPIRG losing funding last year from the SFC. Now Abolofia and Lowery wonder how it might apply to other groups, such as the Outdoor Program, which takes students off campus for its activities.
“It’s obvious when it’s an on-campus group, they’re active on campus,” Earll stated in defense of the change.
The elimination of the initiative and referendum process from the guidelines also worried Abolofia and Lowery.
PSU administration passed a policy against the process in light of OSPIRG using it when the SFC denied its funding request last year.
Earll called the new policy “unfortunate,” stating that it “sets a bad tone for students.”
Yet she and the rest of the SFC have no control over keeping the process in the guidelines.
“Even if it’s put back in, President (Daniel) Bernstine will take it out,” she said.
Abolofia sees this compliance with the administration’s policy as a violation of student rights and notes that the SFC should do more to keep the process available to students.
The SFC guideline changes were made public last week when they were posted to the senate list serve. The senate will weigh in on them now, while the current SFC continues to work under the 2002-2003 guidelines.