Rollover and petition against MCSG spark controversy

By Jonathan McJunkin

The tension was thick in Weyerhaeuser Boardroom on Tuesday night during an open forum with Macalester College Student Government about the newly discovered rollover funds. Students began to fill the room starting at 9 p.m. to raise their concerns and ask questions of MCSG. The meeting, which started with an explanation of the nuts and bolts of the budget, ran for several hours, and the room remained almost half full at the very end.MCSG Vice President Patrick Snyder explained exactly where the $75,000 extra rollover figure came from. In the minutes of March 22nd’s MCSG meeting, the rollover was stated as being $106,000 in operating funds, used for one-time expenses, and $54,000 in capital funds, used for longer-lasting projects, bringing the total funds to $160,000.

As Snyder explained, $30,000 of the rollover money had to be used for the travel fund, which had not yet been paid for with the year’s budget. An additional $30,000 is set aside for allocations for the rest of the semester-MCSG had already begun dipping into their reserve funds this semester and was currently over-budget.
“We’re already using rollover money to fund student organizations this semester because of that,” said Owen Truesdell ’11, president of MCSG.

MCSG also set aside $20,000 in rollover for next year. Rollover is an expected part of the budget, Truesdell said, and is also essential for early in the year before students have validated, as the student activity fee is only collected from validated students. A final $10,000 was used to replenish the reserves and emergency fund that have already been spend this year.

The approximately $70,000 in excess was what was used to come up with the $50,000 to $75,000 figure that was sent to students as money available for discretionary spending and projects.

Beyond the specifics of the budget, students raised broader issues related to MCSG and how money is distributed and accounted for. Many students called for greater transparency, asking for the MCSG balance for the year to be prominently published and updated after each meeting.

Ellen Washington ’13, a leader of several of several student organizations including the Black History Month committee, said “knowing that sort of information and being able to find it really easily I think would really help people budget responsibly.”

“Organizations could plan ahead and determine what would be reasonable to expect for their own budgets in light of the overall budget,” Washington said.

One step MCSG had already taken towards this transparency was purchasing OrgSync software for next year, which would allow organizations to see and more easily manage the money in the their accounts.

Other students, including some MCSG members, raised the possibility of publishing standard criteria used to determine funding for events and activities.

Perhaps the most controversial subject of the night was the proposed formation of a student union, which would require dissolving MCSG’s current structure. Currently, students are circulating a petition that calls for such a union, as well presenting several broader grievances to MCSG, such as accusations that MCSG members are removed from campus events and that their allocation practices “are a method of gate keeping for underrepresented groups.”

“A lot of different groups are calling for this,” said Yuan Li ’11, a current member of the FAC and a prominent supporter of a student union, “and there’s a lot of internal discussion of what a student union would mean.”

According to Li, a student union wouldn’t necessarily mean a complete overhaul of all of student government. “We can use the current constitution to work for us and completely modify and rearrange the membership/representation clause,” she said.

Kyera Singleton ’11, another supporter, added, “it’s an idea that can evolve.”

Though student movements to dissolve or re-structure student governments are not new to Macalester, this is the first to involve a petition. According to the MCSG constitution, a petition needs to have 650 signatures to restructure the government. At press time, the petition has 97 signatures.

Truesdell said that he supports the petition as a representative democracy, but has qualms about the specifics. “My only concern with the petition is that it seeks to dissolve student government without giving MCSG a chance to respond to student concerns,” he said. “It makes it an adversarial process rather than a collaborative one.”

Lucas de Gracia ’12 argued that MCSG does not currently hold student organizations accountable to each other, and forces its members to act as “gatekeepers” to student concerns and marginalize some organizations. He and others also put forth that MCSG members weren’t in touch with student organizations on campus directly enough.

“There’s no direct way for student organizations to hold each-other accountable,” de Gracia said. “That’s a structural problem and exactly what a student union would solve.”

Truesdell, in an email response to the student union petition, countered that many MCSG members are very involved in other organizations. Those that aren’t, like himself, often chose to be uninvolved to avoid conflicts of interest, he said. “If students want MCSG members to be involved with student organizations, they should vote for students representatives who are involved with student organizations,” Truesdell said.

Max Balhorn ’11 suggested that a student union could lead to the student government having a more participatory role outside of student organizations-such as contributing to broader college decisions. Such a role, he said, could increase student engagement. He used the decision to build the Leonard Center as an example.

“It’s not that engaging to have elections about who gets to decide how much money MacSoup gets,” Balhorn said, criticizing MCSG’s current structure for not engaging students.

Students also voiced criticism of the idea of a student union. According to several in the forum, a student union would end up serving more narrow interests than a project to improve campus, such as those MCSG proposed in last week’s email.

Jeff Garcia ’14 said that a student union “would just create a very large org full of special interests that marginalizes students that aren’t as involved in organizations. How would money be divided in a fair way when everyone is there representing their own interests?”

Several students took issue with the idea that student unions would promote special interests, a term they saw as marginalizing to cultural groups are underrepresented in the student body.

Li said her experience on FAC has shown her that MCSG members are not without their own biases. “People in the this room all have their own special interests already,” she said.

Li and others also asserted that events from underrepresented groups are often underfunded.

“There’s definitely a clear narrative of events that are asked to cut down their numbers, who are asked to go local for [speakers and performers],” Li said.

Truesdell disagreed in an email response that MCSG was unfair in its allocation process. “MCSG has every student organization go through the same process in order to secure funding,” he said. He added that cultural organizations, which represent 17 percent of all organizations, received 24 percent of the budget, and that they had been allocated over $16,500 in additional allocation this semester.

“Regardless of the numbers, if certain organizations are unhappy with the budgeting process or outcome, that is always something that MCSG is willing to work to rectify,” Truesdell said. “However, we do have a limited amount of resources to allocate so not every organization will receive all the money they ask for. Very few do.”

Singleton added at the forum that funding was not their only concern. “It’s not just about who’s getting money, it’s the language being used in these spaces,” she said. ”
The same questions are not asked for every event.”

Singleton specifically talked about an incident when coordinators for black history month were asked performers in a step show were interracial, and when a queer union event was referred to as hedonistic. The minutes for the meeting indicate that the member who described the event as hedonistic was in support of the event.

The claim that MCSG “structurally reproduced racist, homophobic, and sexist discourse” was key to the petition sent to them regarding a student union. In response to this, Truesdell asked for a more direct accounting of these concerns form students, saying that he had not been approached about these issues of discourse as president before these current discussions.

Truesdell believed MCSG responded well to specific concerns raised in the forum, but added that improving discourse “is a continual process that is never finished. We will continue to work to be better, which is exactly what our constituents deserve.”

Students also discussed possible uses of the $75,000 in available rollover money, with some advocating for capital reforms to the school as a whole and others supporting stronger support for student organizations.

Vera Sidlova ’11 advocated that voting on the money be postponed until next year, so that any investment it is put toward makes a serious improvement to campus life in broad ways, such as addressing discourse issues.

“How can we make an impact that addresses key issues on this campus rather than making it a more comfortable place to sit,” Sidlova said.

Looking forward, MCSG expects to have the referendum for the use of the money on its original date, April 18th, but this is flexible. “We’re not going to do it until students are comfortable with the referendum,” said Truesdell.

In the intervening time, there will be more public forums to discuss the rollover other issues with MCSG. The next forum will be April 14th at 10pm in the Chapel.