Editor’s Note: This article is written by both Editor-in-Chief Berry Andres & staff writer Victoria Schriver-McGivern but due to an error on WordPress, both authors are not listed.
Following several instances of miscommunication and a lack of transparency, various students have raised concerns regarding their current mistrust of Rowan University’s Student Government Association. These concerns are largely born from internal documents governing the SGA executive committee, the recent attempts at creating a new executive committee position and the release of the 2023 fiscal year budgeting.
During each elected year, the SGA president constructs an accountability policy in order to hold executive board members accountable for not actively participating in SGA events, or completing their required duties.
Through this policy that each executive board member is required to sign, a strike system is put in place which is upheld by the SGA president. Board members can accumulate up to three strikes before being brought to the Accountability Board.
In the 2022-2023 Accountability and Rules of Professionalism Policy retrieved by The Whit via an anonymous member of the SGA, under Section 1, 10c, the accountability policy lists an “Insubordination Policy” within.
“Executive Committee members must follow constitutionally legitimate instructions or orders given to them by the President or Advisors. If a member consciously disregards or neglects to follow directions, a strike will be recorded,” SGA President Paige Bathurst’s policy read.
Although the writing of Bathurst’s accountability policy is unique, the insubordination policy has existed before, in a 2019 iteration of the document written by then-president Ariel Gideon.
“Executive Board members must follow constitutionally legitimate instructions or orders given to him/her by the president or the advisor. If an executive board Member consciously neglects to follow directions, a strike will be recorded,” Gideon’s policy reads.
In a 2021 Accountability Policy created by then-president Matthew Beck, the insubordination policy is noticeably absent, as SGA presidents are free to create their policies without restraint. This policy was obtained through SGA at the request of The Whit, as was the policy created by Gideon.
While this insubordination policy was addressed by Bathurst as being a necessary “catch-all” for orders and instructions given within the confines of this clause – such as senate jobs – some regard it as an impediment for SGA executive members to effectively complete their work.
“From my eyes, the SGA can function at full capacity without this clause and it may actually give a couple more protections to other SGA members who are not in the president’s role,” said Reilly Kerr, the senator-at-large and vice president of the Rowan Republicans.
Kerr spoke with The Whit about the lack of transparency and communication he has seen from SGA, which he noted as beginning during the 2022-2023 fiscal year budgeting process. Kerr also discussed how this clause could affect executive board members in completing their work, a sentiment that was echoed across party lines.
“The re-introduction of this insubordination clause is an extremely concerning development in understanding this current SGA administration,” Andrew Park, senator of the Rowan Democrats, said. “If these elected representatives cannot carry out their duties without fear of punishment, then we don’t have a student government.”
In an initial interview with The Whit, President Bathurst affirmed the absence of the insubordination clause within Beck’s accountability policy with SGA Advisor Dr. Drew Tinnin present, although this fact was later rescinded by Tinnin in a follow-up interview – in which Bathurst was present as well.
“The accountability policy is not a new policy. So, here, on our Google Drive, we have records that go back to 2018,” Tinnin said. “It’s been included at least since 2018, that’s nothing new.”
While the presence of this policy within SGA’s internal operations has been active since Bathurst began her term, mistrust of SGA among SGA Senators has recently come to a tipping point.
During the first bi-monthly SGA Senate Meeting of the year, a new position, titled chief of staff, was proposed by SGA and researched by President Bathurst. According to the proposed bylaws presented to the Senate, the position would serve to aid the SGA Executive Committee under the supervision of the SGA president.
“The Chief of Staff shall be appointed as deemed necessary by the SGA President,” the proposed bylaws read. “The Chief of Staff will aid the Executive Committee by assisting in the fulfillment of their vision for the term.”
The position of chief of staff within SGA would serve underneath the SGA President Bathurst, which raised concerns with many within the Senate.
“I don’t know the full extent of the president’s responsibilities. I imagine there’s probably a fair bit, but I can’t imagine it being enough to warrant a chief of staff,” said Park, who publicly spoke about his distrust at the senate meeting. “What Paige [Bathurst] said at that meeting was that she had 28 unread emails. And I’m thinking to myself, I have 1000s of those.”
Additional duties listed for the position include attending all executive committee meetings as a non-voting member, attend all student government meetings, meet weekly with the SGA President, assist the SGA President in maintaining the Executive Committee Accountability Policy, serve at least 10 office hours bi-weekly, and “take on any additional tasks as assigned by the SGA President.”
The research upon which this position was based came from several other universities’ student governments, such as Liberty University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Boston University, Gonzaga University, and three others. Of these student governments researched to create this position, only Gonzaga University specifies chief of staff as being strictly under the student body president, rather than the student body president and vice president.
“Our executive vice president functions differently than most other executive vice presidents,” Bathurst said. “Our executive vice president is essentially our assistant vice president for club development…versus other schools where the vice president position is structured more like the president position and doesn’t really have set structured responsibilities.”
However, concerns regarding the proposed position extended further than the chief of staff’s role within SGA, as many other students raised concerns over the appointment process and the stipend this position would receive from available SGA funding.
“We didn’t like the idea that it would be an appointed position, because I mean, obviously there’s a conflict of interest there,” Kerr said. “That just didn’t sit right with me and it didn’t sit right with the other senators.”
As stated within the proposed SGA bylaws, the position of chief of staff can only be deemed necessary by the SGA president. Additionally, it is the president who is responsible for the appointment of this position after prospective candidates submit an application to the president and SGA advisors.
