The publication of an unofficial document consisting of compiled notes of members of the Student Association’s Financial Council exposed disparaging remarks made toward numerous student groups.
The document, sent to all members of the SA Assembly from the official e-mail account of the Assembly Speaker, gave accounts of FinCo’s meetings with dozens of student groups to decide on the groups’ budgets for next year. The statements contained in the document include incomplete and paraphrased records of questions and answers spoken during the meetings by FinCo members or group presenters, summarizations of FinCo’s private deliberations, notes FinCo members made to themselves, statements of the reasoning behind FinCo’s final decision on allocations and vote tallies.
Justin Utegg, SA treasurer and FinCo chair, said he created the 122-page document by “copying and pasting” the individual notes taken by multiple Council members that were sent to him into a single Microsoft Word file.
A particular statement on Page 71 of the text drew ire from members of the Black Student Union.
“This is one of those shitty welfare groups where we are somewhat forced to pay for their shit because the standard is such,” read the Council’s amalgamated notes, referring to BSU.
The section concluded by saying that “they aren’t doing nearly enough fundraising. If they want new programs, they’ve got to work for it.”
Due to the nature of the document, which does not have standard formatting and does not clearly differentiate between who was speaking, what was spoken and what was notated, it could not be ascertained whether someone described BSU as a “shitty welfare group” out loud during FinCo’s deliberations or simply wrote down this thought, nor who wrote it.
No FinCo member has come forward to claim responsibility for the statement so far.
Utegg said that he did not believe that the comment was racially motivated.
“It was a criticism of [BSU’s] fundraising, which is accurate. It is lackluster,” he said.
FINCO NOTES LEAK
FinCo is made up of 11 students — 10 are elected from the residential communities and Off Campus College, and one, the SA treasurer and FinCo chair, is appointed by the SA vice president for finance. The body is responsible for deciding how money will be doled out to student groups and overseeing the SA’s finances.
The SA’s constitution and bylaws do not require verbatim minutes to be taken at FinCo meetings. Article I Section 2(c) of the bylaws however requires committee chairs to give reports at meetings of the Assembly and for reports to be submitted in writing to the Assembly Speaker.
Utegg said he had planned to use the compiled FinCo notes to write up his formal report for the Assembly, but that the notes were accidentally sent by e-mail out to Assembly members instead.
“I sent my rough notes to the VPF [Adam Shamah] to keep him updated,” Utegg said. “Where the breakdown in communication between him and when it got sent out [to the Assembly] is unknown to me. I didn’t think they were going to be public at the time I sent them.”
According to Ed Mays, vice president of multicultural affairs for the SA and a former SA treasurer, the treasurer’s notes are supposed to serve as a representation of the collective decision-making of FinCo.
“The requirement that the treasurer take notes was instituted to increase transparency about how decisions get made,” Mays said.
INFORMAL MEETING WITH BSU MEMBERS
After BSU was alerted to the text of the leaked notes on Tuesday last week, about 15 members of the group showed up at the following night’s FinCo meeting to voice their anger at having been described as a “shitty welfare group.”
Dominic Davy, the political correspondent for the BSU, spoke on BSU’s behalf during public comment at the beginning of the meeting.
“We’re ready to take action,” Davy said. “The SA in general has done a lot of shady things in the past, and this is just the icing on the cake. We’re willing to take this to the administration, to involve faculty … whoever necessary.”
Davy said that the group, possibly in conjuncture with others, was planning to hold a “town hall forum” at 6 p.m. on Thursday in Old University Union room 209 to discuss how student groups are treated by the SA.
“The SA is supposed to represent the students and we feel betrayed,” he said.
When asked who had written the statement, Utegg answered that “the minutes from a budget meeting are a compilation, so it’s not just one person.”
He claimed not to know who wrote the line regarding BSU. Utegg also said he didn’t expect the person whose note it was to admit responsibility.
SA E-BOARD PROMISES SENSITIVITY TRAINING IN FUTURE
The SA Executive Board sent its own written apology by e-mail to student group leaders on Friday afternoon.
“It has come to the attention of the Student Association Executive Board and the Binghamton University community that, recently, there were rude and offensive comments made about several student groups by a member of the SA financial council,” the e-mail stated. “This sort of unprofessional behavior by a member of an SA body cannot be condoned. The executive board and the Student Association issue our deepest and sincere apologies to the groups and to all members of the Student Association who were justifiably offended by these remarks.”
The E-Board’s letter said that the SA would institute a new requirement, starting with next year’s student government, that all elected representatives “complete training sessions on professionalism and respect before they take office.
BSU CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF COMMENTS’ AUTHOR
Davy brought BSU’s protests to the full Assembly at its meeting on Monday.
“We’re a ‘shitty welfare group’ because we don’t charge for events. These comments were very indicative of the corrupt and incompetent nature of the SA,” Davy said. “The person who made these comments should immediately resign.”
Utegg offered a public apology for the comments on behalf of FinCo at the Assembly meeting.
“I am very sorry … it was never the Financial Council’s intention to offend anybody,” he said. “I can assure you that these comments had nothing to do with the decision-making process.”