Among other aspects of ASPSU, this year’s student elections have been under scrutiny since before the results were tallied for a number of reasons.
One reason includes questions of the 18 Student Fee Committee (SFC) candidates’ decisions to run for office.
The SFC saw a large amount of attention this year, in part due to the extra scrutiny of the groups seeking student-fee funding from committee chair Tracy Earll, much of which was covered extensively in the Vanguard.
Though Earll and other members of ASPSU maintain that all groups were equally scrutinized, one group in particular did receive more public attention.
OSPIRG and the SFC
The PSU chapter of the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) first caused a stir when it sought an additional $30,000 in funding, in order to help start an OSPIRG chapter at Oregon State University.
When the SFC refused to give any funding in its initial allocation, OSPIRG changed its request.
During the appeals hearings, OSPIRG no longer asked for additional funding. The group only wanted to receive the same approximately $120,000 it had been receiving in the past.
The SFC was still hesitant to agree to continue OSPIRG’s funding, as it was with all groups seeking student fee money.
“We examined every budget,” Earll said. “This was the first year that ‘status quo’ didn’t get the rubber-stamped OK.”
OSPIRG campus organizer Kari Koch feels OSPIRG’s budget was dissected more than other groups’ budgets. This occurred, at least in part, because its budget is so large and because it initially asked for an additional $30,000, a request Koch admitted was a mistake.
Despite the admission, Koch feels the SFC went beyond reason in its inspection.
“I think it’s great to scrutinize budgets, but the scrutiny went too far when they started looking at our mission statement,” Koch said.
Specifically, the part of the mission statement the SFC found questionable referred to the fact that the student group works statewide. This means that a large portion of the funding the PSU chapter receives from the SFC goes to the state group or Oregon State Public Interest Research Group.
According to SFC guidelines, student groups eligible to receive student fee money must provide “service on campus for Portland State University students.”
In its decision, the SFC expressed that OSPIRG’s presence on campus was not enough to qualify it to receive student fees.
During the appeals process, the SFC allocated OSPIRG a conditional $20,000 meant to be used only for on-campus operations.
OSPIRG turned this down and instead opted to place an initiative on the March ASPSU ballot.
It was during the complex initiative process that OSPIRG began to make a fairly regular appearance in the public eye.
OSPIRG created awareness
Individuals involved throughout the process feel the publicity OSPIRG received may have had an effect on the high number of people who ran for SFC positions.
“OSPIRG got attention on the SFC, but it was not necessarily the candidates’ reasons for running,” ASPSU communications director Adam Zavala said.
Former ASPSU university affairs director Kelvin Nicholson agreed that many people found out about the SFC because of the publicity it received from the OSPIRG situation.
SFC candidate Joshua Kauffman stated in an e-mail that he ran after he “found that OSPIRG was not eligible for the amount of money that they were asking for.”
Another candidate, Ian Ruder, stated that “regardless of where one stands on the OSPIRG funding, I think it should be viewed as positive, in that it at least got people thinking about student government and the importance of the SFC.”
Ruder is hopeful that issues regarding OSPIRG can be resolved in the near future without too many difficulties.
Chase LoGreco, SFC member for this year and next year, feels OSPIRG was the main reason the SFC received so much attention this year.
He agrees, as the organization is currently structured, OSPIRG is ineligible to receive SFC funding.
Staff members of the Portland Spectator followed the SFC situation very closely, and they, too, believe that the reason so many people ran for SFC was due to OSPIRG.
Napoleon Linardatos, editor of the Spectator, said several things resulted from the ongoing coverage of OSPIRG and the SFC.
First, he said, many people became interested in the SFC after hearing about the circumstances between the committee and OSPIRG.
Linardatos also said the defunding of OSPIRG made people more aware that the SFC process is important.
He also added that people directly or closely involved in the SFC-OSPIRG relations have realized “how much student media will be looking at them.”
OSPIRG members join student government
Questions about OSPIRG-related motives behind some candidacies on the SFC still remain, however.
Linardatos and Spectator senior editor Shariyar Smith both believe SFC chair candidate Erin Watari only ran for the position after she was asked to do so by OSPIRG.
Koch refuted this, stating that OSPIRG does not endorse any candidates, although many, Watari included, supported the student group.
Students for Unity, which often works in conjunction with OSPIRG, did openly endorse Watari.
Linardatos said OSPIRG worked “to put people that they know will work with their agenda” into office, especially on the SFC.
“I think that they are simply there to make sure OSPIRG gets their money back next year,” Smith added.
OSPIRG members Benjamin Wessel and Katie Wylie both ran for SFC, the latter of which also won a seat on the committee.
Additionally, some OSPIRG members sit on the student senate, including Matt Wallace and Reina Abolofia. Wallace is also currently being considered for a seat on the Evaluation and Constitutional Review Committee (E&CR).
OSPIRG campaigns on many levels
Smith also questioned OSPIRG’s policies and practices. He agreed some of their goals are positive, but disagrees with how the student group has used its student fee money.
“The only time I’ve seen OSPIRG out and about is when they’re asking for money,” Smith said.
He went on to argue OSPIRG really became strongly interested in student politics when the SFC cut its funding.
“You get interested in student politics when you lose $120,000,” Smith said.
He also commented on what he feels is an inaccurate representation of OSPIRG’s perspective.
He stated a majority of students do not agree with OSPIRG, but there is a small group of highly visible people holding up signs and generally being very vocal for their cause.
Smith called it “when arts and crafts meets politics.”
Koch maintains, however, OSPIRG does good things for students on campus.
“We train students to be activists,” Koch explained. “Outside of ASPSU, we have the biggest recruitment on campus.”
OSPIRG also tries to run at least four campaigns each term, Koch said. Such campaigns have included cleaning up the Willamette River, cohosting Kevin Mannix’s campus visit and a “hunger clean-up.”
Questions still remain
The PSU community, especially members of ASPSU and student groups like OSPIRG, is still waiting for an official decision over possible election violations, specifically the one which will decide who will be SFC chair next year.
Watari was elected to take office on July 1, but she did not attend mandatory candidate orientation, which is grounds for disqualification. Also, she ran as a write-in candidate, but her name still appeared on the ballot.
Representatives from the former elections committee have stated, based on a decision by the E&CR, the runner-up, Earll, will be considered SFC chair.
However, members from the previous E&CR, which made a ruling about the elections violations based on elections committee bylaws, maintain their ruling must be enforced by an official decision from the elections committee.
Among many people, neither Earll nor Watari are certain who will chair the SFC next year.