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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Senate Funds $7000 Vacation to Puerto Rico that never occurred

On Dec. 6, the Undergraduate Student Senate held a heated meeting in which they discussed giving the Travel Club $7000 for a winter break trip to Puerto Rico. During the course of the four-hour meeting, the normally cool and collected body erupted into heated bickering laced with scathing accusations. The debate focused around the merit of the trip and if the funds were an appropriate use of student fees, as well as whether or not the club should be denied funding due their failure to follow senate funding procedure.

At the end of the meeting the senate voted with a 2 to 1 margin to approve the funds, but all was made moot when Vice Chancellor Patrick Day declined to provide the required signature that would allow the group to travel outside of the contiguous 48 states.

The debate revealed shortcomings in the funding system and the senate itself, and senate leadership has already begun to address problems and clarify rules already in place.

The Travel Club originally made their request to the Students Events and Organization Committee (SEOC), which has the responsibility to approve all monetary requests from clubs before the vote goes to the full senate. The request was not originally on the agenda, but was added at the last minute at the insistence of Purnima Kompella, who is both an officer of the Travel Club and the vice president of the Student Senate. Some senators felt bullied into initially approving the funding.

Because various members of the senate are also on the Travel Club, other senators may have felt uncomfortable opposing Travel Club funding requests outright. Similar issues arose last year when former Senate President Erica Mena requested funds from the senate in order to pay her own salary as editor of the Watermark. The funding request passed, but students and senators became concerned about possible conflict of interest issues.

The Senate has a policy that dictates that they do not fund travel outside of the 48 states. However, with a signature from the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, this policy can be overridden. The required signature was never acquired, which immediately put an end to the trip. According to SEOC Chairman Andy Donaldson the Travel Club falsely claimed to SEOC that they had received permission from Day. “I explicitly asked the Travel Club representatives if they had permission from Day to travel to Puerto Rico, and they reported that they had spoken with him and received his permission,” said Donaldson.

SEOC eventually allowed the Travel Club funding request to appear on the Dec. 6 full senate meeting agenda, provided that they turn in a detailed itinerary of their trip with which the Travel Club was immediately able to comply.

At the full meeting, the senate was informed that the Travel Club did not in fact have the endorsement of Day. Donaldson immediately withdrew his sponsorship of the motion and moved to delay discussion on the issue until the following week. Many senators and members of the Travel Club still insisted that the issue be passed immediately. Senator Kudakwashe Mutumba assumed sponsorship of the motion, even though the constitutionality of this act was in question. A group of senators immediately demanded that the motion be tabled until the next week, as the club did not have the approval of the vice chancellor, which the club purported to have.

Some senators, including Juana Matias doubted whether or not Donaldson asked the Travel Club if they had prior approval.

Joyce Morgan, the adviser to the senate, was not present at the meeting and Kelly Meehan stepped in to supervise. Meehan expressed her support for the Travel Club over the course of the debate, and had the trip been approved, she would have accompanied the club to Puerto Rico.

Some senators, such as Donaldson and Michael Herbert opposed the funding of the trip because the group did not follow procedure. Other senators, such as Joanna Prifti, felt the trip was a misuse of student fees. “I didn’t feel that the trip contributed to the betterment of the students and the university as a whole,” said Prifti. “A two week trip to Puerto Rico in January? I wasn’t entirely convinced it was anything other than a vacation.”

The minutes for Senate meetings are generally posted online immediately after the date they occur, but minutes for this meeting have failed to materialize on their Web site. The responsibility of taking minutes and ensuring that they are posted online belongs to the vice president of the Senate, who is currently Kompella.

The Senate has already appropriated roughly $120,000 for student programming in just the first three months of this academic year, approximately the entire amount distributed last academic year. Many consider this to be a step in the right direction because it shows that students are planning events and getting involved with activities on campus. However, as a public institution, the burden of wasteful and inappropriate programming falls squarely on students. Every UMass Boston student pays $5,039 in fees, the bulk of which are spent on programming and services.

Conflict of interest issues have plagued the Senate for years and continue to be an area of contention.