UFC sanctions Student Assembly for misusing funds

by Annie Ma | 11/17/14 7:35pm

After reviewing the Student Assembly’s recent expenditures on customized apparel, a lunch event and a formal that was later canceled, the Undergraduate Finance Committee sanctioned the group. Between now and June, Assembly and UFC advisor Eric Ramsey must approve any purchases over $500.

The UFC decided that the Assembly’s spending had violated the spirit of the Student Activities fee — an $83-per-student termly tuition charge that the UFC distributes — which is to create a “diverse and lively social life,” UFC chair Eli Derrow ’15 said.

The expenditures examined by the UFC include a $966.28 invite-only lunch to discuss sexual assault prevention and $1,876 for customized Patagonia jackets for 23 Assembly executives. The UFC also reviewed a proposal for an Assembly-wide formal, which was initially billed as an awards dinner for Assembly members and their dates, then later opened to campus and ultimately canceled.

Though the UFC said the catered lunch was an acceptable use of the Student Activities fee due to its potential campus-wide benefits, the jackets, at around $80 each, was not.

The formal would have cost “a few thousand dollars,” Derrow said, though he could not provide an exact figure. The event, which the Assembly canceled independently of the UFC last week, would also have been an unacceptable use of the student activities fee, he said.

Student body vice president Frank Cunningham ’16 said the Assembly believed it had permission to spend this money, citing the organization’s UFC-approved budget allowing for $4,000 to be spent on “attire, supplies and other internal expenditures.”

Last spring, the Assembly requested $70,500. Derrow said the proposal requested items that did not fall within the standards of the student activities fee. Rather than provide a line-by-line approval of the proposed budget, Derrow said the UFC estimated that $40,000 would cover the organization’s costs for the year.

In 2013-14, the UFC allocated the Assembly $58,000, in 2012-13, $69,500, in 2011-12, $76,250.

While each student was initially going to pay for a jacket, Cunningham said the Assembly decided against this due to concerns over financial inclusivity. He added that the Assembly intended the jackets to be a token of the executives’ hard work and as a way to display their involvement on campus.

“The Assembly is not like the typical group the UFC funds,” Assembly spokesperson Reilly Johnson ’16 said. “As a student government, we can’t have legitimacy without some type of internal funding. One of the biggest problems is that the UFC sees us as a club.”

Derrow said he does not expect the UFC sanction to significantly affect the Assembly’s plans, noting that Ramsey can help the organization navigate approval processes.

Student body president Casey Dennis ’15, however, said that the sanctions will hinder the Assembly’s ability to implement campus-wide programming. He said that adding extra steps to the Assembly’s planning process will slow its operations and capacity to react to campus events, especially considering the fast pace of Dartmouth’s 10-week terms.

“We believe that the UFC has severely overstepped its jurisdiction yet again and, worse, misrepresented the facts to our peers,” Johnson wrote in a statement. “We frankly hold serious reservations about allowing the UFC, an unelected body, such excesses in power given that their structure diametrically opposes the student body leadership.”

Former student body president Adrian Ferrari ’14 said the Assembly’s differences with the UFC present problems. He said that while the student body elects Assembly representatives based on their platforms, the unelected UFC chair controls funding.

“This whole sanctioning episode shows there’s an inherent tension between the Assembly and the UFC — between the students’ interests and the administrators’ interests,” Ferrari said. “The question students need to ask is, ‘Am I satisfied with a student government that’s controlled by the administration, or should students be given more agency to solve their own problems?’”

This fall, the Assembly has worked to boost its visibility. The organization grew from 40 to 95 students.

One Assembly campaign, labeled “I’m Here for You,” seeks to address the stigma of mental illness. Another, “It’s on Us,” focuses on combating sexual assault on campus — an initiative that included the catered lunch, which aimed to bring together student leaders and promote discussions on prevention methods.

The UFC last sanctioned the Assembly in April, following an attempt to incentivize Dartmouth Bystander Intervention training by giving $2,000 in dues-assistance funds to Greek houses with a certain number of members participating.

Clarification appended (Nov. 18, 2014):

The UFC chair is elected by student committee members, according to former chairRohail Premjee '14.