With a simple mouse click, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart delivered his final decisions Friday to the student groups whose fate depended on how much money he would award them.
Three groups, including the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, were set to receive no funding because they submitted their applications late, and their appeals were ignored by the Student Services Fees Committee. Rinehart granted the three groups partial funding, including $188,000 of GAPSA’s operating budget of $376,000. He also halved a proposed $90,000 cut to The Minnesota Daily.
In total, Rinehart made four changes to committee recommendations — the most in his seven years as vice provost — which put an exclamation point on one of the most controversial fee request years in recent history. Rinehart identified four aspects of the fees process that have caused problems and need to be evaluated and, along with the Minnesota Student Association and GAPSA, will establish a task force this summer to deal with the issues and with the longstanding problem of maintaining viewpoint neutrality.
At the same time, fees committee members have voiced their displeasure with the amount of involvement Rinehart has had in the committee’s decision-making process, which members feel is designed to let students decide how their money is allocated.
“He stepped in and exercised authority he truly doesn’t have,” fees committee Chairman Paul Freeman said. “But at this point there’s nothing the fees committee can do, and there’s nothing the students can do, and there’s nothing anybody can really do. Because when he writes up his recommendations and signs them, there is no check on Rinehart’s power.”
Somali Student Association President Guled Ibrahim rushed between campuses Jan. 22 because he knew he had to submit his group’s fee request before the 3:30 p.m. deadline. After returning from the St. Paul campus to his group’s office in Coffman Union, he submitted the application twice — one at 3:28 p.m. and one at 3:29 p.m. — to make sure the fees committee received it.
The problem was that the deadline was actually 3:00 p.m. Like the two other organizations that submitted their applications late, SSA’s application was not recognized by the fees committee.
Before Rinehart’s decision, GAPSA and the Minnesota International Student Association were looking at $0 in funds as well. GAPSA’s late application in particular brought increased attention to the fees committee’s decision not to accept applications submitted past deadline.
“It was a busy year,” Rinehart said, “and it was unusual because I’ve never had to deal with late applications before.”
This year, GAPSA operated with a budget of $376,000. Rinehart decided to give the group half of that budget, $188,000 in student services fees for next year.
“Well obviously I was disappointed in the level of funding we received,” GAPSA President Kristi Kremers said. “From the very beginning we have taken full responsibility for our application being submitted one business day late. But in this case, I feel that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”
GAPSA represents all graduate students and is a funding superstructure. A majority of its funding is allocated to the 10 councils that make up GAPSA, including the Law Council and Medical School Student Council.
“I tried to strike a middle ground there,” Rinehart said about this year’s late applications. “So there’s a punishment there for missing the deadline but certainly not a death penalty.”
Both Kremers and incoming GAPSA President Ryan Kennedy said their first priority is to protect funding that goes to GAPSA’s councils.
“It’s going to require creativity and some major reworking of our organization,” Kremers said. “Unfortunately there will be cuts to important programs and services.”
Rinehart made a similar decision for MISA, giving the group $33,500 for next year, half of this year’s $67,000 budget. SSA was not as lucky. Because this is the first year the group has applied, Rinehart was not able to base a decision on a previous fees committee recommendation, he said.
Instead, he used a discretionary fund available to his office. Each year, in order to be a supplier on campus, Coca-Cola gives $1 million to be used to benefit the student life on campus, Rinehart said.
$5,000 of this money will go to fund the SSA next year. Its application, which was never heard, requested $25,000.
A nonexistent appeals process
Rinehart identified four aspects of the fees process that have caused problems and need to be evaluated. Rinehart stressed the need for an appeals process for late applications, a better common understanding of reserve funds, clarity on whether previous fees committee resolutions are binding and a possible change to a rule that allows groups to budget only 30 percent of their funding for salaries.
“It would be helpful not to hammer these out every year,” Rinehart said. “[They] are the four areas that have really popped up.”
Currently, the only avenue for appeals is private meetings and public hearings held by the committee and Rinehart. However, the committee does not offer private appeals to groups who submit late applications because those groups are not recognized. Both Rinehart and GAPSA are working to create an appeals process at the committee level to avoid catastrophes like the ones the committee faced this year.
“To clarify, the appeals process we have in the final appeals process is quite adequate,” Rinehart said. “We need for the deadline application review process to be more robust.”
Reserve funds are part of a group’s budget, set aside to protect against unforeseen funding needs or to make a large future purchase. This year, conflict brewed over reserve funds held by the Daily.
The Daily keeps a reserve fund of $690,000 to keep the paper afloat in case of an unbudgeted decline in advertising revenue. The Administrative Units Committee, after initial recommendations, analyzed the Daily’s reserve fund and decided to cut $90,000 of the newspaper’s $550,000 request.
The committee recommended a one-time cut in order to trim down the account. The Daily was the only group on the administrative units side of the fees pool to appeal to the vice provost, who granted $45,000 of the cut back, bringing the group’s budget to $505,000 for next year.
Resolutions and the 30 percent rule
Because the makeup of the fees committee changes drastically from year to year, interpretations of the rules are often different. Though committees are able to pass resolutions that are binding for future years, future committees don’t necessarily agree on the binding nature of past resolutions.
“We need to have clarity over resolutions passed by fees committee,” Rinehart said. “Over time we have an accumulation of resolutions that conflict with one another.”
One interpretation that created conflict in this year’s process was over a rule that stipulates no more than 30 percent of a group’s budget can go toward salaries. Some groups, like the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, require more student organization and should be allowed to budget more than 30 percent for salaries, Rinehart said.
“The 30 percent cap on wages and salaries was another issue,” Rinehart said. “The interpretation was changed and expanded to include benefits as well.”
For some groups, this meant going back to rework the budget to include wages and salaries. Others submitted the budgets that didn’t allow for this change and let the committee adjust their recommendation accordingly.
Away from the vice provost’s desk, the issue of viewpoint neutrality has led some students to question the committee’s motives, specifically whether the committee’s decisions were politically motivated. Viewpoint neutrality requires that the committee “may not consider the viewpoint of requesting groups in making funding decisions.”
This means not only ignoring political beliefs but also group size and how many years a student group has existed, which were both factors in the committee’s decision not to recognize GAPSA’s late application, Freeman said. Other students have questioned the neutrality of the committee because conservative groups fared far better in this year’s process than in years past.
Of the two groups supporting grassroots political and environmental action, the more conservative Collegians for a Conservative Tomorrow outpaced MPIRG in funding. This is the first time in the history of the two groups that CFACT has received more funds than MPIRG.
“Giving either group more or less shows an ideological preference for that group,” said Sean Niemic, vice president of CFACT and newly elected at-large member of MPIRG.
“I’m not concerned that there’s been any sort of bias on the committee,” Freeman said. “This was something that just worked out that way. It may have been different than how things have been done in the past, but that’s how things go sometimes.”
Representatives from MSA and GAPSA, as well as Rinehart, agree that a task force should be formed to resolve the problems that emerged this year. MSA has been the most proactive in creating a committee to work over the summer.
Last Tuesday, members of MSA and GAPSA met for an ad hoc meeting to draft a resolution that will go before an MSA forum this week. If passed, the resolution will stand as an outline for appointing members to the summer committee.
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