Senators violated oath at BSU vote: Speaker


Alexandra Meyer | Northern Star(Left to right) Jewel Stephens, Black Student Union treasurer, BSU Vice President Corey Turner and BSU President Adewale Adetunji talk to Student Association senators at the SA Senate meeting Sunday. The BSU’s request for supplemental funding sparked debate, with senators arguing if the group’s request met the requirements for the SA to provide the organization with supplemental funding.

By Kelly Bauer

Vague language in Student Association bylaws made it unclear if SA senators broke their oath of office when they voted to provide the Black Student Union with $8,925 in supplemental funding Sunday, though the SA Senate speaker said they did.

Supplemental funding is “made available to SA-funded organizations for unexpected or emergency circumstances, as well as for conferences,” according to SA bylaws. The crux of the debate over providing supplemental funding to the BSU focused on what SA defines as an “emergency” and “conference.”

The supplemental funding resolution for the BSU passed with 17 yeas and 15 nays.

“I am not against … rewarding [the BSU] more funding, awarding multiple organizations more funding,” said SA Senate Speaker Dillon Domke. “Having said that, we as senators pledged to uphold the constitution bylaws, and by our bylaws some of the things that they requested money for don’t fall under what supplement money can be used toward, and that is the reason that I had to vote no on the $8,900.

“… The 17 people who voted yes would have voted against the oath of office they took to uphold the constitution and bylaws.”

BSU request

BSU requested $16,000 in its supplemental funding request. That number fell to $13,250 in an itemized funding request BSU representatives submitted to Senate Sunday. Senators tried to amend the supplemental funding resolution so BSU would receive less money, but eventually SA Senate voted to allocate $8,925 to the BSU.

BSU is an umbrella organization that provides funding and guidance for 22 student organizations, but BSU President Adewale Adetunji told SA Senate Sunday its funding from the SA had fallen from $20,000 in 2010 to $2,400 this semester.

In the organization’s supplemental funding request, BSU said it needed the funds “to appropriately distribute funding to all African Americans [sic] organizations. Events such as Chill Fest, Teen Summit, Rep Your Org, Project F.A.T., Core magazine, Campus Live Radio, Black Graduation, study tables, BSU elections, security, venues, retreat, and T-shirts as well as having an emergency fund for other organizations.”

The organization has held fundraisers but wasn’t able to make enough money to cover the costs of its events.

Adetunji declined to comment Monday and other members of the BSU executive board did not respond to requests for comment.

Supplemental funding debate

The BSU request showed how SA bylaws are potentially open to interpretation from the senators.

Some senators said BSU’s situation was not an emergency because the funds it needs will go to events that have been planned for weeks and a summit that doesn’t constitute a conference. Others said the BSU’s need of the funds to host events was what made the situation an emergency.

In the SA bylaws, “unexpected circumstances shall be defined as any item not in the organization’s Annual Funding request, and emergency circumstances shall be defined as those in which the cost of a particular item exceed the amount approved in Annual Funding.”

“I think the nature of supplemental funding, with it being emergency funding, I think that because they were so terribly underfunded and they’re trying to put on all these events, I almost saw it as kind of emergency funding,” said Senator Nathan Lupstein, who voted to provide BSU with supplemental funding.

Senator Chloe Pooler, who voted against the resolution, said the BSU’s situation didn’t qualify because the organization has known about its events for weeks and because its teen summit is not a conference.

“As far as I know, if it’s not approved in their annual budget and isn’t an unexpected emergency kind of thing then … I want to say that’s the kind of thing … you plan for in advance,” Pooler said. “Like they said, these two events had been planned for the last month, so I don’t know how unexpected that makes them.”

Pooler had proposed an amendment to the funding resolution that would cut supplemental funding to the BSU to about $2,750, said Ben Donovan, SA Senate deputy speaker. Such amendments were proposed to cut out funding that would be allocated to areas senators didn’t think were covered by supplemental funding.

“… That was my concern that I voiced, that some of these items did not fall under the category of supplemental funding,” Domke said. “Now, not every single one of them was the case — there was some that were valid for supplemental funding purposes and things like that — but, for example, one of the things, Campus Life Radio, for speakers [the bylaw] says [supplemental funding is] not to be used for speakers, for additional support of programs.

“Chill Fest, I know, is something that was planned already to happen for after the NIU Cares Day, so it’s not an event that was just kind of brought up. It was something that was planned on. People, if you even look back at the minutes, people have announced or talked about it in the announcements section of Senate. It’s not something that was unexpected.”

SA bylaw

The issue SA Senate faced when debating BSU’s funding Sunday — what is an emergency? — came about because SA bylaws are purposefully vague.

“The point of the bylaws is to be a guideline,” Donovan said. “If we’re specifically spelling out what emergencies are, then we’re limiting ourselves to potentially not being able to respond to out-of-the-box scenarios that nobody was really expecting … .

“What if something unforeseen comes up? All the sudden we can’t assist them in their emergency situation because our bylaws don’t allow for it.”

Legislating a specific definition would take “away from the leadership that is inherent in the body,” Donovan said. He abstained from voting because he said there was “too much confusion … with the constitution, the supplemental funding and just the motions that I think should have been passed and approved.”

Lupstein said the language could be changed.

“I feel like potentially yes, the language should be altered a little bit; they do get pretty specific with the programs and whatnot that they say,” Lupstein said. “But I think that emergency funding should be just that: I don’t think that funding should be restricted to certain kinds of events.”

Domke said even if senators broke their oath, their approval of the funding to the BSU can only be challenged in the SA’s judicial branch.