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OSPIRG Thrice Denied: ASUO Senate, 23 February 2011

OSPIRG State Board Treasurer Katie Taylor discusses the group's appeal with Senate members Wednesday night. Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

EUGENE – The tension in the room was noticeable and focused Wednesday night. Even a group dinner at Sen. Kaitlyn Lange’s house prior to the meeting couldn’t erase the unease the 21 members of the ASUO Student Senate displayed throughout the evening, though one can only imagine what it would have looked like without the informal gathering prior to.

The rest of the agenda passed in a blur, until just past 10 P. M. After the meeting had returned to order, four students stepped into the open space at the end of the U-shaped table in the EMU Walnut room and almost five months of deliberation, debate and anxious anticipation came to a crescendo as the Senate took up OSPIRG’s appeal of the contract decision handed down by the Athletics and Contracts Finance Committee.

The presentation from OSPIRG and the public comment period that followed were only a prelude to the Senate discussion that would follow, but it still OSPIRG’s first presentation to the Senate this year, and they used it for all it was worth. OSPIRG State Board Chair Charles Denson told the senators that OSPIRG was important to students because, “Rather than just doing things on campus, they’re able to take up a bigger perspective.” Denson went on to say that “Students want to be at the forefront of solving problems.”

With the conclusion of public discussion, the Senate speaker’s list was opened and almost every senator quickly stuck their hands out across the table to be added to it. Sen. Lamar Wise started out the evening’s discussion by saying that he thought that OSPIRG would be a good compliment to the campaigns the ASUO runs on various issues and moved to add a $45,000 contract to the ACFC’s Budget.

Sen. Evan Thomas was the first to speak against the contract. “I like your mission statement,” he said, but continued, “I don’t think this is where you should be getting your funding.”

Potential legal ramifications of funding OSPIRG were also discussed by Thomas, who said, “For senators that aren’t aware, this has been an issue across the country since 1983. There have been dozens of lawsuits.” Thomas expressed his belief that, without significant infrastructure changes, funding OSPIRG would result in a lawsuit directed against the University.

Sen. Kerry Snodgrass disagreed with this rationale, saying, “Please consider that as ASUO senators we are not responsible for making legal decisions for the University of Oregon.”

Others were more philosophical in their disagreements with OSPIRG. “I see no hindering of this state, campus, or nation by not funding OSPIRG,” said Sen. Max Barkley.

For many senators, it simply came down to a matter of dollars. Without an OSPIRG contract, the ACFC’s budget was set to grow by seven percent next year, the legal maximum for a major program budget. Other methods of channeling money to the ACFC were considered, as was drawing money from the athletic department. But a number of senators were not comfortable with these options. “We can’t joke about the fact that this money will be taken away from athletics,” said Lange. “We still don’t have the funds for this.”

Sen. Kristina Harding summarized these sentiments very succinctly, saying, “it just seems like that money isn’t there.”

The discussion got heated at times, prompting Sen. Zachary Stark-MacMillan to remind the body to, “Remember that we’re all students. Please be respectful.”

The arguments flew back and forth for almost two and a half hours. Eventually, Wise declared, “I don’t think we’re going to get much of anywhere.” Despite this, it still took three attempts to call the question and the number of names on the speakers list never dropped below double digits.

But it was bound to happen eventually, and it finally did a little after midnight. As Stark-MacMillan read off the roll, just as happens multiple times a week every year, the whole room held its breath as the results of the vote that everyone had waited for finally came in. Five ayes, 14 nays.

Some of the votes were unexpected. When asked about his nay vote, Sen. James Dos Santos told the Commentator that, to him, “The money really doesn’t exist. It’s like a hypothetical figure.”

Sen. Grace Hochstatter, who voted nay, told the Commentator, “I’m in support of OSPIRG and everything they do.” She continued to say that she felt the organization needed to be structured differently. “I think that this will be a catalyst, a conduit for that reconsideration, and hopefully good will come of this.”

Like a wave crashing on the beach and then quickly rolling in, the meeting accelerated towards its conclusion. ACFC’s final budget was quickly passed with minimal opposition, and the procedural matters of committee and officer updates were but a soft, delicate coda to a symphony of a meeting.

But the symphony is not yet over. When asked by the Commentator if she still intended to veto the ACFC budget, ASUO President Amelie Rousseau paused before flatly saying, “yes.” She continued to explain that, “The Executive is the only entity that’s providing a proactive option to have the most amount of students be happy with the ACFC budget.”

Stats, Notes, and Opinion after the jump.

Sen. Kate Bidwell, flanked by ASUO Vice President Maneesh Arora (left) and Sen. Kaitlyn Lange (right) discusses OSPIRG's appeal with presenters Wednesday night. Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

Stats:

Votes on OSPIRG Appeal:

Aye: Snodgrass, Newman, Wise, Bacon, Stark-MacMillan

Nay: Dos Santos, Hinman, Brooks, Lange, Woodside-Gomez, Fielding, Sedgley, Barkley, Bidwell, Thomas, Powell, Schally, Hochstatter, Harding

Meeting Duration: 368 Minutes (Three Recesses)

Money Allocated From Surplus: $8,432

Not Present: Garcia

Resignation Count: 7

Notes:

ACFC’s budget was passed at $4,007,665, an increase of seven percent.

