This week, you donated to a political nonprofit organization.
You may be forgiven if you don’t remember making that donation. The money came out of a fund you had set aside when you paid your Macalester tuition: your student activity fee. You paid that fee with the understanding that it would be used for bringing speakers to campus and supporting student organizations. However a percentage of your fee was diverted to a statewide political organization called MPIRG unless you carefully read a three paragraph email from Macalester College’s Student Government (MCSG), clicked through to a sad-looking Google Docs form, and filled out your name and student ID number.
Didn’t see that email? Didn’t understand what it was about? Didn’t have time to read it? Too bad. It was presumed that you wanted to give money to MPIRG unless you explicitly opted out.
Did you want to know where the money is going? If it was spent in accordance with MCSG bylaws? If it was spent on campus or off? Too bad. Now that MPIRG has it, they don’t have to report their expenditures to you.
If you think this sounds just a little bit unfair, I would agree with you. Every other student organization on campus is required to go through a very specific process to get students’ money. They must budget a year in advance or fill out a special allocation form weeks in advance of doing anything. They must explain what they will use the money for and how much they want. Their request is subject to approval, rejection or reduction by our elected student representatives in MCSG. This process applies to MacDems, MacGOP, Mac Young Americans for Liberty and Mac International Socialist Organization.
MPIRG on the other hand just gets a check for roughly $22,000 each year—more than every student cultural organization’s budget combined.
How does MPIRG do it? They get this money because of a special contract they have with our student government, whereby they are allowed to bypass the entire budgeting process and it is presumed the student body wants to donate to them.
Last spring, this contract expired. MPIRG was supposed to hold a forum and a vote on whether or not this contract should continue. But they failed entirely to hold the forum, and only one-tenth of the student body voted in the election. The student Judicial Council held that this referendum was invalid, and dozens of students attended an MCSG meeting to demand a new election be held before the contract was extended—but MPIRG raised the possibility of legal action if MCSG did not extend MPIRG’s contract for a semester.
On November 17, MPIRG’s contract will again be voted on by Macalester’s student body. If it passes, MPIRG’s arrangement will continue for at least another three years—meaning that it will be presumed the next three generations of first-years want to donate to them as well.
Nobody objects to funding MPIRG—they’re no different from any other student org that receives student money. I personally consider myself a progressive. But all students, regardless of political affiliation, should object to a contract that gives students’ money away with no transparency and no accountability. MPIRG could be easily funded via the normal budgeting process.
I encourage all Macalester students: Watch your email. Vote no on the MPIRG contract this November. It will be a vote for transparent student government, for smart budgeting practices and for fairness to every other student organization at Macalester.
Editors’ note: This op-ed has been edited for clarity with the consent of the author. MPIRG is not a political action committee; it is a 501(c)(3) organization. The phrase “threatened to sue” has been changed to “raised the possibility of legal action.” The date of the forum has been updated to be consistent with the print version.