OSPIRG makes their case for more student money

The Portland State chapter of the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) appeared before the Student Fee Committee (SFC) Wednesday afternoon, again seeking over $120,000 in funding after they were conditionally funded at only $20,000 last year.

Over 100 students and faculty wearing pins and stickers and carrying handmade signs declaring “Re-establish OSPIRG” and “I support OSPIRG” crowded the Browsing Lounge on the second floor of Smith Memorial Student Union to listen as representatives of OSPIRG presented their case and answered a barrage of questions from members of the Student Fee Committee.

Representatives included Reina Abolofia, vice-chair for the PSU chapter, and the executive director of student OSPIRG, Maureen Kirk.

One thing the SFC wanted to know, more than anything else, was how OSPIRG and their $123,535 in funding served PSU students here on campus.

Kyla Broderick, a student who was new to PSU and OSPIRG this fall, said, “Every time I drive down Broadway, I see the sky bridge with the motto ‘Let Knowledge Serve the City’ and that’s what I’m doing.”

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Broderick was in charge of the energy conservation fair fall term, which aimed to educate students on how to use energy more efficiently.

SFC members still seemed skeptical that all the funds would be used solely for PSU students on campus. Evidence that this was not the case was a major deciding factor last year when the SFC only offered OSPIRG approximately $20,000 in funding for purely on-campus uses.

The major reason for this concern is due, in large part, to the fact that all of the student chapters of OSPIRG pool their money into one large pot and redistribute the funding as they see fit.

OSPIRG’s funding model clashes with SFC guidelines, which state that to be eligible to receive student fee funding a group must provide “an educational and/or cultural experience, or service on campus for Portland State University students.”

Last year’s SFC decided that OSPIRG did not fit this criteria because they send their money off campus; this could be a problem again, this year.

Abolofia did admit OSPIRG’s funding process was problematic, but added, “It’s definitely something we’re working on.”

One of the items in OSPIRG’s detailed budget mentions that part of the money PSU’s chapter contributes would go to pay for phone lines at University of Oregon and Southern Oregon University.

Kirk explained that the phone lines at other schools were just “one more expense of the nonprofit that gets pooled.”

Abolofia also reaffirmed that OSPIRG does do a lot of work to enhance the student experience, stating that they help educate students on their issues and on lobbying techniques.

Kirk feels OSPIRG helps to “enhance a pretty robust on-campus community.”

During the SFC hearing, however, OSPIRG’s answers on this subject tended to be in broader terms, prompting SFC Chair Tracy Earll to ask, “What have you done on campus this year?”

Abolofia quickly mentioned the energy fair, a forum on the Willamette River, an on-campus food drive and tabling events to educate on consumer rights. A major event, she added, also involved bringing Oregon Rep. David Wu to campus in order to discuss the rising costs of college textbooks.

Despite these accomplishments, the discussion kept returning to the money and where it gets sent. As Earll pointed out, “We have to make decisions about funding.”

SFC Vice-Chair Chase LoGreco has been working with OSPIRG this year as their SFC liaison and helped them develop a local board of PSU students, which he dubbed “The PSU Seven.”

This board of seven PSU students would have the ultimate control over the PSU chapter of OSPIRG’s budget, not the state board. They would then decide where and how to spend the money, allocating amounts to certain campaigns, projects and budgetary needs, as well as possibly sending some of the funds to the state board for redistribution.

The PSU Seven would also have the option not to send any money at all to the state board, although Abolofia doubts this would happen.

Already forty-five minutes overtime, Earll concluded, saying OSPIRG would see something similar to last year’s funding this time, meaning that their money would either be put into a reserve, or a stipulation would be put on the funding.

“OSPIRG gets about ten times more than the average student organization,” Earll said. “How is that different than other organizations?”

Sociology Professor Randy Blazak, who was a part of a PIRG group at Emory University when he was a student, concluded OSPIRG’s presentation by returning to the mention of PSU’s motto: “Let Knowledge Serve the City.”

“We’ve got a great motto here,” he said, “and it’s not even in Latin, so everybody can understand it. But we have to figure out how to let knowledge serve the city … the benefits [OSPIRG] brings the students are really worthwhile.”

The SFC will be making its initial allocation to OSPIRG on Tuesday Jan. 20.