The EMU Board’s Major Program Budget was approved at $5,091,532, an increase of 6.55 percent. This figure reflects an additional $20,000 added by the Senate to the “contingency” line item in the Club Sports budget, to help pay for cost associated with travel to national tournaments.

$7,929.14 from the Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit was set aside to apply for another such credit, while $5,078 was given to ACFC to defer the cost of the contract with Lane Transit District. This is a revision of last week’s decision to channel $13,000 of OBETC funds to the LTD contract.

The Latino American Law Student Association, the Hong Kong Student Association, and the American Marketing Association all had special requests approved. The AMA request was held over from last week. The African Student Association’s request for $3,016 was denied.

Sen. Brianna Woodside-Gomez debates OSPIRG's appeal while Sen. Emma Newman (left) looks on. Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

Opinion:

I’m pretty sure everyone knows how I, and this publication, feel about OSPIRG. With 14 votes against, all of them sounding pretty determined from the tone of their reasoning, (whether expressed to the Senate or to me), even if Rousseau makes good on her veto threat, (which I have every confidence that she will) the Senate can override and pass a budget. More than anything else, I’m kind of glad this whole story is winding to a close.

I’ve been a student government reporter for about five months now, and this story has galvanized student government the entire time I’ve been on this beat. I’m really looking forward to covering elections, and I deeply hope that this whole mess isn’t still going on during the elections. (though with a PRIG ballot measure coming around – again – I’m sure we’re not through with Denson & Co. quite yet) I wish Senate would get serious about stipend reform, I wish we could pay closer attention to issues like LTD and the athletic department and the future of the post office (not to mention the $20,000 bone that got tossed to Club Sports last night, which deserved more discussion), but they get swept under the rug thanks to the $117,000 elephant in the middle of the room. So fund them or don’t fund them, but if this doesn’t end soon I’m going to have to start thinking about cutting a book deal so I can at least make some money off this mess.

  1. So annoying says:

    She is not qualified to talk about healthcare. What has she done to deserve that recognition besides being involved w OSPIRG? Is she a medical doctor? Watch the YouTube videos and then tell me they know what the hell they are talking about. Look at OSPIRGs history, they have not changed their priorities for students or the state pirg for 20 years!!! Wow real progess. Oh and Jeremy, you genius you, what big oil lobbyists go to Salem, the ones in your paranoid, Charlie Sheen styled fantasies?

    You just admitted, and what is not in your slop of a budget proposal, same POS OSPIRG has been carrying around for years, that they funnel money to go to US PIRG. We do not have a contract w them or any control of what they do.
    But I digress, watch the YouTube videos, if you are not embarrassed, you are truly a D-bag.

  2. Jeremy says:

    So annoying,

    If that model was truly effective, why then would oil companies spend millions of dollars to hire people to work on capitol hill to influence legislatures? Why wouldn’t they simply hire people to email senators all day? I’d argue that yes, emailing and calling your senator are very important, but having a person working to combat special interests every day in the capitol is also very important.

    Also, I have met many of our advocates. Recently, our healthcare advocate, Laura Etherton, and has been appointed to state committees repeatedly that are focused around lowering healthcare costs for the everyday consumer. Apparently, the state thinks that she is pretty qualified to explain/defend healthcare access to the average citizen, if not how a pencil sharpener works.

  3. So annoying says:

    Jeremy, you are a sad goon for an out-dated cash cow. OSPIRG may have had relevance in the 70s and 80s, but today I can email my congressman. I don’t need some “advocate” lobbying on behalf of the same issues for twenty years. Plus, you are not fooling anyone by hiding these “advocates” from the student body, because if you watch them speak, it is apparent they are unqualified to explain to a 1st grader how a pencil sharpener works. See YouTube, search OSPIRG.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Joe,

    1. Here is our line item budget (http://www.ospirgstudents.org/funding). This has been presented to our ASUO multiple times this year.

    2. Any insinuation that we are using funds illegally is baseless. We are audited every year by the IRS (because we are a non-profit), which I would say has a great deal of expertise on the subject. Also, your description of our funding is certainly not how we have represented ourselves. I would love to sit and chat with you sometime about how exactly our funding works. My email is tocmanj@yahoo.com, if you would be interested in that.

    3. The fact that we petition “aggressively” is not a reason to defund us. We are well within our rights as UO students to canvass our peers.

    4. As you say, this argument only makes sense in light of the other three. Also, this argument fundamentally goes against the point of a mandatory student fee. Should the Climate Justice League be forced to to convince people on campus that climate change is a worthy issue? OSPIRG should not be targeted specifically for its issues.

  5. Miles Rost says:

    Joe, if Amelie vetoes the bill…use this magic to defeat them.

