ASA conflict-of-interest rule creates confusion over diversity senators ability to vote on student organization funding

Confusion regarding the new diversity senators’ ability to represent their respective student organizations arose during the Augustana Student Association’s (ASA) Sept. 24 meeting.

The confusion came during discussion of an amendment that would change the amount of money student organizations receive from ASA. The amendment would make it so that organizations receive $75 for completing ASA’s leadership training instead of the current $150.

Because it would be a conflict of interest, senators involved in student organizations were told that they would have to abstain from voting as they would be having a direct impact on the funding their groups receive. This included all of the diversity senators as they have to be a member of the student organization their seat represents to run for their position.

The diversity seats include a position for the African Students Union, Asian Student Organization, Black Student Union and the Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

Jose Cruz Medina, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance senator, said that not being able to vote on decisions that affect diverse student groups shows gaps in Augustana’s stance on diversity.

“We’re either there just for face, or we’re there for actually talking, and right now, I feel like [it’s] just for face,” Cruz Medina said.

The confusion of abstaining led the senate to vote to delay voting on the amendment until their next meeting Oct. 8. The executive board said that they would look more into the problem before then.

Members of the executive board met with Dean of Students Mark Blackburn on the Monday following the ASA meeting to address the problem. After the meeting, ASA Treasurer Hunter Lipinski said that the entire senate would be able to vote on the amendment.

”The conflict is [whether] you represent yourself as a student organization leader or an ASA senator,” Lipinski said. Despite the difficulty in finding a balance between the two, he said that allowing representation was ultimately more important.

“We thought it would be in the best interest to have everyone vote,” Lipinski said.

While Lipinski said that the issue of diversity senators not being able to represent their organizations was a major influence on this decision, he also said very few senators overall would have been able to vote on the amendment, as nearly half of them are leaders in student organizations.

According to ASA President Cole Tessendorf, when a student organization would request funding through ASA, senators involved in that organization would have to abstain. However, Tessendorf said that there haven’t been any votes regarding the funding of all student organizations in his time on ASA. 

He said that the vote last year on restricting student organizations access to students’ emails was similar as it involved all student groups. But because it didn’t affect funding, all of the senators were allowed to vote on it.

Lipinski said when the senate does an overview of its governing documents in interim, it will look into how abstaining is addressed in the constitution. If need be, the documents could be revised to include more specific information on the topic.

Lipinski said having the constitution give more specifics would clear up the possibility for confusion by “completely new” senators.

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