From this point, interviews are conducted with all eligible applicants; the final candidate would be brought before the Executive Committee for a final interview and approval from the committee.
This process raised many concerns among senate members for its lack of unbiased, electoral input from the senate.
“I think there was a question about nepotism…the nepotism point was interesting to me,” Bathurst said. “If you didn’t know, for the past – at least three – years, we’ve had siblings on our executive committees. So the nepotism point was kind of funny to me, because its not nepotism within our board, but we have connections on our board.”
This position would also be granted a stipend that is stated within the bylaws as being – at minimum – $2,500. SGA’s Student Financial Control Board (SFCB) would be responsible for contributing to the decision of how much the chief of staff would receive, as well as the president and SGA’s chief financial officer (CFO).
To many SGA senators, asking for the senate to approve a paid position during the first senate meeting of the year – after 82 out of 131 clubs saw their budgets cut by SGA last April – was perceived as insensitive.
“The part that sticks out most in my memory, which is the fact that it is a paid position,” Hannah Tran, the editor-in-chief of Avant, said. “That’s where people started to be like – woah, money? Where is this money coming from?”
Many clubs, such as the Democrats, Republicans, Progressives and Avant were concerned that this money being dedicated towards an SGA position was money that could have benefited various clubs the year prior. However, SGA states that this money would instead be taken from their $85,000 tuition fund, 57% of which is used to provide the SGA president, executive vice president and CFO with up to – but not exceeding – their cost of attendance, as well as 43% of it going to scholarships for the recording secretary and assistant vice president.
“I’m a community assistant. I get free housing and a meal plan. I also received scholarships coming into Rowan that cover most of my tuition,” Bathurst said. “When the money is sent from SGA, I do not get to receive all of that money in a refund check because there’s a cap. So, because of that, a large amount of my personal money that I should be receiving sits in SGA because there’s nothing to do with that.”
Any money directly coming from the SGA tuition assistance exceeding Bathurst’s cap will be put back into the tuition fund while in turn, Bathurst is not reimbursed.
According to SGA advisor Dr. Drew Tinnin, there is no way to move this money once it has been allocated to the tuition fund, and the chief of staff position was SGA’s attempt at re-purposing these unused funds. Tinnin adds that each year, $85,000 has to be set aside for tuition because SGA can’t be sure of each elected official’s cost of attendance.
“It’s not like we could ever reallocate that money to clubs, unfortunately,” Tinnin said. “We have to keep it in our budget because we don’t know…we don’t know if she [Bathurst] would be the president for the entire year…if we had to have someone else, we’d have to budget because we don’t know what that person’s full [tuition] amount is. So that money is kept in that account for the entire academic year and then, just like club accounts, it does not carry in that account for year to year.”
Despite the chief of staff funding coming from a separate account than club funding, senators were adamant that this position’s bylaws were not to be approved during the voting process and several senators from the Rowan Democrats, Rowan Republicans and Rowan Progressive all took a definitive stance against the matter during the senate’s discussion meeting.
“At the first meeting? Literally six months after [Bathurst] as CFO cut all of our budgets? It was practically insulting,” Park said.
The budget Park refers to is the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 SGA Budget authored by former CFO Bathurst and current CFO Landon Nicholson. According to SGA Resolution #2022-002, SGA faced a 14.33% overall budget decrease from their 2021-2022 Fiscal Year budget – approximately $200,000 less.
This decrease was distributed across club budgets for the fiscal year, causing some Rowan clubs to see decreases as much as 97.92%.
According to a budget comparison compiled by Kerr and fact-checked by The Whit, 82 clubs saw a decrease in their budget, while 25 clubs saw budget increases, and 19 clubs were given budgets ranging from $50 to $5,000 without any record of prior financial assistance from SGA.
The National Wellness Institute Rowan Student Chapter (NWI) had a 97.92% budget cut. In the 2021-2022 year, the NWI received $6,000 from SGA, however, in the 2022-2023 year, the NWI received $125.
In comparison, Circle K had a 108.63% budget increase. In the 2021-2022 year, Circle K received $6,720 from SGA, while in the 2022-2023 year, Circle K received $14,020 from SGA.
“I do understand that there is supposed to be a kind of a decrease in budgets,” Kerr said. “But when you see that there are some clubs who actually got an increase, I kind of want to know the motive. I kind of want to know how we still had a total decrease in budget yet some of these clubs had an increase and I don’t know why that is. That’s just my question and we still have not gotten that answered.”
In an email to The Whit’s managing editor, Kara Guno, Bathurst largely attributes these budget cuts to an anticipated decrease in enrollment and the removal of travel costs from the SGA budget process.
“Please also note that this decrease is expected to continue in the next few as years as we see a decline in student enrollment across the nation,” Bathurst said in an email.
Many clubs were unaware of these changes, however, and after all clubs’ budgets were announced, they only had more questions in response.
“We did see a large amount of clubs who, essentially, their entire requested budget was travel. So when we had taken that out, they were left with a very small budget,” Bathurst said. “But overall, in the end, it was really the best decision to make financially because it would have just caused more problems.”
Regardless of what SGA considers to be best for their internal operations or for their student body, Rowan students do not consider these actions to be what’s best for them.
“It’s no secret that the SGA is an organization for everybody’s best friend, everybody’s girlfriend, everybody’s brother, cousin, what have you,” Park said. “There is just an unbelievable issue with transparency.”
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