Student budget crisis averted

The student fee budget crisis is over. Fifteen student groups including OSPIRG and Campus Crusade for Christ can breath easier now that it seems they will get the funds initially allotted to them during the winter term budgeting process, pending President Daniel Bernstine’s approval of the budget.

On Saturday, the SFC held an emergency meeting to deal with Bernstine’s ultimatum that the committee either change group budget allocations that exceed a 25 percent change, or provide evidence that those budgets have been approved by a three-quarters majority vote by May 10.

After exploring numerous options including reopening all student group budgets to discussion, the committee eventually decided to revote and approve each budget in question with a three-quarters majority.

“It was extremely close to reopening the budgets but the SFC took a clear stance that they were forced into this and they will follow the process,” said student body President-elect Courtney Morse, who spearheaded the initial student response to the returned budget. “I couldn’t be more pleased. Now student groups are secure.”

The Student Fee Committee allocates nearly $10 million in student incidental fees to student groups, including the Vanguard and athletics.

Student leaders quickly mobilized after Bernstine returned the budget to the SFC and the issue soon became a galvanizing force that steeled student government against what many considered inappropriate meddling in the student process by the administration.

“It’s a victory for student groups,” said Morse. “But I wouldn’t call this a victory. This is a completely ridiculous process.”

Initially the committee seemed deadlocked and unable to come to a clear decision. Many committee members raised concerns that if budgets were to be reopened some student groups would be subjected to a completely different process than during winter term, when the makeup of the committee was much different.

“I was concerned that other groups aren’t getting the same process,” said committee member Briana Tagupa. “But I really wanted this to happen.”

However, several impassioned pleas from the gallery helped spark the committee into action, first agreeing not to reopen the affected budgets and then voting to revote and approve each budget with the required majority.

Because SFC guidelines prohibit voting on the same budget amount twice, the committee agreed to lower each group’s budget by 50 cents.

“We’re up against a wall,” SFC vice chair Mary Fletcher told the committee during the meeting.

“We don’t have a choice,” said SFC chair Katie Wylie.

The committee approved nearly every budget with a 6-1 majority, the lone dissenting voice belonging to SFC member Mario Campbell, who said that, since he believed the SFC process was never followed in the first place, the President must still sign off on the budget.

“We did things illegally and that’s wrong,” Campbell said. “We shouldn’t go against the guidelines.”

Many student leaders say it is the administration that has not followed the process laid out by students and remain critical of how the situation was handled by administrators.

“It feels like we gave in,” said Wylie. “I feel like the committee put a lot of work in. The administration doesn’t value the autonomy of the student government here.”

Wylie also had harsh words for President Bernstine’s attitude during the SFC’s meeting with him last Friday.

“It was a paternal attitude,” Wylie said. “The modern model of student government was created to combat that attitude. At the end of the meeting he said, ‘Well, you probably oughta just sue me.’ “

The President initially returned the budget to the SFC on April 19 after receiving advice from Portland State legal counsel Kelly Gabliks, who cited the committee’s failure to comply with their own guidelines.

Last year’s SFC amended the committee guidelines to require a three-fourths majority vote on any budget altered by 25 percent or more. On Nov. 22, the Judicial Board ruled the change in conflict with the ASPSU constitution because it would violate viewpoint-neutrality requirements as outlined in the 7th Circuit Court case Southworth v. Board of Regents.

A week later the board amended their ruling to focus the language more specifically on the ASPSU constitution after Student Activities Leadership Program adviser Natalee Webb raised concerns about the legality of citing the Southworth case. The SFC then altered their guidelines in accordance with the Judicial Board’s ruling before starting the budget hearings process at the beginning of winter term.