The VSA could stand to lose all funding if the student body votes to pass the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Amendment, the center of an ongoing campus-wide debate. On Thursday March 4, the VSA Executive Board met with President Catharine Bond Hill to discuss the upcoming resolution and amendment vote. While the resolution asks only for the VSA’s political support, the amendment would prohibit purchasing from 11 companies that according to the amendment, profit from or explicitly support the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
In the meeting, President Hill informed the six members of the VSA Executive Board that if the student body passes the amendment, the administration could opt to take complete control of the Student Activities Fund from the VSA. In essence, the VSA would be defunded. In response to the news of Cappy’s position, the VSA released a statement on Friday morning that expressed their clear discontent and motivation to continue the BDS vote as planned. As they wrote, “We believe that it is still our duty as council members and representatives to vote with our constituencies in mind, in the way that these constituencies believed prior to this power being levied over the VSA.”
The news of President Hill’s and the Board of Trustees’ position came only three days before the official student vote on Sunday. In an emailed statement, VSA President Ramy Abbady ’16 reflected on the timeline of these events, writing, “I think that the timing is definitely a coercive tactic and I am unsatisfied with the time we have been given to work through this.”
He continued, explaining his vision for the vote, “The VSA vote will continue. Individuals on Council are free to make their decision using any criteria they want, as they have been able to up until this point.”
A joint statement from President Hill and Dean of the College Chris Roellke clarified the Administration’s stance on the issue. As they wrote, “All along, we have said that the VSA has the right to endorse the BDS proposal, given our commitment to free speech. But the college cannot use its resources in support of a boycott of companies,” they wrote. “Were the VSA to adopt the amendment currently proposing such a policy, the college would have to intervene in some way.”
This intervention could come in a number of forms. “The VSA Executive Board asked us what the options might be, were such a proposal to pass,” Roelke and Cappy wrote. “We responded that the options would include vetoing the proposal, mentioned as an option by the VSA Executive Board, or taking away the VSA’s authority over spending the activities fee, or overseeing that spending in some way so as to prevent it from implementing the boycott.”
Though the VSA plans to move forward with the vote, a number of questions have now arisen about the future of the student organization’s relationship with the Administration. “This action feels like a betrayal of shared governance. In fact, it highlights the fact that our shared governance has never and will never be based in any sort of equal power dynamic,” wrote Abbady. “While governance may in fact be shared to some extent, there is a clear hierarchy in terms of who has the final call on any decision. I don’t know if this is a question of fairness, but a question of honesty in terms of what shared governance really means.”
VSA Vice President for Academics Logan Hill ’16 questioned the motivation behind defunding over vetoing. “I can understand wanting to avoid legal issues, especially as a bill that would create a list of those who boycott ‘allied nations’ of the U.S. and prevent those on the list from receiving state funding makes its way through the New York state legislature,” he wrote. “I don’t, however, feel disallowing VSA control over the Student Activities Fee is fair given the College President’s ability to veto the amendment were it to pass.”
President Hill and Roellke maintain that they have not made a final decision on how to respond to a student vote in support of BDS. “Since no proposal has passed, the college has not had to make its final decision about how to respond,” they wrote. “Were such a proposal to pass, we would work with the VSA on the appropriate response. Our goal would be to insure that student organizations continued to be funded, but in accord with college policies.”
As of now, tension between the VSA and the Administration seems especially strong. “It feels paternalistic, and I would hope that the Board would respect us enough as members of this community to engage us fully in finding a solution that is best for students,” wrote Hill. “Removing our funding is not that solution.”
Today, campus remains shrouded in questions about the future of BDS and the VSA. Despite the divergent perspectives students bring to discussions of the amendment, everyone has set their eyes on Sunday’s vote.