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The Ugly Side of SA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dominick Riesland   

In all my time as a student and observer on campus, I have not seen anything as sketchy as the events of the past several months in the Student Association business.  Meetings that should have happened were cancelled, while others of questionable legality took place that instituted major changes.  Attempts to gather information about what is going on are met with assertions about how the SA is not required to furnish it.  It is no wonder that certain organizations on campus are in open revolt.

As a graduate who has been involved with an organization on campus for four and a half years, I have had to deal with a certain level of campus politics on a regular basis. Certain student government procedures become accepted because they work.  But when they are changed without explanation and replaced by obviously flawed substitutes, it is a sure sign of trouble.

An obvious example of this is the office allocation procedure put inby last year's Union Policy Board, chaired at the time by Russ Rueden, the Speaker of the SA Senate and former SA President.  The procedure for this has become codified over the years by example and past precedent.  In the three previous years before the 2006 allocation, there were rounds of hearings for student organizations to present their needs before the board, followed by a new allocation that tried to accommodate as many organizations as possible.  Each new allocation was posted publicly, both as a list of changes and as a map, so that everyone could see what was decided and have accurate information on which to file any necessary appeals.  Once the UPB made its final allocation, the Student Court took up any process violations.

This procedure, as outlined above, was listed in the packet that was given to every student organization when they applied for office space in the Union.

However, this was not what was followed.  The meetings at which the hearings were to take place were cancelled.  The first two rounds of allocations were presented by Russ Rueden (as UPB Chair) and Robert Stueber (as Office Allocation Chair) and were claimed to have been generated by speaking to the organizations seeking office space.  Of
the two allocations, only the first one was listed publicly, and while I was physically present at the second allocation meeting, I know of at least one change that was made that is not explicitly mentioned on the audio.

The meeting that followed the second allocation made office assignments as well.  By all logic, this would have been the third allocation, and thus the end of the process, but it wasn't.  A fourth meeting, held a week after the third one, moved several offices around. And it wasn't until after the leases went into effect on June 1 that the final list of office assignments was posted – and that listing was from the Union Director's office.  This list points out that one office that had been previously assigned was to be converted into storage and others that once held organizations are now open. Furthermore, our own assignment was damaged, in what some might call retaliation for trying to improve it.  It is not surprising that there are organizations that refuse to move.

The organization I was leading decided to take our case to Student Court on the grounds of numerous violations of procedure.  Three other organizations joined us and we held a preliminary hearing that amounted to little more than the Court interrogating us as to why we thought the Union Policy Board was a part of SA.  Why? When they share the same office and contact information; the Shared Governance Committee listing available at the time refers to UPB as a “Student Association Committee”; the organizational chartering packet lists the UPB as a student organization in the Governing Category and the Dean of Students, together with the Independent Election Commission, lists the Union Policy Board as eligible for segregated fees only available to student organizations under the umbrella of SA; that should have been enough right there.  Furthermore, remember that the right to appeal the final allocation to the Student Court is listed in the packet given at the beginning of the process.  This wasn't enough for the Court, who ruled, in part:

"The role of the University Student Court in that process is quite limited. Organizations may appeal decisions to the University Student Court; however that may only be on procedural or process violations. The plaintiffs do not make a significant argument that a procedural violation occurred in the office allocation process. The Union Policy Board followed its established procedure for making office allocations. With respect to appeals, several were heard and one way to deal with an appeal is to choose not to hear the appeal, which is partly the case with the 2006-2007 office allocations. The University Student Court may take on a greater role in mediating disputes on office allocations, however may only do so upon referral from the Union Policy Board."  USC 06-001, Riesland et al. vs. UPB

Apparently, in the eyes of the Court, UPB's failure to follow its established procedure for making office allocations is considered "following its established procedure for making office allocations." Not only that, but having a procedure written by the Union Policy Board authorizing the Court to act is not considered "referral from the Union Policy Board."

Amazingly enough, this doublespeak has appeared in other items of Student Association.  An open records request by a student for the financial and purpose documents concerning the Student Organization Programming Center was rejected on the grounds that SA is not an authority as defined by Wisconsin Statute 19.32(1), which states:

(1) "Authority" means any of the following having custody of a record: a state or local office, elected official, agency, board, commission, committee, council, department or public body corporate and politic created by constitution, law, ordinance, rule or order; a governmental or quasi-governmental corporation except for the Bradley center sports and entertainment corporation; a local exposition district under  subch. II  of ch. 229; a family care district under s. 46.2895 ; any court of law; the assembly or senate; a nonprofit corporation which receives more than 50% of its funds from a county or a municipality, as defined in  s. 59.001 (3) , and which provides services related to public health or safety to the county or municipality; a nonprofit corporation operating the Olympic ice training center under  s. 42.11 (3)  ; or a formally constituted subunit of any of the foregoing.

At least one of these applies to the Student Association.

So how did Rueden end up being SA Speaker anyway?  He didn't run as a senator, but amazingly enough, a senator-elect resigned before takingoffice.  This "opening" was posted, but only one person was able toget the required signatures:  Russ Rueden. Although questions were raised as to whether the notice was properly posted, Rueden was appointed.  So he was appointed at the first meeting, before the election of the Speaker, and then was promptly nominated for the post, which he won 13-11, with one abstention.

