By Alainna Earl and Emily Temple (Whetstone Staff Writers)
The Student Government Association’s board has denied a request for $10,000 that would go toward a gift for retiring President William N. Johnston.
The SGA’s chief complaint about the gift, which will amount to $1 million after all donations are collected, is the secrecy surrounding its ultimate purpose, according to its members.
The money will be a “symbolic gift” to Dr. and Mrs. Johnston and go toward improvements on campus, among other unknown projects, said Chris Wood, vice president for institutional advancement.
“It’s not as if there’s a personal negative feeling against the president,” sophomore Kenny Ciccoli said. “It’s something that the student population wants to make sure is beneficial to them.”
Wood initially addressed the SGA Congress about the gift at its weekly meeting Feb. 23.
Wood emphasized that the SGA has made similar donations toward developments at the college for at least three noteworthy projects: the north and south plazas, the security cameras placed around campus, and, most recently, the exercise equipment voted on last semester for Malmberg Hall.
According to SGA President Fred Sottnick, the timing of the request, in the midst of unresolved issues regarding the administration’s removal of student fees, has added to the unwillingness of students to agree to this gift and strained their trust in Wesley’s administrators.
Rather than completely reject the request for a donation, the SGA board has specified a condition to their consideration of the gift.
“Students are unsure what future funding will be,” Sottnick said in an email to Wood. “So [the SGA] will not be making any donations until this issue is resolved.”
During the March 16 SGA meeting, some students expressed concern that Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Christine Gibson was already capable of taking funds from the SGA budget for gifts of this nature, with or without the organization’s consent.
While Sottnick assured students that the SGA still has control of its own budget, he emphasized that students will have to wait and see what happens with the policy to know if this autonomy will remain.
Trust must be established once again through transparent communication, especially when both sides of the divide depend on one another, Ciccoli said.
“Everybody needs to come together and realize that we are working toward the same goal,” he said.
Vice President of Academic Affairs Patricia Dwyer said she was confident that the benefits of the gift will outweigh any negative feelings students have regarding its secrecy.
“I would envision a lot of celebration over the next six weeks,” Dwyer said. “I think anything that will celebrate Dr. Johnston’s success will be good for the students. He’s always been involved with the students.”
Dwyer denied knowledge of the gift’s purpose, but suggested that it’s a secret because the gift is planned as a surprise that will be revealed at an upcoming celebration.
At the time of Wood’s first meeting with the SGA, fundraising for the $1 million gift was about halfway completed, but the status since is unknown.
Those who have donated so far include alumni, trustees, and other community members, Wood told the SGA.
Sottnick said the nature of the gift will be announced during the May 9 commencement.