Gaby Cedeno & Ty Lopez
OPINIONS EDITOR//HEAD COPY EDITOR
On Monday night, the ASWC Senate passed a Funding Reallocation Bill that cuts the Media Council’s share of student body fees from 35 percent to 23.5 percent. The cuts will slash operating funds by a third and come at a time when the six council organizations — the Quaker Campus, QCTV, KPOET, VPS, WCSN, and Sigma Tau Delta(English Honors Society) — are struggling to survive amid space and production challenges. The bill originally called for a 43 percent cut to the Media Council’s funding but was modified after a series of contentious readings.
The amended Funding Reallocation Bill, to now cause an approximate 33 percent budget cut to Media Council, passed by a vote of 12-1. The cuts will take effect in the Fall of 2017. The bill, proposed by Senate Executive Cabinet members senior Vice President Sofia Dueñas and junior Treasurer Lorena Heymans, underwent nearly a month of debate and has raised concerns from various members of the Whittier College community.
The appropriations taken from Media Council will be redistributed to the Senate General Funds, Operational, and Program Board, raising the allocation of student body fees under the Senate’s jurisdiction to 76.5 percent from its current 65 percent share. Proponents of the bill argue that the cuts were a necessary response to concerns over Media Council’s “reckless” spending, lack of transparency, and the end of the Acropolis yearbook, which hasn’t published since 2013.
Media organization leaders argued that they manage their budgets responsibly and current funding levels are necessary to maintain and improve the quality and competitiveness of the College’s media programs. At the crux of the debate, both senators and Media Council members grappled with deciding what was best for the students of Whittier College: a vibrant media or a more powerful Program Board and greater opportunities to provide funds for other Senate-funded campus organizations.
Monday’s final reading brought questions from students who had been informed of the pending bill via last week’s Quaker Campus article and the ensuing campus-wide email issued by the ASWC, which includes the bill. Junior Colin Greenup, who had issues with the Senate’s fiscal responsibility and transparency, was one of the first to address the Senate. “To hear that you guys want to take money from Media Council and put it into the General Fund to be spent on things when you have no record of what you’re spending [money] on, really?” said Greenup. “It’s kind of sketchy to a student here. Like, I’m not sure how you think we can trust you.”
Treasurer Heymans assured Greenup that the Senate is managing its budget responsibly, explaining that the lack of data available to the public on OrgSync could be due to previous treasurers’ oversights. “There’s a lot of discrepancies, both on the business side and on the ASWC past Treasurer’s side, but I’m working hard to change that and I’m trying very hard this semester to remain transparent for the students,” said Heymans. “I promise to take JanTerm to try and look up past files, but my focus this past semester was getting [Media Council’s] data.”
ASWC president Amer Rashid added that in a departure from past practices, such as funding too many dances, the Senate had been taking pains to look more closely at what funding it approves. “We were funding things that shouldn’t have been funded,” said Rashid. “We’ve put an emphasis on providing funds for academic and cultural events.”
When the bill came up for public discussion, Rashid read aloud letters from English Professors Tony Barnstone, Jonathan Burton, Wendy Furman-Adams, and Michelle Chihara as well as Collections Management Librarian and alumnus Mike Garabedian, who were unanimous in their opposition to the bill as it was presented. “The president-elect [Donald Trump] has already shown a historically unprecedented level of animosity towards the press and its traditions,” wrote Chihara. “One way or another, in the coming year, our country is likely to face pressing political issues that may drastically affect the lives of so many of our students, staff and faculty ... Now would be a truly unwise time to pull funding from this important part of our community and could potentially send a chilling message.”
Garabedian, a former Quaker Campus editor and ASWC senator, wrote, “I understand completely the difficulty that Senate faces in distributing funds to the various organizations, clubs, and groups on campus. I’ve been in these meetings and have had to make hard choices that can never please everyone,” wrote Garabedian. “But it seems to me that as well-intentioned [the] Dueñas-Heymans bill might be, it represents an extreme and potentially dangerous way forward.”
