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SGA Treasurer, Student Senate clash: Dispute centers on administration’s new funding policies

SGA is experiencing internal turmoil due to a decision by Treasurer Amanda Weber ’21 to veto funding for Equestrian Club and Extreme Society. Student Senate had previously decided to fund these organizations, a decision that violated new Treasurer’s Office guidelines as well as a directive from College administration.

For the same reason Weber also revoked funding for Quiz Bowl, though its funding had been approved outside of Student Senate.

At the heart of the issue is a memo from Sarah Moschenross, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, directing SGA to eliminate liability as well as announcing new restrictions on SGA spending.

The memo states that SGA is no longer permitted to “grant funds to support student travel” and that it “may still grant funds to support travel but only through existing programs on campus that have established travel policies.”

This directive inspired, in part, the new policies instituted by the Treasurer’s Office just before the start of the academic year, which include similar prohibitions on student travel and a new Unified Semesterly Funding system that intends to make budgeting less difficult for both SGA and student groups.

Previous to Student Senate, in a budgetary meeting with the Unified Funding Committee—comprised of representatives from the Treasurer’s Office, members of the SGA Cabinet and a handful of Senators—Equestrian Club had its budget reduced from $3236 to $200. A decision for Extreme Society, which was asking for $900 for food, was postponed for consideration by Student Senate.

These groups and several others were invited to Student Senate on Sunday, Sept. 22 to make their case for full funding. Weber says she “advised that [the] Senate keep the committee’s rulings about all of the budgets being appealed, but especially those that we considered to be in violation of policy.”

The Senate approved student funding for Equestrian Club and Extreme Society, which, according to Weber, violated both SGA and College policy. Her veto was issued two days later.

The Senate is not required by the SGA Constitution to follow budgetary policies set by the Treasurer and by administration. “It is an informal expectation,” Weber said. “The problem is that if Student Senate doesn’t follow College policies, that puts the Treasurer in an almost impossible situation, because I must follow College policy … and I also can’t go against what the Senate says. If [my veto] gets overruled, I have nowhere to go. It’s a huge contradiction.”

The Student Senate possesses the constitutional power to overrule the veto with a two-thirds majority. Article I, Section 2A.4 of the SGA Constitution states, “The Treasurer’s decision to withhold funding may be appealed to Student Senate which, by two-thirds approval, may overturn [their] decision.”

Student Senate unanimously approved Extreme Society’s funding, save for one abstention. In addition 14 out of 18 Senators were in favor of approving Equestrian Club’s budget. Therefore Student Senate could, in theory, successfully challenge the Treasurer’s veto at their next meeting on September 29 and reinstate funding for the affected student groups.

None of the Senators contacted by The S&B responded to requests for comment.

As for whether or not Weber’s veto is constitutional, Article I, Section 2A.4 of the SGA Constitution states that the Treasurer “shall have the authority to withhold funding from any committee, individual, or organization with … proposals that violate campus policy and/or civil law.” Given that SGA funding for Equestrian Club, Extreme Society and Quiz Bowl would be used for travel-related purposes, which is now forbidden by College administration, Weber possesses the power to veto the Senate’s decision.

Anna Emerson ’20, a co-leader of Equestrian Club, expressed frustration with the chaos of the whole process. “It’s been a little chaotic going through different channels, trying to get funding and just dealing with the confusing process that has come with the new budgetary guidelines and the travel restrictions,” she said. Abby Hanson ’21, another co-leader, echoed her statement. “There’s a lot of lack of clarity among the people we’re working with about what exactly is covered by everything. It’s confusing,” she said.

The Equestrian Club is currently exploring additional funding options, and is currently in communication with Michael Sims, the College’s Assistant Dean for Student Involvement. Sims funded Extreme Society’s travel costs in the fall of last year when SGA declined to step in, and Weber recommends other defunded student groups meet with Sims to see if his office can meet their need.

Weber hopes that the Student Senate and the Cabinet will find an amicable resolution over the coming weeks and that this constitutional dilemma will be tackled in an SGA Constitutional Convention scheduled for later this semester. Weber hopes the Convention will give members of student government a chance to revise the document and “prevent something so chaotic and contradictory from happening again. … Our Constitution is a very flawed document. There are a lot of contradictions [and] a lot of unclear language.”

Weber is unsure whether or not Student Senate will overturn her veto during its next meeting. “The Senate can do what it wants—that’s the beautiful thing about [it]. They’re free to make their own decisions, as long as they get a two-thirds vote.”

Nonetheless, Weber sees her veto as part of a greater initiative by the Treasurer’s Office to reduce risk and liability in student government on campus—and she stands by her decision firmly, no matter the Senate’s verdict. “This is something I believe very strongly in. I want SGA to be responsible, because that’s the only way we can stay autonomous. The Administration is worried about risk, and if they see [SGA] as a liability, they will take it over.”

When asked about how risk and liability play a factor on a college campus, Weber said, “I think the way we want to approach this is that it’s one thing to take risks with things that are your own. It’s another thing to take risks with things that aren’t … [like] money that technically comes from our activities fee, but doesn’t really belong to us anymore. … I think people look at it and think, ‘That’s my individual money.’ It’s not. It’s money that belongs to the entire student body. It’s money that belongs to the College. So when you’re taking risks with money that isn’t yours, and safety that’s not yours, and legal liability that’s not yours, I think sometimes you want to really think about if it’s possible to mitigate risk for other people’s sakes, too.”

Weber sees her veto “as a big picture decision. I know some people will probably interpret that as me selling out. … Right now, I’m following College policy because I do believe that safety is important. … In terms of me following policy, it doesn’t matter what that policy is. I just need to follow the policy because I was told to [do so] by Student Affairs. Beyond that, there’s not much I can say. It wouldn’t even matter what the rationale was. I just need to do it. I think that doing this … [will] ensure that we don’t have complete oversight [by Administration] in the future. … This is Grinnell, so I’ll probably get flak for that,” she said.

“Administration can do whatever it wants. They don’t have to answer to us. So sometimes I think [it’s important] to make a little compromise, knowing that if they wanted they could just take us over at any second. I don’t think we’re going back the other way. I don’t think we’re going to get more autonomy. It’s about buying ourselves time.”

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    Angry alumnaOct 3, 2019 at 4:20 am

    So how is GORP travel different from Extreme Society travel? There is no college oversight on either of these trips, so how is this fair?