Student groups asked potentially troubling question by SFC

During budget request hearings last week with the Student Fee Committee, a few student groups found themselves on the receiving end of a potentially troubling question.

During budget request hearings last week with the Student Fee Committee, a few student groups found themselves on the receiving end of a potentially troubling question.

Several student groups, including the Vanguard, were asked to give a breakdown of minorities (sexual orientation, age, disability and ethnicity) that were employed by their organizations. These groups were Portland State Professional Sound, Smith Center Advisory Board, the Vanguard and Academic Auxiliary Activities.

SFC Chair Aimeera Flint asserted that the questions were only intended to “promote a dialogue” about diversity.

“We didn’t want to offend anyone with the questions,” she said. “We asked that question because we wanted to bring diversity to light.”

The SFC, which is in charge of allocating a potential $18 million this year to student groups, including the Vanguard and athletics, only directed this line of questioning toward certain groups.

“When we notice that there is a lack of diversity within a certain group, we question that and maybe give them an opportunity to wonder why that is,” Flint said.

Flint also stressed that groups’ answers to the diversity question would not affect how the SFC ruled concerning their budgets.

“We base our funding decision based on how we interpret our guidelines,” she said.

Reid McCargar of Portland State Professional Sound feels differently, however.

“I feel that we weren’t really being evaluated by the criteria set forth in the guidelines,” he said. “I don’t think our budget is being handled objectively.”

While McCargar expressed hope that his group’s budget approval would go through smoothly, he said he felt it might only happen because of the publicity his group has already received.

“I don’t want to mention names,” he said, “but there are a lot of groups who are afraid to say anything because they’re afraid their budgets will be cut.”

Ordinarily, during a group’s budget request hearing, the officers of the group are asked a specific set of questions in order to help the SFC determine whether the group’s budget request is valid. These questions can include, but are not limited to:

How is your mission statement reflected in your budget?
In what ways does your department plan to demonstrate sustainable practices?
If applicable, can you explain any increases to your budget request?

Those questions are used to determine how much money a group gets, among criteria including the extent to which a group “provides opportunities for students,” the extent “to which a program is of general interest to the university community,” and “the extent to which a continuing program fulfilled its stated objective in previous budget years.”

“The last thing that our committee would want is for any group of people to feel alienated or disenfranchised or discriminated against because they have a lack of or too much diversity,” Flint said.

Were the SFC to determine a particular group’s budget based on the questions asked by the committee, it would be in violation of Southworth v. The University of Wisconsin, a case that went before the Supreme Court in March of 2000.

In Southworth, the Supreme Court ruled that student organizations cannot be denied funding based on their viewpoint. The case stemmed from three students at the University of Wisconsin who were upset that their student fees were helping to fund “alternative” groups, including multicultural groups and groups for transgender students.

SFC member Alex Robinson said that the questions “are entirely voluntary. We just want to get a feel for what the different groups are doing, both around campus and around the community.”

He repeated Flint’s assertion that each group’s responses would not influence the way their budget request was handled. “I don’t think it’s inappropriate,” said Flint. “I think that sometimes we can say something that might be perceived that way, but it’s important to ask questions so we don’t have to make assumptions.”

Student body President Hannah Fisher was informed of the diversity question via a complaint from PSPS and immediately contacted Flint.

“I knew that it was something we had to look into,” Fisher said.

Fisher said both she and Flint have met with University legal counsel, but did not elaborate as to the outcome of those meetings, other than to affirm that “there can be no legal implications at this point,” because none of the groups involved have received any money.

Fisher also repeated the assertion that “although this question was asked, it was in no way tied to the money that [the groups] are going to be getting from the SFC.”

“It’s important to note that though the SFC might not have advocated [for underrepresented students] in the correct way, their heart was in the right place,” Fisher said.