SGA’s 7-year struggle to keep control of student funds

Student Government Association (SGA) was one in charge of distributing roughly $300,000 collected from student body fees

The student government association (SGA) used to have complete control over roughly $300,000 of student body fees. They were independent, with no university oversight. A decade later, they only manage $50,000 and whatever they spend must be approved by Student Life administration. Part of their responsibility in controlling such funds included the leading of student activities and ministries. These programs, among others, are now run by administration-appointed staff members.

This transfer of power did not happen without conflict and drama.

“When I arrived [in 2012], it was a mess,” Brett Kincaid, who advised student government from 2013-2016, said. Student government was then called the Undergraduate Students of FPU (USFPU). “[The relationship between USFPU and Student Life] was so hostile. Executive members would tell me over and over that ‘we used to have 300,000 dollars, we used to write our own checks; now look: we’re withering.’ ”

The Beginning

This loss of power began in 2008. Randy Worden, the dean of Student Life from 2008-2018, took control of allocating student body fees when he arrived as a move to implement administrative oversight. In addition, any money that was approved to be spent would require his signature.

According to Worden, when he arrived he thought the lack of accountability concerning finances was concerning, especially considering the fact that they were the only group on campus that operated this way.  “Unlike the rest of the institution, no staff signature or VP signature was necessary for them to spend money … they [also] set their own work hours and determined their own salaries. This did not seem to be a wise approach,” he said in an emailed statement.

Worden also said that the FPU president and his cabinet were concerned with how USFPU ran. “Once certain USFPU financial practices were understood, there was a consensus amongst cabinet members that USFPU should operate under the same principles, policies and procedures as the rest of the university,” Worden said.

Weemes thinks that if Worden had initiated a conversation, rather than simply taking the money, the outcome may have been different.

Students were extremely upset at the sudden grab for control, according to Ben Weemes, the president of USFPU for the 2009/10 school year. Weemes thinks that if Worden had initiated a conversation rather than simply taking the money, the outcome may have been different. Weemes said that first year “was like a stalemate … nothing was ever able to happen because there was no cooperation.”

A Brief Armistice

When Weemes became president, he sought to work with rather than fight against Worden in order to get things done. He also agreed with Worden that students needed accountability when they spent money. “I think we needed a bit of oversight, because there was a lot of mismanagement. There always has to be checks and balances; if there are none, you are going to abuse your power; it’s just going to happen.”

Weemes wanted to rewrite the bylaws to reflect this view and held numerous town halls to discuss the proposed changes. The student body voted to pass the bylaw changes, but only after there was “large outcry, almost a rally” full of students accusing Weemes of working for Worden. To address this, USFPU postponed the vote and held more forums for students to express their opinions.

During this period, Worden also sought to expand decision-making power within USFPU. Included in the new legislation was an expansion of Senate representation to residents, commuters and clubs, and, in addition, it ensured that the Student Senate approved expenditures of over 300 dollars. “My primary role was in reminding [student executive members] that they were elected to give voice to as many students as possible. They were not elected to simply do what they wanted, nor to simply maintain the status quo,” Worden said.

“…both structural oversight and individual personalities were possible reasons for such high tension.” – Isaak

This legislation also began the trend of moving programs and events into the hands of Student Life staff members. The main reason for this was the inconsistency in leadership of such programs due to students cycling in and out.  “I was trying to give some longevity to someone who was making decisions,” Weemes said. The decrease in student body fee money given to USFPU was largely accounted for by this switch, as the money went to staff offices to fund the programs.

The Height of Tension

After Weemes left the presidency, the pushback and resentment against Worden and Student Life re-intensified under the leadership of Yun-Kyeong Shin, president of USFPU from Fall 2012 to Spring 2014. According to Kincaid, she fiercely pushed back against what had happened and was encouraged by other executive members to do so. She wanted an autonomous student body rather than being “under the hoof of Worden.” Shin was unavailable for comment.

Bradley Isaak, an executive member of USFPU during Shin’s presidency, said in an emailed statement that both structural oversight and individual personalities were possible reasons for such high tension. He said also that “both student representatives and hired administrative staff expressed some difficulty in relating to the concerns and perspectives of the other”.

During this especially taut period, Worden, according to Kincaid, asked about a dozen faculty members to advise (with pay) USFPU; none accepted the offer. “They knew it was a wreck,” Kincaid said. Worden said he spoke with “a handful” of faculty, all of whom were unable to commit due to scheduling issues.

