Opinion

An argument for the accountability of MPIRG

Full disclosure: I really, really love MPIRG. For a lot of reasons, and for a long time. My love for MPIRG began my first year. It was the first org I joined, and by far the one that has impacted my life the most. I was a co-chair last year, and now I’m managing MPIRG’s Facebook and other communications. I believe that MPIRG, just like any other organization, is not perfect, but I am proud of the way MPIRG is constantly working to improve. So yeah, I’m pretty into MPIRG. Message me on Facebook or email me or flag me down (I’m probably on the third floor of Olin-Rice studying chemistry) if you want to hear more, because I’m happy to talk about MPIRG and exactly why I love it.

But I’m not writing this op-ed just to share my appreciation for MPIRG. I’m writing this to address one particular thing I’ve heard people discussing related to the MPIRG referendum: accountability.

The fact that an all-campus referendum will be held next Monday and Tuesday shows how MPIRG is accountable to every student on campus: everybody gets a direct voice in whether or not we stay on campus. Students cannot choose this for any other student org; their money goes to over 100 other orgs and other events whether they attend or support the programming or not. MPIRG is more directly accountable than any other org, which we value. It’s difficult to pull ourselves away from the campaigns we’re excited about to focus on the campus referendum. But we’re willing to do it because we couldn’t accurately say that we represent students if we didn’t have this direct measure of accountability.

And guess what? No matter how you vote next week, as long as we have an MPIRG chapter, you will get to choose each semester whether you want your money to go to MPIRG. Again, you do not have the opportunity to do this with any other student organization. And I also respect Macalester students enough to assume that they are fully capable of checking their emails. Email is the preferred method of communication for lots of crucial Macalester information, such as registration information, security announcements and whether we’ll have school despite the snow. Students read their emails, so an all-campus email is a great way of getting this information out. And this is why the MPIRG opt-out is emailed to all students. MCSG sends out this email, not MPIRG, so MPIRG can’t warn anybody in advance or publicize exactly when it will happen. But depending on the way the contract is negotiated, we could mandate holding an opt-out forum like we held this year, more MCSG publicity or other things that would make the opt-out even more visible.

As far as financial accountability goes, MPIRG makes a yearly presentation to MCSG. The contract could include specifics about budget presentations or spending reports or more frequent presentations, if MCSG and the student body are interested in hearing all the specifics of MPIRG’s finances. We would be happy to do this if MCSG and the student body want to see it happen. As you can probably tell from this op-ed, I love opportunities to share more about MPIRG’s programming and how it is funded, and I know other MPIRG students do too.

But although we’re happy to make budget presentations in the future, that’s not the biggest measure of financial accountability MPIRG has. That would be the IRS. MPIRG is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, so we are audited by the federal government to make sure we are spending our money responsibly. The FAC works very hard to ensure that student orgs budget fairly and well, but I think even they would admit that the IRS’s process subjects our finances to much higher scrutiny.

I just want to state the obvious: I think you should vote yes on MPIRG’s existence. Because that’s what you’re voting on: whether this student group I love dearly and that has impacted my life should continue to exist on campus or be shut down. If you have changes you want to see in the contract, such as more financial information or more publicity for the opt-out, then you should vote yes for MPIRG and stay involved as we negotiate a contract. Even if you plan to opt out in the future, you can and should vote yes for MPIRG. That’s the beauty of this system: you can choose not to put your money towards MPIRG while still allowing other students to spend their money how they want and to be a part of this organization. When the ballot goes out on Monday, I know you’ll see it. And I hope you’ll think about MPIRG’s accountability as you click yes.

November 14, 2014

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