At last Wednesday’s Senate meeting, five students (ASUO Environmental Advocate Nathan Howard, ASUO Events Coordinator Molly Bennison*, and three Climate Justice League members) slated time on the agenda to present on the next step in the Sustainability Coordinator saga — finding permanent, full-time funding for the position.
For those of you who don’t remember, the Sustainability Coordinator position was born out of a lump of extra money in the 2009-10 ASUO Executive’s budget (slated for a GTF position that former President Sam Dotters-Katz created to run the internship class). The extra money went to a number of things, but the largest portion — $10,000 — went to creating a Sustainability Coordinator position to wrangle the numerous environmental groups on campus and make sure they, you know, do things. The position has been embroiled in controversy, specifically regarding shady money dealings by the executive and — most importantly — the notion that the position would be funded as a pilot, to see if it was actually beneficial.
The plan presented by these students was to create a new ASUO recognized and fee-funded group called the Student Sustainability Coalition. This group would be an umbrella organization, similar to the Survival Center and Women’s Center, that would list each of the fifteen or so environmental groups as line items in its budget. That group would also, in the ASUO’s mind, contain the funding for the Student Sustainability Coordinator.
The only problem here is that for a student group to be considered for ASUO funding, it must be a recognized group, and in order to become recognized, it must have six months of meetings. The ASUO Executive’s proposal is to request a $40,000 increase in their own 2010-11 budget during the budget process for the Student Sustainability Coordinator position, and then give that money to the Student Sustainability Coalition once the group is recognized.
Is this allowed? Probably. Is it shady? In true Amélie Rousseau fashion, of course. Fortunately for Rousseau and her staff, most of the shady dealings she is undergoing are unprecedented. Groups don’t plan on asking for money for other groups as early as the PFC process, unless the money is explicitly set aside for “co-sponsorships,” as is the case of the Multicultural Center. The precedent (hah) for asking for monies for other, non-recognized groups through surplus is spotty at best, with some requests getting approved and some requests being denied.
It also assumes that the Student Sustainability Coordinator position will be successful in its pilot year, requiring long-term full-time funding. This notion brings truth to my previous assumption: calling the Sustainability Coordinator a pilot program was simply rhetoric in the interest of getting the ASUO Senate to vote in favor of the proposal. They were never intending to kill the program after the first year, as proven by the unwavering faith the Executive is putting into a position that hasn’t done anything yet.
Additionally, this $40,000 growth will place a considerable burden on the PFC process. PFC can only raise its budget by 7% each year (last year it was raised by 0.8%, the year prior by 5.35%). The Executive’s proposal involves raising the total budget by the full 7%, creating a larger ASUO budget and potentially a larger incidental fee (assuming all the other major program budgets also go up). If Campus Recycling is removed from the Department Finance Committee, reflecting a credit of about $310,000, the financial impacts of this position would not be as severe.*
There is also some controversy regarding placement of a Student Sustainability Center in the EMU, but I’ll tackle that after Wednesday’s EMU Board meeting.
*If you’re interested in learning more about the ASUO budget process and why it’s all kinds of fucked up, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.