Perceived loopholes in SOC cause guideline revisions

On the heel of fund misuse and the creation of Student Organization Council groups to promote non-student agendas, Student Activities and Leadership Programs proposed modifications late fall term that would change the process of creating a new SOC group.

The proposed changes to the SOC guidelines would require that three students meet with an adviser before a new group is officially recognized as an SOC group. As the guidelines stand, only one student is required to meet with a SALP adviser to start a student group.

Additionally, each group would be obligated to provide a “unique mission” and must acknowledge all risk management that may be associated with their groups.

Co-coordinator of the SOC Laura Pieroni said the main problem she has with the changes is that while they appear to make the process easier for administrators, they do not necessarily reflect the best interests of the students. “They’re not students,” she said. “They don’t know how students work.”

Pieroni said that making three students meet with an adviser might be difficult for some students to work out with their busy schedules.

“There’s a time commitment getting people in one place at one time,” she said. “This is a commuter school.”

Director of SALP Tonantzin Oceguera said the changes came in order to make sure certain groups were created for legitimate purposes and to be sustainable. Oceguera said there have been instances where student groups were created by an outside advocacy group or a professor to promote their own agenda, or in the professors’ cases to hold classes under the guise of a student meeting.

Oceguera said her concern is that student funds need to be put toward groups that are student-focused, not toward groups that promote a non-student agenda.

“We really believe that student groups should be run by students,” she said.

Pieroni said there was also at least one incident where a male student on campus found a loophole in the group-creation process and created multiple student groups with the same focus, in order to acquire money for non-group related reasons. Pieroni declined to comment further and would only say that as far as she knows the actions by this individual were not technically illegal.

Oceguera would not speak in depth about the issue, but she acknowledged that the incident happened this school year. She said the incident occurred after the initial meeting to discuss changes to the student group requirements.

The Student Organization Council is a group under the Student Fee Committee, a committee that allocates nearly $10 million in student incidental fees to student groups, including the Vanguard and athletics. The SOC provides funding for student organizations that did not receive SFC funding and was allocated $69,360 for the 2005-06 school year.

Oceguera said the guideline changes have been in the works since fall term, but SOC coordinators Madeline Enos and Pieroni said that they were not aware of the changes until earlier this year.

“They’d been meeting for months and we had no idea,” Enos said.

After Enos and Pieroni were updated on the proposed changes, they questioned whether the changes are in the best interests of the students and if the wording of the new procedures is clear enough.

“A lot of the response we got was, ‘Don’t you trust us?'” Enos said. “It’s our job to ask these questions.”

Oceguera said the main reason for the proposed changes was to encourage stronger and more sustainable student groups. Twenty student groups are created on average each year, Oceguera said, and only about eight are successful, meaning that most groups do not last more than a year.

“How can you be a stronger student group?” was how she expressed SALP’s motivation for changing the guidelines.

A forum was held by the SOC on May 17 to discuss the proposed changes and determine whether they are necessary. Enos and Pieroni asked students attending the forum to fill out a survey to understand any concerns current or potential student groups might have with the proposed new process.

“We were concerned that these proposed changes were not student-led,” Pieroni said.

Ten students attended the meeting and expressed few concerns. One student questioned whether the unique mission requirement would cause a new and different group with similar goals as a current group to be denied status.

Oceguera said the unique mission requirement will not deny a group status in the SOC, but was created so SALP advisers can talk with students to help specify what the group’s goals are and to make sure two of the same groups do not exist.

After the Student Organization Council forum, Enos and Pieroni brought the results of their survey to a committee meeting designed to discuss these changes. The SOC and SALP reached the agreement that SALP advisers must be available on the weekends if all of the proposed student group’s leadership is not available on weekdays.

To inform student groups of the new changes, Oceguera said that SALP advisers must meet with the majority of the 182 student groups at PSU, most on a one-on-one basis.

The changes have been presented to the SALP Advisory Board and were approved. Within the coming weeks, the new procedures will be shared with all current student groups and implementation is expected for fall 2006.