By SARAH DUIS
Members of the Criminal Justice Club arrived at Friday’s Student Government Association (SGA) meeting carrying handmade signs condemning President Lee Cohen.
The reason behind their anger? A vetoed funding request.
The club first presented a $425 funding request at an SGA meeting on Sept. 20, which would be used by eight club members to attend a criminal justice conference in Chicago.
The request was tabled, so the club presented it again on Sept. 27 and the majority of the senate approved it.
A week later, Christina Smith, Criminal Justice Club president, heard from Matthew Kavanagh, SGA vice president, that the SGA president decided to veto funding.
“I’ve yet to hear an official explanation,” Smith said.
Smith led members of the Criminal Justice Club to the SGA meeting where they sat in the back of the room silently holding handmade protest signs.
The club was eventually given a chance to address the room.
Smith took the floor and spent several minutes chastising Cohen for his decision to veto their request, and for failing to let her know about his decision.
“It’s really disconcerting that part of your statement of purpose is to represent the interest of the students and protect student life,” Smith said to Cohen, “when it doesn’t seem like that’s happening at all by your choosing to veto our request after the majority of the senate approved it last time.”
Smith argued that there is no law or rule that bars students from seeking funding for off-campus events. She referenced the SGA’s constitution, which states that the government’s purpose is “to encourage and create opportunities for student involvement on the Indiana University South Bend campus and in the surrounding community.”
Smith added, “Last time I checked, Chicago is in the surrounding area.”
She went on to say that should found it “extremely unprofessional and disrespectful” that Cohen didn’t personally notify her of his veto decision.
“Just because you have ‘President’ in front of your name doesn’t mean you get to walk all over me, and everyone else, and doesn’t mean you get to make an example of our association by punishing all of our students that want to go to the conference,” Smith said.
Cohen defended his decision.
“I do not see sending students two hours away to a different state for a conference as proper use of the Student Activity Fee,” Cohen said. “I apologize, I’m sorry, but that’s my perspective on it and that’s the perspective that I ran on and that I was voted into office on.”
Cohen also defended his decision to veto the senate’s majority vote, a power he is granted in the SGA constitution.
According to Section 4, Sub-Section 1, of the constitution, the president “shall have the power to sign or veto (with written objections) all Student Senate approved motions and return appropriate documentation to the Vice President within two calendar weeks of Senate approval. If legislation goes unsigned within two weeks of Senate approval, the piece of legislation shall take effect.”
The constitution does not require that the president directly contact club members if they ultimately decide to veto their funding request. Cohen submitted his official veto statement to the senate on Tuesday, Oct. 1, four days after the initial decision by the senate to approve the funding request.
Cohen said his decision to veto the request came down to his belief that SGA funds should not be used to pay for off-campus activities.
“My fraternity, we have conferences that we go to in Indianapolis,” Cohen said during the meeting. “And I have a lot of students and a lot of members of the fraternity who are not particularly wealthy who will be up at 4 a.m. and drive themselves down and pay for their whole admissions fees, and if they came here to ask to pay for it with student activity money, I would say no. So I’m really upholding a principle and it’s nothing against you,” Cohen told the club members in attendance.
The veto was ultimately upheld after the senate did not reach a three-fourths vote to override it, as required by the constitution.
According to Section 4, Sub-Section 5, of the constitution, the student senate “shall have the power to override the President’s veto with a three-fourths vote of the entire Student Senate.”
“I think it’s disappointing that the senate didn’t uphold their original approval of our funding request,” Smith said after the decision was made. “And I think it’s interesting that in a week’s time, some amount of new information would persuade them to change their mind. It’s unfortunate.”
Cohen’s official veto statement gives detailed reasoning for his decision:
“I ran on the promise to stop funding to off-campus events—primarily conferences—with Student Activity fee money,” the statement reads. “Thus I do not now, and will not in the future, support the funding of off-campus events.”
Later in the statement, Cohen says he believes the SGA must be consistent in its rubric for funding events.
“The events we decide to fund will set a precedent for future expectations, and, if we are inconsistent, we will send mixed signals to those who are considering applying for SGA funding and may even incite bitterness through the appearance of favoritism for certain organizations and causes,” the statement reads. “Thus, I will continue the precedent set early on this year with the History Club of not funding off-campus events.”
Cohen said he plans to hold a campus survey in the near future to see how students feel about the use of the Student Activity Fee.
What are your thoughts?