No, don’t leave!

It’s been two weeks since Student Activities and Leadership Programs (SALP) abruptly declared that research and advocacy group OSPIRG was no longer a student group, and the fur is still flying.

It’s been two weeks since Student Activities and Leadership Programs (SALP) abruptly declared that research and advocacy group OSPIRG was no longer a student group, and the fur is still flying.

If you’re just tuning in, SALP stated that the reason for OSPIRG’s dismissal was a general lack of student leadership from within and a use of funds inconsistent with student group criteria. Among other things, students do not determine the main goals of OSPIRG, and the group’s primary leaders are not students. Last Thursday, the Student Fee Committee (SFC) froze OSPIRG’s access to the $128,235 in student fees it had been allocated for the year, and determined that they would not unfreeze them until the group can find a department on campus to contract them.

The SFC pointed out that money was being sent away from PSU in lump sums of student fees to go to lobbying and the OSPIRG corporation itself, only to “trickle” back to PSU through the student causes that OSPIRG fights for. Other less-than-sightly things were brought up, such as the fact that over 50 percent of OSPIRG travel funds were spent on staff, not students, and that OSPIRG doesn’t use the Banner Financial Information System to account for its spending. All of this is against PSU student group policy.

And it certainly didn’t help that at Thursday’s meeting, Claire Tripeny, a student who had formerly done work for OSPIRG, came to speak in support of SALP’s decision.

“Actual money that students get is very small,” she said.

OSPIRG still plans to convene with the SALP Advisory Board sometime this week to discuss the decision, but it looks like the final word is that OSPIRG either has to severely modify its practices to adhere to student group criteria or seek to be contracted by a department on campus. (For example, the OSU chapter of OSPIRG is not considered a student group, and instead is contracted by the student government).

So what can we learn from this whole kerfuffle?

On principle, SALP and the SFC were in the right to bring the hammer down. OSPIRG needs to stop abusing student fees. With such a large amount of money allotted to them, it is inexcusable that some of the funds leave Portland State student fees to help pay corporations and lobbyists and that the group’s mission and leadership is determined by paid professionals, not students.

OSPIRG has typically bristled at that accusation, pointing out the extent that students are involved in their group’s leadership. John Lewis, educator coordinator at PSU for the OSPIRG campus climate challenge, said in an Oct. 9 Vanguard article [“OSPIRG no longer a student group”] that he feels the group’s professional staff has let students choose what issues they advocate for. The OSPIRG representatives at Thursday’s meeting voiced similar sentiments.

But even that seems like shaky ground. Professional staff should not be “letting” students choose what the group advocates; students should be choosing what the group advocates, period. Like much of OSPIRG’s arguments, it seemed like a reach.

Speaking of student involvement, SALP hasn’t appeared as a shining model in that department either. The irony in dismissing a student group for breaching requirements of student involvement, yet not including students in such a decision, is appropriately thick here. Granted, a SALP advisory board made up largely of students has been newly created this year, it is getting itself off the ground and, as previously mentioned, OSPIRG representatives will likely meet with them this week.

Still, SALP’s decision is a little suspicious, especially with its original decision coming seemingly out of the blue. No one appeared more bewildered in this whole debacle than OSPIRG. Long-time OSPIRG representative Amy Connelly began Thursday’s meeting by saying, “We really don’t know why we’re here.”

While OSPIRG badly needs to make some changes, SALP’s actions should be questioned as well. Courtney Morse, former president of ASPSU, wrote to The Vanguard last week, “It’s funny that the people who claim to be the most qualified to make these decisions are the ones who are not paying student fees, and don’t sit on the fee committee.”

It’s also worth noting that while OSPIRG has appeared to be quasi-masquerading as a student group to act beyond its bounds as one, it has done a world of good for PSU students. On Thursday, the group’s representatives noted that OSPIRG’s lobbying has helped push action regarding student textbooks through legislature, and that OSPIRG students have gained an incredible amount of real-world experience through their involvement.

Through all this, we shouldn’t forget that OSPIRG works for causes that much of the PSU student body is in favor of, and whose actions result more favorably for the student body as a whole, than, say, the Anime Club or the Jazz Club.

It’s in everyone’s interest for OSPIRG to remain on campus, just in a form that aligns itself with student group regulations. We can learn from this ordeal to demand a higher rate of accountability from not only student groups, but from SALP and the SFC (who also deserve some raised eyebrows for letting OSPIRG shirk the rules for this long).

The better standards and communication we demand from the groups that work for us, the more we students can benefit from them.