Africana rallies for funding at fees hearing

Tom Ford

Carrying signs and chanting “We won’t settle for less,” approximately 30 members and supporters of Africana Student Cultural Center filed into the Bell Museum of Natural History on Tuesday to demand more funding for the group.

At a public hearing before University administrators, members of Africana, other cultural centers and the Twin Cities Student Unions objected to the Student Services Fees Committee’s funding allocations.

The hearing, one of the final steps in the fees process, is a last chance for groups to appeal the recommendations before they’re sent to the Board of Regents.

University Vice President and Provost Robert Jones, who attended the hearing, can amend funding recommendations but must submit his decisions to the regents before their April meeting.

Frequently applauding each other’s comments, many speakers said the funding recommendations indicate an opposition to cultural groups, will damage diversity on campus and illustrate unfairness from committee members.

But several fees committee members said they based funding decisions on groups’ financial histories and said claims that cultural centers were targeted or the process was unfair are baseless.

Ezekiel Ashamun, an Africana member, said cutting fees for groups such as Africana – slated to receive an approximate $10,000 funding reduction – sends a clear message.

“By cutting (Africana) you’re basically telling us we’re not welcome,” Ashamun said.

Sulieman Nader, president of the Minnesota International Student Association, said reducing funding for cultural organizations is a “stab at the heart of diversity.”

Near the end of the hearing, Africana President Arafese Gemeda asked the fees committee members in attendance, who were all white, to stand. She then called Africana members and supporters, who were primarily black, to stand as well.

“Can you see the difference?” Gemeda said.

But committee member Dan Nelson said the committee’s memberships are open to all students.

He said fees recommendations were not made to target diversity and cuts to organizations such as Africana were responses to the groups’ financial mismanagement.

Nelson said last year Africana overspent its projected budget by more than $10,000. This violates a minimum requirement of fees-receiving groups, he said, and the committee must hold organizations fiscally accountable, which is possible through funding cuts.

Besides concerns of diversity, representatives of several groups, particularly TCSU, derided this year’s fees process and committee members’ actions.

Funding for TCSU, which sought fees increases for Coffman Union renovation costs, fell approximately $1 million below the amount requested.

Kristen Moore, TCSU Board of Governors president, said she was concerned committee members didn’t make decisions in the interests of the student body but instead based recommendations on personal agendas.

Jason Reed, TCSU board vice president and a former fees committee member, said this year’s fees process was the worst he has ever seen.

As an example, Reed cited a secret meeting fees committee Chairman Tim Lee organized with some fees members to discuss TCSU before the process began.

Twice during final deliberations, Lee, a longstanding opponent of the high costs of renovating Coffman, cast a tie-breaking vote to deny TCSU higher funding.

But committee member Doug Karle said no one from the unions or the student body called for Lee’s removal as chairman, an option Karle said he favored when the committee first learned of Lee’s actions.

Karle said for TCSU to raise concerns now over the chairman is unwarranted.

He said the unions didn’t argue against the merits of the committee’s recommendation.

“Instead they chose to make personal attacks,” Karle said.

He said many comments made by speakers at the hearing were inflammatory and a “smokescreen,” playing on emotion rather than addressing substantive issues.