After the emails were read, Vice President Dueñas said she felt the emails were not an accurate representation of the faculty on campus. Dueñas asserted that there was an inherent bias in the emails since they came from professors in the English Department and that she believed that they could financially benefit from money within Media Council because of their affiliation with Sigma Tau Delta.
Senior Inter-Society Council representative Adam Fossier also felt that the emails did not convey legitimate concerns. “Clearly, with almost all the emails we heard tonight, there are misunderstandings,” Fossier said. “Most of those people, obviously, either didn’t read the bill or didn’t fully understand what it was saying.”
Following public discussion, Rashid granted 15-plus minutes of recess for senators, Media Council members, and students to discuss the bill informally. The discussions sparked the idea of putting the bill in a referendum for the student body to vote on, which was suggested to the Senate by senior Student Body Representative Joseph Laguna. He was concerned about the level of opposition to the bill expressed during public discussion.
“We have to think about the future,” said Laguna. “How many people are in here right now telling us that they don’t want the bill? A lot. How is that going to look on us if we vote no? I think it’s important that we act as a democracy. And if we don’t let our constituents vote, then really, what are we doing?”
Some senators opposed the referendum idea on the basis that too much time and effort had been put into the bill at this point and that the student body wasn’t prepared to make such a decision. “I feel as if us having to go out into the student body will not only be exhaustive to personal and social resources on both ends but ultimately might not give us the answer that we want,” said sophomore Student Body Representative Taylor Scriber.
Vice President Dueñas also raised issues with the unprecedented nature of a referendum and asked if the Senate’s constitution or bylaws allowed for such. President Rashid responded that the table could initiate a referendum, provided two-thirds of the Senate table approved.
During the referendum debate, senior Maxwell Hoversten, a former senator with no Media Council affiliation, cautioned the Senate “to be careful about the language that we use. Senators don’t like to feel that somehow they’re not capable or they don’t have the faculties or the logic to figure this out. I also think it goes the other way, too. I don’t like the implication that just because I’m not on the Senate, I’m too much of a dipstick to have an educated opinion on this bill.”
Junior Lindsey Macdonald expressed her dissatisfaction at the Monday night meeting with Senate’s bill process and the bill itself. “I had no knowledge that a bill was going to change 15 percent of the allocation of that student body fee that I pay … until I read the QC article the Thursday before the meeting,” Macdonald said. “Then, when the email went out that had the actual bill attached to it; then I read the bill and I knew more about what was going on, and I was like, ‘This isn’t cool.’”
Junior Michelle Ordonez urged the Senate to work with the media organizations to fashion a collaborative bill. “I urge my senators to have this bill looked over and edited with Media Council involvement, rather than those who do not participate in these organizations telling them what is best for them,” said Ordonez. “I have heard discussion of this bill and biased language from senators to constituents, using negative language to help get support [for the bill].”
Ultimately, the Senate resisted the push for a referendum, which forced junior Media Council Representative Leah Boynton, Senator Laguna, and Vice President Dueñas to reach a compromise that resulted in the amended bill to cut Media Council’s 35 percent share of student fees down to 23.5 percent.
Although the Senate did not proceed with the referendum, Laguna said that the reaction of the senators was disappointing. “I feel like the four meetings [put] Media Council on trial,” said Laguna. “I do not believe that senators did their best to not show their personal stance on the bill … [or] educate our constituents on the bill with a neutral stance. The argument that it was a hassle astounds me, as it is our job to be a democratic government.”
Vice President Dueñas said she was pleased with the amended bill and believes it will help hold organizations accountable for their spending. “I’m happy that we were able to reach a compromise within this legislative cycle,” said Dueñas. “This started a conversation that will continue to be happening, as it should. I’m of the firm belief this went way too long without being looked at.”
With the change in funding allocations beginning in the Fall of 2017, Treasurer Heymans has high expectations that the Senate will put its additional resources to good use. “Program Board will be able to make their events larger and more memorable to the student body,” said Heymans. “With this increase of funds, they will be able to listen to the student body’s feedback and provide them with things they’d like to see or do.”