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August 25, 2016

Finance Board decision overturned, SGA executives to receive stipends next year

By Zack Sampson, News Staff

The debate over whether members of the Student Government Association’s (SGA) executive board should be paid will extend into the fall after a university administrator last month overturned a decision to cut stipends from the association’s budget.

The Finance Board slashed SGA’s budget in March, denying the organization nearly $30,000 in Student Activity Fee (SAF) funds for stipends. But then-President Mike Sabo appealed, and Dr. Laura Wankel, the university’s vice president for student affairs, struck down the original funding decision last month.

“Essentially, my belief is that this decision lacked the level of process appropriate and proportionate to the issue,” Wankel wrote in her decision letter.

The News tried unsuccessfully since June 21 to arrange an interview with Wankel through the university’s communications office. Director of Communications Renata Nyul said Wankel was “extremely booked” and instead offered a brief summary of Wankel’s decision letter.

Wankel instructed the Finance Board to allocate an additional $27,775 from the SAF fund towards stipends, according to her letter. She also requested SGA review stipends and its budget process, and submit a report to her by Halloween.

New SGA President Pete Petrin, who campaigned against SAF-funded stipends with running mate and Executive Vice President Nick Naraghi, said he will not accept his $4,200 allotment this year. He said Naraghi, Vice President of Student Involvement Kate Chandley, and Comptroller Maya Quijada also declined their stipends, which are of varying amounts.

The money from these stipends will be put back into the SAF pool, Petrin said. It totals about $14,000 dollars.

“I think that you risk at times receiving stipends, sending the message to the student body, intentional or not, that you value your time, your efforts, more than theirs is valued,” Petrin said.

He added, “I totally anticipate having to struggle to make my rent throughout the year this upcoming year, but at the end of the day, that was a $4,000 promise that I kept to my constituents and I think that’s ultimately most important to me and I’m proud to say that I did that regardless of my own personal situation.”

Petrin said he understood Wankel’s decision because other incoming e-board members may have applied for positions expecting to receive money. But he said he voted against the association’s original budget because of the inclusion of SAF-funded stipends.

Though he was hesitant to make a definitive statement about alternatives to stipends before the issue is reviewed, Petrin said a possible solution is providing a limited meal plan for e-board members. He said this method could help SGA leaders “communicate better in places more public where students actually are, experiencing the same issues that students experience.”

Former Comptroller Anthony Golia, who led the Finance Board at the time the decision to cut funding for stipends was made, said Wankel granted the appeal without basis.

“For the administration to completely and unilaterally override the student voice without any student input is completely preposterous,” he said.

According to Finance Board rules, a Finance Board decision cannot be overturned unless proper procedures were not followed, “the funding allocation decision was arbitrary or capricious,” or the imposed sanctions were unnecessarily harsh compared to the severity of the infraction. The manual says, “The fact that the Board did not fund a request in its entirety does not in itself constitute grounds for an appeal.”

Golia, who received a more-than-$3,000 stipend last year, said Wankel’s decision is not supported by these reasons.

“I think if you set the trend that a decision can be overturned just because you don’t like the final decision, I think that’s dangerous,” Golia said. “There’s no reason Finance Board should even exist because if Student Affairs is going to disagree with Finance Board in the first place, then just let Student Affairs give out the money.”

In her decision letter, Wankel said, “The action by the Finance Board was made as a result of only 2 of the 12 eligible students voting,” and because the election process for this year was already underway at the time of the allocation decision, it seemed “like a ‘bait and switch’” for those running for office.

Additionally, she said the Senate had already approved the budget, and because Finance Board is a subgroup of SGA,  it is unusual for a subcommittee to have such control over the governing body. Wankel noted that “adequate review including benchmarking and full discussion by the Senate on the matter was not conducted.”

Golia countered Wankel’s rationale, saying there were not 12 members on the Finance Board at the time, and quorum was met before the decision. He said only two student members voted because others on the Board had ties to SGA, so they abstained. The two who voted against funding for stipends were students-at-large, Golia said, and all student members also conducted a straw poll.

“Everyone voted in that and no students supported the stipends,” he said.

Sabo, who received a $4,200 SAF-funded stipend last year, said he lodged the appeal because he did not believe the Finance Board decision necessarily represented the student body’s opinion.

“The reason I appealed in the beginning was to have a full vetting of this process,” Sabo said. “I didn’t think it really did a service to the student body and the university and all parties involved to just do away with stipends without any examination or any analysis of the issue and how this affects everybody involved.”

A full vetting process will happen when SGA reviews how and if stipends should exist, as well as how the association requests a budget, Sabo said.

“As long as students are determining the outcome going forward, because it’s our money we’re paying into the Student Activity Fee, I have no problem with it,” he said.

Petrin said SGA has not officially begun the review process but will seek the views of students-at-large.

Current Comptroller Maya Quijada, who was a member of Finance Board during the original allocation but abstained from the vote, said she does not believe the majority of students are in favor of stipends.

Funding for stipends “shouldn’t be coming out of the Student Activity Fee,” she said. “So going forward I expect and I hope that it will not.”

Petrin echoed that sentiment, saying he has no problem with stipends if they come from SGA’s personally fundraised cash account, which has supplemented payments in the past.

“I have no opposition to the continuation of those cash account supplements,” he said. “But as for the Student Activity Fee stipends, I think this review, I would be surprised if it didn’t reveal the same [thing] that we’ve been hearing for a long time now, which is that it’s not something that students necessarily support.”

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