MCSG reexamines MPIRG contract to address voter turnout, contract length

Following last week’s MCSG meeting, an informal coalition was created to further discuss the student government’s relationship with Macalester’s MPIRG chapter. The coalition was made up of both MCSG and MPIRG representatives interested in re-working the contract between the two bodies after an especially low turnout on MPIRG’s referendum this year, with only 263 students total voting and only 144 of those supporting the referendum.
In the past week and a half, the coalition has met three times to consider ways to improve voter turnout, create more transparency between MPIRG and the student body, and to revamp the contract so that it satisfies the needs of both MCSG and MPIRG.

“This is similar to an audit,” said MCSG representative James Lindgren ’15, referring to the process which other student organizations go through every two to three years in order to update their charters. What makes MPIRG unique from other orgs, however, is that they receive funding from the student activity fee. Students can opt out of paying the 12 dollar fee in their first semester at Macalester, and every three years a referendum goes out to Macalester to allow students to vote on whether or not they want MCSG to renew its contract with MPIRG.

It was made clear at the beginning of the first meeting that the discussion would revolve mostly around the contract and the promotion of the referendum which renews that contract, rather than the monetary question.

“The price, 12 dollars…is not an issue,” said MCSG president Kai Wilson ’14. “Performance of MPIRG was not an issue.”

During the first meeting, conversations about whose responsibility it was to promote the referendum arose. At that week’s MCSG meeting, Dean of Students Jim Hoppe had stated that the promotion was supposed to be an equal responsibility of both parties, but that thus far the process had not happened that way.

MCSG representative Josie Ahrens ’14 suggested adding a clause to the contract that “specifically maps out whose responsibility it is to promote the referendum.”

“None of us are very happy with the turnout,” she said.

“I think that MCSG does have some responsibility to promote this,” added MPIRG co-chair Grace Putka ’16.

The concerns about promoting the referendum and making sure it would not get lost in the shuffle of executive campaigning led to the suggestion that the Election Procedures Committee (EPC) oversee the promotion of the referendum and that it be added to the contract that the referendum be on the same ballot as the presidential candidates.

A more contentious debate came up about having a specific number of students or percentage of the student body set that would allow the contract between MPIRG and MCSG to dissolve. The current contract states that 555 Macalester students, or “the number voting to retain MCSG’s affiliation with MPIRG in the April 12, 2010, ballot” would be sufficient to call for a referendum to terminate the agreement. Given the low turnout this year to the polls, it was suggested that the number be changed or that a percentage of the student be used instead.

25 percent was considered, which approximated the number of approving votes from the former referendum. According to MCSG bylaws, 20 percent of the student body can call for a student assembly, and 30 percent can call a vote to dissolve MCSG.

“If a student assembly can be called to dissolve a body of a contract…I feel like the percentage should be close,” Lindgren said. “It should be approximately the same.”

Others advocated for a lower number to represent the low number of voters this year. MPIRG co-chair Miranda Adams ’15 disagreed.

“We shouldn’t be put into a precarious place for something we didn’t do,” she said.

Another way suggested to take into account the low voter turnout and keep the contract viable for the student body was that the length of the contract be shortened.

“Not one year, but two, so people still on campus can vote on this,” Lindgren said.

The conversation resumed in the following meeting, with more support shown in favor of continuing the three year model.

“We shouldn’t penalize the relationship between MPIRG and MCSG,” Will Theriac ’16 said.

In an informal vote, it was shown that 7 members of the coalition preferred the three-year contract over 5 members approving of the two-year contract. It was decided that the conversation regarding the length of the agreement would be ongoing.

MPIRG also had the chance to discuss the use of the student activity fee, since it had been assumed that the money was leaving campus, going to the state chapter, and then returning to Macalester.

“That’s not really how this system works,” Putka said. “[The money] pays for the campus organizer, who is on campus every day.”

Smaller changes were made to the language of the contract, including adding that MPIRG would meet with MCSG twice a semester in the future instead of only once, as they do now.

Bringing the contract to the LB

Because the informal coalition holds no legislative power, it was suggested that the legislative body (LB) of MCSG be made aware of the changes to the contract and then be allowed to approve it before sending it along to MPIRG’s board.

“We don’t really have any power to recommend or make anything as a contract,” said Vice President Rothin Datta ’16. “I would be much more comfortable allowing the LB to approve [this].”

Putka agreed, as long as MPIRG could continue to be part of the conversation.

“I definitely want to hear all those voices,” she said, but added that “[MPIRG] wouldn’t send a contract to MCSG that we thought our board wouldn’t approve.”

In relation to getting the contract introduced and then approved by MCSG, concerns about the timeline stipulated in the current contract arose.

Although Hoppe had stated at last week’s MCSG meeting that the contract would simply roll over on July 1 if no new agreement could be reached, he later informed MCSG and
MPIRG that he had been mistaken; the contract would instead terminate at that date if no new contract was negotiated. Additionally, MPIRG’s current board will be undergoing changes on May 5, meaning that getting a new contract approved after this date would be difficult in the time of transition.

It was suggested that the contract be sent to MPIRG prior to being approved by MCSG.

“What we expect on our end is that on this campus it has been agreed upon and that we are getting the agreed-upon contract,” said MPIRG member Jeff Garcia ’14, who spoke from an MPIRG board perspective.

The contract will be introduced on Tuesday to MCSG and will have to wait a week before it can be approved by the legislative body and then sent to MPIRG’s board.
MPIRG was invited to the LB meeting.

“What you say even if you don’t have a vote has a lot of meaning,” Wilson said. “It’s our duty to students to have this process.”