During the first hour of MCSG’s legislative body (LB) meeting this past Tuesday, April 12, MJO appealed a 50 percent cut to their budget, an appeal which had been rejected the previous week by the LB.
The appeal had been instituted due to the org’s failure to use the budgeting program Checkbook during the school year; use of Checkbook is a standard procedure for all orgs. The cut would have left MJO with a total of $3,107.50 — an amount which they argued could have prevented them from hosting most of their religious events during the 2016-17 school year, such as Passover seder and bi-weekly Open Shabbats.
Ultimately, the 50 percent cut was lifted, following a heated discussion about the relationship between student government’s need to enforce standard procedure and the specific needs and rights of student orgs — particularly religious needs and rights.
Although there are usually no more than two or three observers at any given LB meeting, there were dozens of onlookers present in the Weyerhaeuser Boardroom during MJO’s appeal. Most were members of MJO or other religious orgs on campus, such as Macalester Christian Fellowship and Mac Protestants. Also among the group was Kelly Stone, Chaplain and Associate Dean for Religious and Spiritual Life.
After making a motion to continue last week’s discussion of MJO’s funding, Vice President and Student Services and Relations Committee (SSRC) chair Jolena Zabel ’16 said that the LB’s tone and body language had affected student orgs appealing budget cuts the previous week, including MJO, who had felt “silenced.”
“That also has an impact on people; people in this room, people out of this room; people on MCSG; people not in MCSG,” Zabel said.
She asked LB members to take a moment to reflect about what they had done well and poorly in their dealings with student orgs during the budgeting process.
MJO’s second appeal began with a PowerPoint presentation, during which they apologized for their misuse of Checkbook, and emphasized that they maintain a precise budgeting system, partly implemented by Pattie Lydon, the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life’s (CRSL) department coordinator. MJO leaders pointed out that they had used Checkbook the same way last year, but their funding had not been cut.
“Cutting our budget [by 50 percent] is basically the equivalent of cutting our Passover seder,” one MJO leader said, referring to the fact that their request for the seder was $3,500. Counting only the standard 20 percent cut applied to all orgs, they would have been left with $4,972, an amount they said they would have settled for.
They invoked Macalester’s commitment to intersectionality as an element of MJO’s significance in the CRSL, and emphasized their uniqueness as the only Jewish org on campus. Also unique for a Jewish org on a college campus, MJO does not work with outside organizations, such as the international Jewish campus organization Hillel.
“We do not believe that a procedural error should threaten the ability of Jewish students to practice their faith on this campus,” Michelle Coblens ’16, a matriarch of MJO, said.
In the discussion that ensued, Merrit Stüven ’17, SSRC member and next year’s President, cited disorganization of communication between Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) liaisons and org leaders as a given in MCSG, and the reason for the appeals process.
Stüven added that religious events should not necessarily be funded through MCSG, a statement that was repeated by several LB members over the course of the hour.
A number of student reps made similar comments again by email on Wednesday. Some, such as Stüven, believe that religious orgs ought to be funded in an entirely separate manner. Others suggest a broad “restructuring” of funds for religious orgs. And others still are more specific.
“If religious programming is a positive right, funding for religious holidays should never be challenged. This means that MCSG would have to devise a permanent funding structure for religious organizations,” Colin Casey ’17, current Chief of Staff and next year’s Vice President and SSRC chair, wrote. “The current MCSG representatives are creating a bill that will set aside enough money to promise funding for religious student organizations to facilitate holiday celebration.”
However, members of the Financial Affairs Committee, among others, were focused on the question of how to deal with all orgs equally.
“We’re not hammering out a point for the sake of hammering a point. We are hammering it out for the sake of a rule,” FAC Chair Dan Yee ’16 said. “This procedure does work. It works because we hold it to this standard. Last year, 55 orgs held up $77,000 because they didn’t use Checkbook properly. This year, 12 orgs did. That works.”
Yee pointed out that a staff member such as Pattie Lydon should not fill out Checkbook for a student-led org, and that such assistance did not in any way indicate they had abided by FAC guidelines.
“I appreciate all the MJO leaders have done to update their Checkbook, but if we did that for every org, what is the point of the rule?” he said. “There is no point to the rule.”
After the LB voted to rescind the 50 percent cut to MJO’s budget, Dean of Students Jim Hoppe, an advisor to MCSG, said he felt the group had made the right decision, but that it took courage for the FAC members to vote against the majority. He expressed hope that other LB members wouldn’t “read anything into that,” other than that “voters were voting their conscience.”
Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) Chair Caroline Duncombe ’18, who voted to repeal the 50 percent cut to MJO’s budget, wrote in an email on Wednesday that the discussion “brought up an extremely important question of what is the ultimate responsibility of MCSG. Is it [to] follow the rules exactly in order to ensure equality? Or is it to ensure that the rights and freedoms of Macalester students are protected?”