Conflicting information spurs debate on VSA Council floor

The VSA recently encountered a controversy involving fund allocation for the group Act Out! In a compromise, they voted to give money through the Discretionary Fund to a single member of the group. Courtesy of Vassar College.
The VSA recently encountered a controversy involving fund allocation for the group Act Out! In a compromise, they voted to give money through the Discretionary Fund to a single member of the group. Courtesy of Vassar College.
The VSA recently encountered a controversy involving fund allocation for the group Act Out! In a compromise, they voted to give money through the Discretionary Fund to a single member of the group. Courtesy of Vassar College.

On Sunday, Nov. 3, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) held a four-hour Council meeting, the majority of which focused on an issue relating to its fund allocation process. In the meeting, the VSA had originally approved funding to several student organizations that were on the Consent Agenda. Once the meeting had reached the final agenda item, concerns arose about the fund allocation to Act Out!. They promptly called a closed session to discuss the issue further.

This organization had applied to the conference fund of the VSA to allow for participation in the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio this weekend. As VP for Finance Mike Kaluzny ’14 explained,  “The VSA conference fund is designed for non-annual low cost conferences that have a direct benefit to the student body and specifically student organizations. Finance Committee meets with organizations and makes a recommendation for council to approve.”

Many on Council doubted the legitimacy of the group as a real organization on campus.  Some VSA members questioned the existence of the organization’s general body and regular meeting times. Council decided to call in representatives from the Act Out! organization to the meeting. As VP of Activities Stephanie Goldberg ’13 explained in an emailed statement, “A member of the VSA Council removed the application from the consent agenda due to concerns they had about Act Out!’s standing as an organization and their fund application.”

She went on, “To clarify some of the concerns of Activities Committee, activity and meetings have not been consistent with the organization. It was unclear who leadership was for the organization due to a lack of communication from the organization.” After further discussion and questions directed at these representatives, the VSA ultimately decided not to fund the organization through the Conference Fund but rather to fund one of the individual representatives through the Discretionary Fund.

Kaluzny confirmed this decision. “Council decided to override the recommendation of the Finance Committee for a number of reasons. The main reason was that Council felt that Act Out! was not an organization in good standing and that we could not justify allocating this money on the basis that this organization is inactive.”

One member of VSA Council, Terrace Apartments President Estello-Cisdre Raganit ’14, spoke to Act Out!’s application prior to the meeting. “After Finance Committee’s initial meeting with Act Out! on Wednesday, October 30th, we came to the conclusion that, though the National Women’s Studies Association Conference was expensive for the number of people attending, it was still a conference worth funding,” he said. “Hours prior to our Council meeting on Sunday, we held a joint Finance and Activities meeting with the students requesting funding. Out of this joint meeting, we decided on an allocation of $952, which was less arbitrary. This allocation was passed via the consent agenda, but was rescinded.”

Raganit continued, revealing his own views on the VSA’s decision to rescind this fund allocation. “Speaking for myself, I understand the value of attending this conference, but was irked about sending students who did not have a consistent general body in Act Out! to which they could relay the information extracted from the conference. Another concern was that Act Out!’s new mission statement deviated so far from the mission statement that the VP of Activities had on file that it should have been considered a Pre-Organization; and with this, the maximum a Pre-Organization could receive was $200 per semester,” he said.

After further consideration, the VSA decided Act Out! qualified not as a full-on organization but instead as a Preliminary-Organization based upon changes made to their mission statement.  Goldberg explained, “As well, the organization was taking on a new mission statement. Before an organization can proceed with a new mission statement, that statement and an updated/new constitution must be presented to the Activities committee for review.”

She went on, “If a new mission statement differs enough from the original, it could be considered an entirely new mission of a new group that would have to apply to become a Preliminary-Organization. Preliminary-Organizations can only be funded through the Preliminary Organization fund up to $200/semester.”

Because Act Out! was then considered a Preliminary-Organization, the VSA thought it better to fund the conference through the Discretionary Fund, where more money was available, and to consider the application as from an individual instead of from an organization.

Raganit explained, “By majority vote, the VSA Council allocated $251 out of the Discretionary fund to Yanee Ferrari. On behalf of the Terrace Apartments, I voted in favor of this allocation because it meant that a student—who was a junior—could take what they learned from the conference and work towards establishing Act Out! as an organization that takes an activist perspective in empowering marginalized communities.”

Raganit went on; listing the ways organizations can apply for funds most effectively.  He noted, “A good fund application contains a thorough event description and cost breakdown; a compelling argument for an event’s benefit to the organization and, in effect, to the campus; and a showing of the attempted search for other avenues of funding.”

He also encouraged bringing members from the organization to VSA meetings. “During the meeting with the Finance Committee, it is also helpful for those reviewing the application to have organization members who are well-versed in the club’s anticipated expenses speak on behalf of the club,” Raganit said.

Kaluzny echoed this idea and went further, hoping to underline the VSA’s commitment to transparency. He said, “Finance Committee has made an effort to reach out to organizations and individuals who are planning on applying for funds. I’ve met with many organizations so far this year and I can be reached at [email protected] if folks are interested in discussing their specific fund app.”

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