For those who have missed the recent controversy, Undergraduate Student Government (USG) voted unanimously to increase the Associated Student Fee (AS Fee) over the unanimous objection of the Graduate Student Government (GSG) on March 17th. This polarizing vote has soured intergovernmental relations and drawn significant criticism to USG. Backlash from this criticism sparked finger-pointing by representatives of USG and Mines Activity Council (MAC). These representatives accuse GSG of obstructing extra-curricular activities and ignoring student life on campus.
As a department representative who voted against the AS Fee increase, I can tell you that these accusations against GSG are not true. GSG has a strong record of supporting activities for its members and commits 25% of its operating budget to USG for the sole purpose of supporting clubs and organizations utilized by the entire student body. However, we unanimously opposed the fee increase because it was unclear why the additional money was necessary or how it was to be spent.
The procedures outlined in the USG/GSG Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) were ignored in USG’s rush to vote. The JOA clearly states that a joint task force between the two entities should have been formed with members from both governments before any vote was presented. The purpose of this task force would have been to facilitate intergovernmental communication and a mutual understanding. Additionally, the JOA states that the task force was to conduct a survey of the student body to identify needs and concerns that could be addressed.
This did not happen. GSG was never contacted to form the JTF. To date, no evidence has been provided from USG that any survey or major discussion with the student body was conducted. When representatives for USG spoke at the joint operating meeting held March 17th, the common theme was to provide a better experience for the students at Mines. Unfortunately, there was no data or statistics to support this claim. USG also showed interest in providing legal services for students but could not identify the student need for such a program. The lack of hard data from a student survey greatly hurt the USG representatives in their ability to defend their decisions to the GSG representatives before the final vote was cast.
To make matters worse, USG sprung the issue on GSG with little warning and insufficient time. GSG was only informed of the proposed AS Fee increase after USG had already unanimously approved the proposal in their own council at the end of January. No input was solicited from GSG. This flies in the face of CSM Board of Trustees recommendations. The document “Institutional Plan for Student Fees,” amended by the Board in May of 2013, presents a timeline stating that USG and GSG should have discussed new AS Fee proposals between August and January of the academic year. Additionally, the document states that “Any voting relating to student fees requires: 1) Full disclosure of information relating to the fee or fee increase; and 2) Agreements on the disbursement of non-biased, factual information regarding the vote.” Despite this recommendation, the only information passed from USG to the GSG representatives was a quarter-page bullet list with club trivia and vague spending options. This was clearly insufficient for a document that should have represented months of deliberation and at least one survey of the entire student body.
This alarming lack of planning clearly demonstrated that USG has not adequately addressed the problems in the budgeting process that lead to a $45,000 deficit at the beginning of the academic year. While the budgeting committee for USG was dissolved in an attempt to address its deficiencies, the new structure has not operated long enough to demonstrate improvement. I did not believe it would be prudent or in the interests of the student body to throw additional money at an organization that has yet to demonstrate need or prove itself financially responsible.
Several uninformed commentators have stated that GSG has lost touch with the student body and opposes “out-of-the-classroom activities at Mines”. What some students do not realize is that, as stated previously, GSG contributes 25% of its operating budget to USG for the sole purpose of funding the clubs and organizations utilized by both undergraduate and graduate students at Mines. GSG also funds initiatives that provide cooking classes, discounted coffee at local businesses, and social events for academic departments and graduate students on campus. In addition, GSG provides numerous research and travel programs that benefit both graduates and undergraduates alike. The GSG representatives are constantly receiving input from their fellow students on new initiatives that help bring the Mines campus together. GSG to this date has been able to perform these initiatives within its current operating budget while still providing enjoyable and innovative experiences for the community.
Hopefully students at Mines will recognize that GSG has been unfairly attacked for its stance on the AS Fee. The problem lies with USG’s blatant disregard for well documented and widely available procedures. It is the responsibility of USG representatives to know these operating procedures. Furthermore, as the originators of the AS Fee increase, the burden of justifying the additional funds should have been led by USG. Every other member of GSG I have discussed this with expressed similar sentiments. With insufficient communication from USG and no clear justification, I could not in good conscience vote in favor of increasing the Associated Student Fee for the student body.