SFC chair resigns amid complaints

After a frustrating morning of sitting before the student Judicial and Constitutional Review Board, Tina Cooper ended her tumultuous four-month tenure as Student Fee Committee chair with a simple, one-sentence e-mail.


Hello All, I am officially resigning my position as of today. Sincerely, Mrs. Cooper,” she wrote after enduring a hearing Wednesday morning that lasted nearly two hours and heard testimony from Cooper, committee member Adas Lis and other committee members in an attempt to reach a decision on a complaint filed by Lis on Oct. 18.


“Basically I’m resigning because as a student of color, I feel the attacks against me are personal,” Cooper said after word of her resignation got out, adding that she felt students of color were underrepresented at Portland State. “My resignation is best for the process. I didn’t want to prolong it.”


“The Erin Devaney slate, as much as they claim to be diverse, they are alienating students of color,” Cooper said. “The lack of students of color in head positions is a direct result of that.”


As committee chair, Cooper headed the committee charged with allocating over $8 million in student fee money to Portland State’s student groups, including the Vanguard, and campus athletics.


The fallout of Cooper’s resignation remains unclear at this point, but one thing is certain.

The committee will go into next week’s budget school, where student groups learn to create their annual budgets, with a new chair and two vacant spots. The committee must now elect a new chair from within their ranks and wait for ASPSU president Erin Devaney to appoint two new members.


Lis had asked the Judicial Board on Oct. 18 to determine if Cooper had not fulfilled her duties as committee chair. If the board found Cooper to be in “non-fulfillment of duties,” the board could determine her actions alone to be notice of resignation from office, effectively removing her as committee chair.


“I felt the SFC was in a downward spiral,” Lis said of the complaint. “It was really getting to the point where it was time to act.”


Lis accused Cooper of not reporting to the student senate on the progress of the committee, failing to provide assistance to students on committee processes, and failing to assure the “overall operations of the SFC” by giving misinformation to student groups and poorly conducting meetings.


Four of the seven committee members testified to the board either in person or in writing to corroborate Lis’ claims, airing several frustrations with their dealings with Cooper.


In a letter to the Judicial Board, committee members Katie Wylie and Mary Fletcher expressed concern that Cooper did not fully understand many of the complexities of the student group budgeting process. They also charged that Cooper refused to recognize valid motions from committee members at meetings. Cooper also gave student groups incorrect information at an orientation session on how to file their requests to have debt forgiven or keep unspent funds from last year’s budgets, according to the letter.


“Mrs. Cooper has continued to follow a pattern of making mistakes for which she is not willing to take responsibility,” Wylie and Fletcher said in the letter.


Lis and committee member Billy Taylor also described Cooper as having a blunt communication style that made resolving disagreements difficult.


In her defense, Cooper said she was struggling with being new to a position faced with a high level of expectation and scrutiny while receiving little guidance.


“I do take responsibility for any mistakes made because I’m new to the position and bound to make mistakes,” Cooper said.


It was difficult to determine all of the responsibilities of her job, Cooper said, because former committee chair Tracy Earll, who served for three years, departed from her position early last year, leaving Earll’s replacement Nicole Greco to train her for the role when Greco had only been chair for brief time.


Cooper also said she felt the accusations Lis made were personal attacks intended to topple her as committee chair.


“I feel that there is an agenda to specifically get me out of office,” Cooper said.


The board eventually voted on a motion by Judicial Board Justice Aaron Alfsen to find that Cooper was in “non-fulfillment of duties” and that her action should be considered notice of resignation, but the motion failed with two votes for and two votes against. No further motions on the matter were made before the board voted to adjourn the meeting, meaning that no decision would be made on the matter.


The testimony in the case revealed frustration on both sides with a lack of communication and an inability to resolve conflicts.


“I do have a problem with the fact that Adas didn’t come to me,” Cooper said of the Judicial Board process.


“There were numerous opportunities for communication and mediation,” Taylor said.


According to Taylor, he, Cooper, Lis and Wylie did seek mediation with Tonantzin Oceguera, director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs, the organization that advises most student groups. The mediation session made little progress, and the session was not repeated.

Lis said some student groups that learned of Cooper’s resignation were pleased with her decision.


“I know several groups feel better that things are actually going to happen,” Lis said as committee members scrambled to assure groups and inform them of the situation.


“I definitely understand there were some valid concerns from a few very vocal members frustrated with Tina’s leadership,” Devaney said. “The transition might be a little rough for student groups.”


“Tina Cooper is a good person with good intentions,” Fletcher said. “This is about her leadership and conflict with the committee and ineffective communication.”


Fletcher said that while the situation is unfortunate, the climate of conflict had made the situation unworkable, and it is better that Cooper’s resignation came before the budget process gets into full swing rather than after.


“Katie Wylie is going to have to organize the budget school,” Lis said. “We’re going to have to work together to make it happen.”


Appointing new committee members now becomes the first order of business for Devaney as the committee heads into budget season.


“The SFC appointments are my highest priority,” Devaney said.