By Kristen Griffith and Brittany Wilson (Whetstone Staff Writers)
Student Government Association President Fred Sottnick can hardly believe his own College’s administration wants to eliminate the student fees that make his organization independent.
“I think it’s preposterous,” he said. “She [Chief Financial Officer, Christine Gibson] is clearly violating current policies. These policies are in place so that students have a say in the governance at Wesley.”
Gibson devised a policy that incorporates student fees—which total about $950 a year for each student — into the cost of general tuition, thus raising tuition for next year by 2.7 percent. She announced it at the Feb. 21 Board of Trustees meeting.
But at least $530 of that student fee money had been used to fund independent student activities, including the Student Government Association, student activities and Student Media. The move ultimately places control of the money in the hands of the CFO.
Dr. Cynthia Newton said she was shocked to find out about administration’s decision without talking to or consulting students or faculty.
“I was stunned, and then outraged,” said the SGA adviser and associate professor of political science. “Without a new policy that guarantees the current funds, the CFO can give or withhold funds at whim, robbing the SGA, the Whetstone, the Student Activities Board, and other student organizations of independence.”
SGA Board members sent an email to students March 4 saying the CFO will have control over the funds of SGA and student organizations.
“This will potentially result in less events and programs on campus,” said the email from SGA Board members.
Attached to the email was an overview of sections of the SGA Constitution and Student Handbook that were violated by Gibson’s policy.
“The new policy takes away the autonomy that the student government association has from the administration,” Sottnick said. “It also takes away from SGA having any say in allocating money to student organizations.”
Sottnick said the students’ money will no longer stay in the SGA account after every spring semester and will be funneled back into the general fund.
Wesley College President William Johnston said administration is studying the different complaints they are receiving, including the violations of the SGA constitution and the Student Handbook.
“This issue has raised questions,” he said.
Sottnick said there is no issue. He said most schools make student fees and tuition separate.
“This practice of combining both is not common,” he said.
The Student Activities Board also issued a statement claiming the new policy violates the Student Activities Board Constitution and By-Laws.
Student fees were previously separated into three categories: Technology fees, TK20 fees and Student Activities fees. Student Activities fees— which total $265 each semester per student—are allocated to a number of different programs:
Student Life activities receives $72.50; Health Center services receives $50; Student Activities Board receives $45; Student Government receives $45; Student Capital Improvement receives $15; yearbook receives $12; The Whetstone and WXStream receive $10; the Underground receives $10; and the Student Activities program receives $5.50.
The move affects all student organizations—big and small— whose budgets come from SGA.
“This has censorship implications for student media that affects both students and faculty,” said Whetstone adviser Victor Greto, an associate professor of multimedia communication.
“If administration doesn’t like a story, or what a student or students write, they can simply cut funds. Previously, they couldn’t do that.”
Greto said the situation may be compared to a journalist’s nightmare scenario: If, for instance, the state of Delaware owned the Dover Post. The state government could dictate what the newspaper printed by holding back their funds – that is what the administration could do to The Whetstone and other Wesley media outlets, he said.
“This strikes at the heart of journalism itself,” Greto said. “[The newspaper’s independence] allows Whetstone reporters to write fairly and accurately about student government, administration and faculty.”
SGA Treasurer Cory Brown said Gibson’s intentions are unpredictable.
“As student government, we’re here to fight for the students, so that’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “I don’t know how she looks at budgets or how she will allocate the money. It’s a possibility that students will get all the money that they need, and it’s a possibility that they won’t.”
Johnston blamed parents and commuters who, he said, were unhappy with paying student fees.
“Students who don’t live at college ask, ‘Why do we have to pay?’” Johnston said.
Wesley student Demetrius Trisvan said this is a poor excuse to change policy.
“That’s like someone saying they shouldn’t have to pay into Social Security just because they think they won’t need the money when they’re older,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Black Student Union member, Terrance Wingate, agreed.
“Whose parents are really calling for that?” he said. “I know mine aren’t. All parents care about is whether or not their kids are getting a good education. They could care less about activities.”
Newton said the CFO explained to both the Cabinet – which includes the heads of the College’s departments – and members of the Board of Trustees that the policy was solely a response to parent complaints about fees.
“[Gibson] said nothing about the ramifications for the guaranteed funding of student organizations,” she said. “She violated contractual obligations to faculty and students by taking this action and did not consult with any of the involved parties.”
A statement released by the Student Media Board on March 4 implied there were other reasons behind the proposed change.
