Oswego State Student Association heavily debated and eventually passed a resolution at the April 9 meeting, which would change SA bylaws to restrict allocating contingency funds for conferences.
The resolution, titled “Res.54.35 Conference Consideration,” would amend SA bylaws to make the unofficial SA policy of heavily-scrutinizing club contingency fund requests to attend conferences the new official policy. Under the new bylaws, clubs may not request contingency funds to attend off-campus non-competitive conferences that they have not already included in their budget.
This semester, SA has often discussed whether emergency funding should be granted to clubs requesting contingency funds, an annual account of about $10,000 that SA can use to provide additional funds to clubs that request it, to attend a professional conference. SA has deliberated prioritizing events that benefit the campus community and maximize the amount of students that can participate because all students contribute to the fund as a part of their semester costs.
Many conference requests this semester asked for over $1,000, so relatively few, often about a dozen, students could take a weekend trip to a conference. This contrasts with other contingency requests this semester, where several asked for a few hundred dollars to host events on campus where more students can participate.
“For a long time, the senate has been [debating] what should be and what isn’t a conference,” Sen. Matthew O’Donnell, who sponsored the bill, said at the meeting.
O’Donnell said, while there is value in clubs attending conferences, attendance could not be considered an emergency, as conferences are often annual and planned far in advance.
SA is in charge of approving how the student activities budget is used each year. The budget is drawn from the Student Activity Fee, charged by the college for every undergraduate student each semester. The fee was $117 per student this year, and the student activities budget was about $2 million for the 2018-2019 school year.
This budget is for student clubs and organizations to offer students opportunities to enrich and build the campus community. These opportunities for all students to participate include hosting events or supplying needed equipment.
Every year, clubs meet with SA finance officers to request a budget for the next academic year. If, during an academic year, a club finds need for additional funding, it can request contingency funds from SA. This contingency fund is a relatively small amount of emergency money that SA keeps in case an unforeseen cost barrier arises and a club needs supplemental funds for its programming. The contingency fund began the 2018-2019 academic year at around $10,000 and is at $3,030 as of April 9.
When student organizations request contingency funds, they make a presentation to SA about their need. The club meets with the SA Finance Committee, and two senators volunteer to draft a bill for the request. The bill is introduced to the SA body, who then debate and potentially amend the request before voting on whether to grant the funds. Proposed amendments and requests require a simple majority between a minimum of 12 senators present.
The new bylaw change passed by SA amends the rules for requesting contingency funds so that money cannot be requested for clubs to attend a new conference that was not already in a club’s budget.
A conference is defined by the resolution as “an off-campus non-competing event where members of organizations convene to participate, present or discuss particular topics.”
The wording was chosen, according to O’Donnell, to distinguish professional conferences or conventions, where attendees participate in networking and sharing research, from competitive events like sports conferences.
“Some sports teams call their national competition a ‘conference,’ and would we say, ‘Oh, well, that has the name conference in it.’ Is that going to be a problem just because it has the word in it?” O’Donnell said in March. “I think a heavy distinction in what is a conference, what isn’t a conference, will benefit everyone as a whole.”
Much of the debate this semester discussed making an exception for competitive events, such as club sports and academic competitions, because they offer an opportunity to represent Oswego State on a larger stage.
Clubs have other avenues for securing funding to attend professional conferences, such as their annual activities budget, fundraising and paying for the costs themselves.
“If you want to go to a conference, budget for it,” Sen. Khalia Hepburn said.
The main voice of dissent for this bill was Sen. Shareese Worrell, who argued that the hard rule changes would take away SA’s discretion in hearing student requests and that students have a right to ask.
“Conferences are important to students, and we are a resource,” Worrell said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Give them budget for conferences, but it’s not guaranteed.”
Worrell said while conferences are planned in advance, Oswego organizations may be unaware about these opportunities until after they receive their budgets.
Senators Devon Ruckdeschel, Jade Laplante and Nathaniel Goldstein countered that conferences are often held annually, and clubs can attend next year’s if they have the budget.
Laplante proposed an amendment where clubs could meet with committee chairs if the club believed there was a compelling reason to fund a conference trip. The amendment failed.
Hepburn proposed an amendment where clubs could receive contingency funds for supplemental funding for conferences already included in their budget. This amendment passed with a vote of 14-3.
The bill was passed by a vote of 11-4 with one abstention.
Photo by Kassadee Paulo | The Oswegonian