Over the summer, the Executive Bylaws were changed.  These govern the President and her cabinet appointments.  There was a request to have a redline and strikeout version, which lists the changes from the old rules to the new ones.  President Prahl instead offered to read the changes, forgetting to include in her summary the removal of the provision that prevented members from serving in both the Executive and Legislative branches.  A quick check of the SA Executive and Legislative homepages shows at least six members (Emily Grotz, Casey Glader, Adam Lofquist, Robert Stueber, Cassy Magar and Chris Wiley) are listed both as senators and members of the Executive branch, and one senator (Dan Bahr) who is listed as a senator in both Letters and Science and the Graduate School.  Note that the Senate bylaws available online forbid this practice (Article VII, Section 1.f and 1.g), and according to the SA Constitution, Article VIII, "Senate Bylaws shall take precedence over all other SA Bylaws."

Add to the list of questionable practices the Senate Allocation Committee.  Current SA President Samantha Prahl appointed two members to this committee, but before the Senate could approve them, they held a meeting to choose a chair and draft new bylaws. These new members allowed SAC to make quorum, and the bylaws they passed stated that clubs could be renewed "at the desecration [sic] of the Chair and Vice Chair".  These were rewritten before being sent to the Senate to have the entire committee review club renewals, but there are still items in these bylaws that can be done at the “desecration” of the chair.  I'm still debating whether goat blood or rat feces make for a better “desecration”.

The Senate meeting at which these bylaws were to be passed was only posted in the Events listing provided by Reservation and Event Planning Services.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, go into the Union and look in the glass cases between the elevators.  This lists, in single line format, every room reservation in the Union for that day.  There, a listing for the Student Association – Legislative Branch reserved the Fireside Lounge from 3 to 5 p.m.  After that, the Fireside Lounge was reset to its original configuration. But amazingly enough, the agenda packet posted online listed the meeting as starting at 6 p.m., not 3 p.m.  When 6 p.m. rolled around, the Senate merely moved chairs around and conducted the meeting.  So, what counts as an official notice of a meeting?

This leads to the lockout issue.  After the news of the Sandburg Halls Administrative Council check to Acerprudens (signed by Russ Rueden) appeared, the University requested an audit of all Student Association funds, per UW System Financial Administration Policy F20.  Samantha Prahl refused to turn over the private account (Executive Bylaws Article V) information to the administration, but she did say that she would allow all accounts, including the private account, to be looked at by an independent auditor.  That wasn't good enough for the University, and they invoked the part of F20 that reads, “If SUF [Segregated University Fee money] is received for ongoing operations of an organization, the organization must provide financial records of their entire operation, if requested by the SUFAC [Segregated University Fee Allocation Committee] or the Institution. An organization's failure to comply with a request for financial information may result in the denial of SUF support and/or use of University facilities.” Thus, they were promptly shut out of their office on Friday.

In response to this, an emergency meeting of the Senate was called for that evening at 7 p.m.  Notices went up in the Union about 4 p.m.  and e-mails were sent to the senators detailing the purpose of the meeting as "Discussion of Obtaining Legal Counsel."  To date, no agenda of this emergency meeting has been posted on the SA Senate website. So, by the example of these Senate meetings, posting on the website has priority over posting in the Union, but posting in the Union and by e-mail but not on the website is valid.  If an agenda posted on the web properly posts a meeting time, doesn't the lack of an agenda posted indicate that the meeting wasn't properly posted? And what about Article II, Section 6d of the Senate bylaws that states 48 hours must pass between the calling of an emergency meeting and the meeting itself?

At the meeting, a document was passed around called the Financial Accountability Act of 2006, which would have ordered that the Union, Norris Health Center, Klotsche Center and the Athletics department undergo an audit and be similarly shut down "in order to comply with the University's interpretation of F20."  The stated reason was that President Prahl did not want to set the precedent of having to release the information on the Private Account because that would undermine the ability of the SA to act as a check on the administration.  If she did release this information, she claimed, future SA Presidents would be forced to do the same, which removes the independence of the SA. There was no quorum; therefore, no vote could be taken on this measure. But given the track record above, there is no reason to believe that this setback will make the legislation go away.

The Financial Accountability Act of 2006 is impractical and based on several false premises.  The University's position isn't that being audited causes you to shut down, but rather failing to submit to the mandates of a legal audit under F20 can cause the loss of segregated fee support and/or University facilities.  Second, the student backlash from such a shutdown would be enormous, especially if the UWM basketball or soccer team had to forfeit a game because of the Student Association auditing them, or if no one could buy food on campus because Dining Services was closed. Third, the FAA2006 claimed as part of its justification the fact that the SUFAC is made entirely of senators; the Senate itself could act on behalf of SUFAC.  This is a logical fallacy.  All Presidents of the United States to date have been men born on Earth, but does that mean that a vote of men worldwide can act on behalf of the President of the United States?  And lastly, such an action looks like retaliation taken out of spite for having been embarrassed by the administration.

The current student government seems to be hiding behind legal distinctions (UPB is not under SA, SA is not subject to open records requests, the private account created under Executive Bylaws is not allowed to be turned over to the administration) and trying to hide meetings so they can get a favorable result.  This is not the pattern I want to see from student government, as it undermines the entire concept of shared governance.  Such evasiveness and apparent corruption could lead to a repeal of the vaunted Wisconsin Statute 36.09(5) that guarantees students the right to participate in University policy.  If that happens, they will have no one to blame but themselves.

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