Opinion

MPIRG and the referendum: The plan to move forward

All students pay $221 to the Student Activity Fee each year. Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) distributes this pool of money to its programming boards and chartered student organizations through automatic formulas and submitted budgets reviewed annually by the Financial Affairs Committee (FAC).

As per a contractual relationship spanning 43 years, $12 of this $221 was distributed to MPIRG (Minnesota Public Interest Research Group), a statewide student organization with a chapter at Macalester. The amount distributed to MPIRG has increased as the student activity fee has been raised. In later years, a clause was added enabling students to “opt-out” of funding MPIRG and send that $12 instead to the pool of funds to be distributed amongst other student organizations.

In November 2014, the Macalester College student body voted not to renew the contractual relationship between MCSG and MPIRG. With 63 percent voter turnout, 59.2 percent voted against and 40.8 percent in favor.

MPIRG’s mission is to train and empower students to take collective action in the public interest. With student fees composing roughly 30 percent of its revenue, MPIRG maintains relationships with each member school’s student government or administration through a unique contract renewed on a regular basis. To work toward its mission, MPIRG staffs each chapter with a professional campus organizer at approximately 20 hours per week. Unlike most student organizations, funds allocated to MPIRG are not held in campus accounts, but are transferred directly to the nonprofit organization to enable statewide programming and coordination between campuses.

Students with different perspectives interpreted this contractual relationship in divergent ways, leading to a contentious referendum campaign. Due to MCSG’s electoral bylaws, individuals advocating for renewing the contract, e.g. MPIRG members, were governed by rules that did not apply to non-affiliated individuals, including opponents of renewal, upsetting some students and leaving many others confused. Additionally, the impact of not renewing the contract is unclear and undefined, leaving the status of Macalester’s MPIRG chapter uncertain.

MPIRG and its contract had existed at Macalester since 1971, while our current MCSG was not founded until more than twenty years later. While MCSG wrote and modified its bylaws over the years, the contract with the statewide MPIRG nonprofit remained external, revised through a referendum and negotiation process, and not impacted by MCSG bylaw changes. Both MPIRG and MCSG acknowledge that a certain amount of the discontent that led to failure of the referendum last fall can be attributed to the opt-out funding structure. Leaders from MPIRG and MCSG see this as an opportunity to restructure the Macalester MPIRG chapter’s funding such that Macalester students may maintain an affiliation with the state organization and stay within the framework of the MCSG financial code.

Members of MCSG and MPIRG have begun meeting to determine appropriate next steps. Primarily, they are negotiating revisions to relevant MCSG bylaws, Macalester College regulations, and the statewide MPIRG nonprofit’s bylaws that will allow Macalester’s MPIRG chapter to retain its relationship with the statewide organization. During this semester, MPIRG will continue to provide the campus programming and off-campus opportunities that it has in the past, although it is not being funded by MCSG.

Under the current Macalester MPIRG chapter’s charter, MPIRG cannot receive funding as other student organizations can through the annual student org budget process. While MPIRG can still apply for additional allocations, these are not intended to provide the bulk of funding to any chartered student organization. Thus, in order for MPIRG to have the same rights as other student organizations, the Macalester MPIRG chapter’s charter will need to be revised.

Because the contract was not renewed and no funding can be received, this would typically terminate the MPIRG chapter’s existence under the bylaws of the statewide organization. However, the MPIRG Board of Directors granted the Macalester chapter “exceptional circumstances” at their December board meeting due to the contract ending part way through an academic year and the board members’ terms. This decision allows the Macalester chapter to operate normally for only one semester, in the hopes that a new funding structure can be negotiated.

If the Macalester MPIRG chapter’s charter is updated and a funding structure is agreed upon, Macalester College will continue to have a chapter of MPIRG. If not, Macalester College will lose its current association with the statewide MPIRG nonprofit in May.

If you have questions about the process or want to weigh in, please contact your MCSG representative. We will continue to provide updates via The Mac Weekly and The Daily Piper when decisions are reached. Thank you for your patience and involvement.

MPIRG is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with an all-student board of directors. MPIRG has chapters on seven college and university campuses in Minnesota, with pilot chapters at three others. Macalester was a founding MPIRG school, forming its chapter when MPIRG was incorporated in 1971.

February 13, 2015

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