Newton, Greto and Student Life Dean Wanda Anderson met with the CFO in September, the statement said. They told Gibson that “sizable chunks of student fees” had been funneled for years “to pay for other things that had nothing to do with independent student activities.”
Newton and Greto said they had asked the CFO to help reform student fees, not eliminate them.
Because the new policy absorbs fees into students’ general tuition cost, there is no longer a “legal or ethical guarantee” that student organizations will be funded, Newton said.
“The CFO will have the authority to approve or disapprove of organizations, their activities, and expenditures,” Newton said.
Johnston, who is leaving Wesley’s presidential office in June, said student funds will be secure despite the elimination of student fees.
“No funding will be affected,” he said. “I don’t want any of those funds changed, or to be reduced.”
Johnston also said complete independence is impossible because student organizations cannot function alone.
“We want organizations to have decision over funds, but there is still a responsibility the college has,” he said.
The statements released by both the Student Media Board and the Student Government Association demanded that the policy be rescinded.
“Many other faculty, students, and staff are extremely upset as well,” Newton said. “As for faculty reactions, I know of many who are alarmed and calling for action. I cannot speak for the whole faculty until we vote on the issue, but I’m confident that a large majority of the faculty will support a call to restore the independence of student organizations.”
Sottnick said an SGA resolution was sent to Johnston, Anderson, and Dr. Patricia Dwyer, vice president of academic affairs and provost. It highlighted the violations the new policy made.
“I also met with the chair and co-chair of the board of trustees this morning to discuss the issue,” Sottnick said. “The next step is going through the proper protocol to ensure that this policy is changed so that students’ funds are protected.”
Whetstone reporters Alainna Earl, Cheyenne Lazarus, Evan Le’Mon and Emily Temple contributed to this report.
The violations of the SGA Constitution and Student Handbook as outlined by the SGA board are listed below:
Article II: Mission:
We allocate funds to the organizations to provide on-campus events for the students; we stress the importance of involvement on campus; therefore, we establish the Wesley College Student Government Association.
Article III: Duties and Responsibilities of the Organization:
The SGA shall have the duty, responsibility, and privilege:
- To determine its own rules and procedures;
Article V: Executive Officers: Treasurer:
The SGA Treasurer is responsible for all the financial processes and allocations of the SGA.
Article VI: Congress: Section 4: Powers and Duties:
- Approving additional Allocations of SGA Funds over $2,000.00 (supplementary allocations under $2,000 only require approval of the SGA Executive Board);
- Submitting a SGA budget proposal from their organization to the SGA Budget Committee by the announced deadline each semester;
Article IX: Advisor Role:
- SGA Advisor shall be a full-time faculty member nominated by the Congress and approved by a two-thirds (2/3) congressional vote;
- The SGA Advisor signs off on all financial transactions presented by the SGA Executive Board if consistent with Wesley College policies and procedures;
5. The SGA Advisor shall serve as ex-officio member of the Student Budget Committee;
Student Handbook, p.16, under the heading of Student Activities:
A portion of student fees is utilized to support the programs and activities of student organizations, campus-wide social events, and other special programs of interest to students. A Student Organization’s fund is based upon allocations approved by the SGA Executive Board. At the beginning of each semester, each student organization submits a budget request to the SGA Financial Board for use of student activities funds. Organizations are then notified of approved budgets and financial resources available to them for the current semester.
The violations to the SAB Constitution and By-Laws as outlined by the Student Activities Executive Board are listed below:
SAB shall provide social, multicultural, recreational and educational activities which are sensitive to serve the needs of the entire campus and surrounding community, with an emphasis on the student body. In the process of providing these activities, it shall be the goal of SAB to provide an opportunity for members to develop life skills through their involvement in SAB.
ARTICLE II – PURPOSE
2.1 SAB shall provide social and recreational programs for the Wesley student body.
2.2 SAB programs shall be initiated, planned, and implemented by students under the
direction of the Office of Student Activities.
2.3 SAB shall organize events and programs according to the interests and needs of
Wesley students and in coordination with other planned campus activities.
2.4 SAB shall offer assistance to other campus organizations as defined in the SAB By-Laws or in the form of co-sponsorship, programs, performers, or other appropriate resources support.
Article II – Responsibilities (stated in By-Laws of SAB Constitution)
2.1.3 The Treasurer shall have the following responsibilities:
188.8.131.52 Create and follow chapter budget that is approved by the Advisor, President and Vice President.
184.108.40.206 Recommend guidelines and oversee the Society financial operations.