Kincaid decided to advise, but primarily focused on talking to Shin about “how to be better as a president.” According to Kincaid, Shin ran the government well, but her intensity and direct style often encouraged conflict both within USFPU and with Student Life.  “I didn’t change much, but I helped, I facilitated. . . later Randy [Worden] was very appreciative of what I did and thanked me,” Kincaid said.

After the Storm

Taylor Long, who succeeded Shin, wanted to regain respect with administration while still vouching for students’ fair share of power. She said USFPU “wasn’t taken seriously” after Shin’s presidency. Administrators would often skip meetings with Long and she would have to speak up in order to be on interdepartmental committees, such as the committee that determined how study body fees would be allocated.

“We worked hard to prove to administration and the board that we’re weren’t just a bunch of misinformed students and that we really cared about this university. We wanted to see it flourish,” Long said.

Under Long’s direction, USFPU used student body fee funds reserved for projects to revamp the forest, which at that time was weathered and unkept. They also debuted a new logo and redesigned their office in an effort to be more welcoming to students.

Nick Valla, president of USFPU from Fall 2015 to Spring 2017, continued the effort to rebuild the reputation of USFPU. He organized a student committee in Spring 2016 to go through each line of the USFPU’s bylaws in order to clean up and revise them, so as to fit the shape of government at the time. The major change of that move was moving Intramurals to Student Life. This followed the pattern of moving student-led activities to staff offices. These laws also changed the name of USFPU to SGA.

Mixed Perceptions

Long thinks that the move in 2008 to seize the power, rather than negotiate with students, revealed to students how their administration perceived them. “How that transition happened really told students ‘We don’t trust you,’” she said.

Tim Haydock, president of USFPU in 2006, said that negotiating a budget of over $300,000 (before the shift happened) with his peers “instilled in us a real sense of responsibility”. He also said that students having complete control of planning events felt “authentic and organic,” and alluded to this as a possible reason why student participation at events was fairly high and consistent. According to Haydock, “hundreds of people”, including community members on occasion, would attend the “Intramural Night of Champions” and the “Battle of the Bands,” in which bands from as far as L.A. would come to perform on campus.

In contrast, Long said that the grab for power really harmed student government’s vitality on campus. “It caused a lot of people to not want to be a part of student government. We really struggled and I think they still struggle to get applicants to run or apply. Students don’t see student government as anything special,” Long said.

Haydock thinks that his experience as “being a part of a leadership team, one that that worked in conjunction with adults and had real responsibility over real dollars” positively influenced how he moved on from FPU and throughout his career. He wants other students to experience the benefits of managing such a responsibility.  “I think it’s pretty disappointing that we’re not setting up the next generation of leaders from FPU to have that same experience,” he said.

Weemes, Kincaid, and Valla all said adding accountability was a good idea because students, typically being around 18-22 year olds, aren’t always wise with money. Haydock, interestingly, said that in 2005, 2006 and 2007 USFPU ran surpluses on their budget, contrasting with the university’s financial state at the time.

Gary Estes, the advisor of USFPU from 1999-2008, said that during his time working with student government the executive team was responsible for the large amount of money they controlled. “They really had the energy, and the passion they put behind everything they wanted to do, so they did make sure they spent those funds correctly and in a good way,” he said.

Valla, like Weemes, thinks that the relocation of programs was for the better, because staff-led offices could build up programs and be held accountable by administration. “The university can hold those staff people accountable year-to-year, and they can more easily make the case for improvement… [whereas] with students leading, it can be great one year and worse the following year,” Valla said.

Estes said there was rarely conflict between administration and the student governing body during his time as advisor, and that the executive team learned how to collaborate well with other departments on campus.

Moving Forward

Since 2014 the SGA budget has been set at $50,000. Students currently pay a $492 fee according to the FPU website’s “Tuition & Financial Aid” page. With about 1,000 traditional undergraduate students, the total amount of money adds up to about $490,000, although the actual sum is a bit less when one considers that some students only register for one semester.

Dale Scully, who replaced Randy Worden as Vice President of Student Life, repeated this same cycle of money distribution in the 2018/19 school year. However, going forward Scully said he “might devise a new strategy to get a few more voices into the process” after he dives deeper into seeing how the money is spent. “We want all the money collected to be directed back towards the students and to be used in the best way possible,” Scully said.

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