  6. Joe says:

    Keith,
    We propagate opposition to OSPIRG because we have legitimate reasons to disagree with using student money to fund their organization. While I can’t speak on behalf of our entire staff at the OC (and definitely not at the ODE) I can say that the consensus holds that funding OSPIRG is wrong because of the way they go about their business. There are a few major points that, when combined, make it unethical and irresponsible for the ACFC or the ASUO to award them a contract (read: funds).
    1. OSPIRG remains reluctant to unwilling to submit a line-item budget proposal to the ASUO. They have also been unable to procure a historical account of their expenditures. While it is not required of most student groups/contracts to submit a line-item budget, most do; if your organization is well-run and ethical there is no reason not to. OSPIRG’s refusal to do this causes one to believe that a) OSPIRG is not responsible, nor competent to handle such large sums of student money, and b) that OSPIRG is not even confident in the ethical integrity of their organization or budget.
    2. OSPIRG’s relationship will Or. St. PIRG remains unclear. According to OSPIRG’s representation of the funding model, a large share of their funding is funneled to Or.St.PIRG and then re-distributed amongst the many PIRGS along with money from the public PIRG fund. However, the bounds of where student funding goes remain unclear. OSPIRG is adamant that their organization, as a 501c-3 cannot engage in lobbying and may only engage in advocacy, however, as a 501c-4 the Or.St.PIRG may engage lobbying. Since the financial relationship between the two, as well as the other PIRGs in the state, remains unclear and the previously mentioned financial accounts are either non-existent or secret, the ASUO has no way to know that if it awards funds that its money will be used in a legal and ethical way.
    3. OSPIRG pushes its own agenda through aggressive petitioning and student harassment. They then advertise the fact that they accrued 4000 signatures after 3 weeks of constant marauding on campus as some sort of success. Students signed the petition to get the assholes knocking on their door at 10pm off their backs.
    4. As a PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), OSPIRG ought to be able to convince enough people (of their Public) that their work is worth funding, without relying on a mandatory fee. This argument only makes sense in light of the previous 3. OSPIRG, doesn’t show the financial nous or responsibility to garner funds from a mandatory fee, nor does OSPIRG boast the transparency of other, very similar organizations already on campus, and finally OSPIRG clearly has a large enough staff to organize a 3 week petition in which they got 4000 signatures; since ASUO has, once again, denied their request on the above (among other) grounds, it would seem that OSPIRG should look for a compromise similar to ones other student PIRGs have made: they are allowed a home on campus, so long as they seek to solicit their funding from the students directly and not from a mandatory fee via a contract or surplus grant.

  7. nike urbanized duk says:

    here is why a Pinata might be the ticket: newer students get the disorienting experience of getting treats along with a first hand lesson in how to shred a pig and use clearer logic (non-sustainable logic) in defining who is a threat to them on campus. Sure the media boogeyman stories of graveyard spooks will work those fake take back the night hate marches into a frenzy but the bottom line is coupling this OSPIGG brand early with reality based “these guys are your worst fucking nightmare” themed spectacles could get those piglets realizing that it is OVER. Some students might even donate for a one way bus ticket to get the remaining pig operatives back to Portland. We need this storybook ending…….then again I am the type to imagine angry Ducks torching a PK effigy (due to some future retracted donation folly or other shenanigan) as a ideal campus spectacle

  8. “Recommended course of action-pig pinata bashing in the EMU breezeway.”

    That’s Funny

  9. nike urbanized duk says:

    Anticipating a OSPIGG free campus is like anticipating a terror free Middle East. Regenerative medicine is allowing the pig to grow new arms and tentacles as quickly as they are severed. Recommended course of action-pig pinata bashing in the EMU breezeway.

  10. Brendan says:

    Keith, the OSPIRG debate is not “never-ending.” They haven’t had a penny of I-fee money for three years, soon enough the state PIRG will give up and the entire issue will be water under the bridge. Then we can move onto something else, like defunding the “survival center” or the “student insurgent” next.

  11. Keith says:

    You wish you could pay closer attention to LTD and the post-office? Go for it, dudes. The Commentator (and the ODE is guilty of this as well) is a major propagator of opposition to OSPIRG, which caused this ‘whole mess’ in the first place. I think you hit the heart of your issue right there; start reporting on some real issues instead of fueling polarizing debates that never-end!

  12. Brendan says:

    She’s been the ASUO president, I think under OSA’s collective bargaining agreement that they are REQUIRED to hire her after her term of duty ends.

    What a sham, doesn’t she understand that she is just undermining the PIG’s case in the future?

  13. CJ says:

    Oh, so many typos. I am disappoint.

  14. CJ says:

    Hah, she’s either sore loser or just miking this so she can cast herself as brave fighter for “social justice and student empowerment.” And by that I mean OSA job, woot woot!

  15. Heh. says:

    Rousseau is corrupt.

  16. FTB says:

    Senators thought the request was too vague and didn’t like that the group wasn’t tapping into their fundraising account to support their trip.

  17. monalisasmiles says:

    Why was the African Student Association’s request denied?

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