Tensions mounted at a recent meeting of the Associated Students of Portland State Senate as proponents and skeptics jostled over a recent recommendation to defund a statewide organizing group.
The group in question, the Oregon Student Association, currently receives student fee funds totalling $147,000, derived from ASPSU’s operational budget. Last week’s senate meeting focused in part on a fall term Student Fee Committee recommendation that ASPSU trim its own assets by defunding its payments to the OSA, including membership dues and a paid campus organizer.
That decision came to contention by several ASPSU senators, as well as student activists largely identifying with the PSU Student Union. Students argued that defunding the OSA would cripple the organization.
PSUSU organizer Olivia Pace pushed for a new budget to continue support for OSA. She pointed to OSA’s support for marginalized communities, its support for non-violent activism and its work with the movement to disarm campus officers as examples of OSA’s value to students.
“The decision is not one that only affects PSU students,” Pace said. “PSU is the largest funder of the [OSA], and taking away our funding will effectively dismantle the organization as a whole, taking everything it offers from every single student in the state.”
The debate loomed around the question of OSA’s value to the student body, but it also focused on the process by which ASPSU deliberated their inclusion into the budget. Fee Committee Vice Chair Anna Vetter criticized ASPSU during the senate meeting for using student government procedure to effectively make an additional appeal for their budget. Appeal debates for most fee-funded areas ended Dec. 7.
“I get that there’s a lot of passion around OSA, I’m not trying to minimize the work that they do,” Vetter said during the meeting. “But the fact is that I have to face every fee-funded area that followed the process and explain to them why ASPSU thinks ASPSU should get an exception to this process. And I’m not comfortable with how I’m going to explain to them why the cultural centers getting more student hours that was denied takes a back seat to ASPSU saying ASPSU needs more money.”
Other senators cautioned against conflating the OSA situation with that of groups such as the cultural centers. Senator Akash Singh argued that defunding OSA cuts service directly from students. He also pointed out that ASPSU faced a greater budget cut than any other group under the proposed budget.
“No other fee-funded group saw a cut of more than 100,000 dollars,” Singh said. “If that’s incorrect, I would like to see those numbers.”
The senate made motions considering multiple options, including continuing to fund OSA dues while eliminating a campus organizer. Senators ultimately voted to send the budget back to the SFC with a recommendation to find a way to fully refund OSA, considering all options including an additional $2-per-term increase to student incidental fees.
Senators debated throughout the course of the meeting, against the backdrop of about a dozen OSA supporters voicing support or dissent with senator opinions through snaps, shouts and at times laughs.
The contentious environment led one senator to express discomfort with the tone of the meeting, to the laughter of audience members, before Senate Chair Devon Bakstrom called the meeting to order.
Judicial Board Chief Justice Nathan Claus, a non-voting ASPSU member, at one point decried the tone surrounding the ASPSU offices in general.
“I’ve been sitting in the office for the last month, and it’s toxic, it’s hateful,” he said during the senate meeting. “Honestly, I’ve written three letters of resignation in the last two weeks that I’ve had to stop myself from sending, because I’m sick and tired of this.”
The SFC resolved against revisiting the budgets of other PSU groups to fund OSA, during a subsequent Jan. 29 review. SFC members also discussed alternative options, as well as the nature of the senate request.
The SFC convened again yesterday to finalize a vote on the senate’s OSA recommendation. The committee ultimately denied a motion to raise the incidental fee to continue funding the OSA portion of the ASPSU budget.
Ahead of the final vote, SFC members debated the role of OSA for PSU students and ASPSU procedural issues, as well as the organization’s relative cost to students. SFC members continued to criticize ASPSU process, a factor that dogged efforts at reinstating OSA funding.
SFC member Patricia Perez-Cruz, who supported the budget change, called it unfortunate that OSA’s funding was tied to ASPSU.
SFC Chair Sulakha Hassan and member Wonde Nevens also criticized the senate on its approach to process.
“It feels like we followed a process of integrity, and ASPSU hasn’t,” Hassan said during the SFC meeting. “I think we would be making an exception [for ASPSU]. And I don’t think there should be an exception.”
Though the SFC denied the recommendation to re-fund OSA for the 2016-2017 academic year, the ASPSU senate can draft an alternative budget for the president by Feb. 15.
Supporters for OSA appeared throughout the process, including PSUSU organizers and OSA Executive Director, Mario Parker-Milligan. Parker-Milligan expressed disappointment in the outcome, and said that he would attend subsequent senate meetings in hopes of drafting an alternative budget.
ASPSU’s budget process can continue in senate deliberation through Feb. 8. A finalized form of the budget is due to the university president by Feb. 15.