Op-ed: Vote against the block funding amendment

Stephen Bertelsman | Class of 2019

Last Wednesday, undergraduate students received an email from Student Union announcing a special election this Friday, Jan. 25 on two amendments. Most students likely shrugged this email off and, given the trend of historically low voter turnout, will not bother voting on them. However, I implore students to turn out in this election. For we the students must vote down the fundamentally anti-democratic block-funding amendment.

But wait! Isn’t the amendment actually making it easier to do block funding? That’s what SU said! Well, I’m sorry to tell you that it won’t. Yes, the amendment does lower the threshold of signatures from 15 percent of undergraduates to 10 percent of undergraduates. But it also sneakily adds several questionable clauses in which only one or two SU officers could flatly refuse to allow a vote on a block funding request. I encourage you to read the current clause and then the proposed amendment so that the rest of my argument makes sense. Let me walk you through my three reasons why this amendment is actually a terrible replacement for the original and perfectly functional block funding clause.

First, and perhaps worst of all, the amendment requires SU’s vice president of finance to approve all budgets. There is no way around this. The VP finance must approve all block funding budgets. Ninety percent of undergraduates could demand a block funding request and it still could be denied by one person. There is no appeals option or way around this requirement. It is an unbelievable concentration of power in one person, who as the recent election has shown, may not even be elected. If the VP finance has a grudge against you, doesn’t like your proposal or simply doesn’t want to be bothered, your funding request is dead. One person would wield absolute authority over all of the students’ activity fees. This is a profound slap in the face to student democracy, and for this reason alone the amendment should be voted down.

Second, the amendment adds a process for Senate and Treasury to place block funding requests on the ballot. This is a simply unrealistic and short-sighted idea. First, if Senate and Treasury want to fund something, then just put in the general budget instead of holding an election on it, or make it a student group. Second, the budget would of course still need the approval of the VP finance. That’s right, the entire legislative branch of SU could be told no by the VP finance for reasons already explained. I’m shocked they already passed this amendment for student approval and so easily surrendered a major chunk of their power to the VP finance. They don’t even have a clause to overrule the VP finance! Finally, it is just unrealistic to think that any block funding petition or group would want to waste their time working through the slow and difficult processes of Senate and Treasury. They are far too busy filling their vacancies with unelected members.

Third, the election commissioner is not required to act on petition requests simply because of one word. The amendment reads, “The Election Commissioner may curate a petition…” That’s right, “may.” Not shall. Not required. May. So, if Senate and Treasury say no, and the VP finance somehow approves your budget, the election commissioner is not required to do anything to get your petition circulating among the student body. Worse than the VP finance requirement, the election commissioner is not even an elected official! So once again, a single official could end the wishes of the entire student body.

Clearly, there are many reasons to vote against the block funding amendment. But surely everything I say won’t come to pass? I’ve considered this, so let me disprove such counter-arguments now. First, some might say having the VP finance grant approval is a good thing, for it makes sure that budgets are realistic and well-constructed. Some would say yes, but it violates the spirit of this amendment. Block funding exists for students to fund things independent of the SU bureaucratic processes. It is meant to be our runaround to fund what we want funded and they refuse to fund. It is one of our absolute checks on SU authority. There is no reason why one single person gets to hold absolute veto power. That’s not how democracies work. That’s how autocracies work.

But surely no elected official will misuse this amendment? I’m just being pessimistic, you might say. That may be true, but SU is ripe with internal strife. Who can forget the op-eds of fall 2017 when senators took to sniping other senators in the student newspaper? I’m not saying any current officials would misuse or abuse their powers under this amendment, but future leaders or those with grudges may feel inclined to use powers to achieve goals they want at the expense of the student body.

Finally, perhaps the biggest argument for this amendment is the lower threshold. I actually like that. That’s great. I have no rebuttal for that. Except that they added all this other nonsense language into the amendment. If this amendment is about lowering the threshold of signatures from 15 percent to 10 percent, then just have an amendment that only changes the numbers. That’s the only amendment you should need when it comes to block funding. I would sing the praises of that amendment! But that’s not what we have. We have a power grab amendment. So, defeat this version of the amendment and try again if you actually want to see real change!

I’m a senior, so the outcome of this election has zero effect on me or on anything I do. Instead of writing this op-ed and semi-organizing an opposition, I could have done my class readings for tomorrow, enjoyed a nice glass of wine or done literally anything else than write about SU. Yet, here I am writing about SU because someone needs to stand up to this. Someone needs to tell SU “no” every now and then. Someone needs to make sure the students still have a check on elected officials and don’t surrender all our power to a concentrated, elite few. I’m voting against the block funding amendment. I hope you share this article and join me in voting against this silly amendment for the good of all students.

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