GAPSA facing complaint, potential changes

Amid financial concerns, the group may have member councils apply for their own funds.

by Blair Emerson

Current and past members of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly are facing allegations of spending the group’s student services fees funding for an allegedly unapproved trip to Washington, D.C.

Two Council of Graduate Students members filed a complaint with the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity earlier this month, just weeks after GAPSA’s funding was put on hold for an alleged $93,000 discrepancy in its financial records. Amid recent concerns with the GAPSA’s financial practices, some members are now considering having the assembly’s member councils apply for their own funding next year.

The complaint filed against six graduate students alleged that some GAPSA members used more than $4,000 of the group’s student services fees funding to travel to an American Evaluation Association conference in Washington, D.C., last fall.

The members spent more than $2,000 on two hotel rooms for four nights and also used funding for restaurants and shops while on the trip, according to financial records.

Former GAPSA President Brittany Edwards, who went to the conference, said funding for the trip was approved as part of the group’s travel budget, which she said didn’t specify how the money needed to be spent.

Andrew McNally and Keaton Miller, president and executive board member of COGS, respectively, filed the complaint, citing that GAPSA didn’t approve the trip and the members shouldn’t have used student services fees funding for it.

Many of the members who attended the conference said they thought the expenses were approved by GAPSA’s executive board.

“From my understanding, I [thought] all GAPSA expenditures had been approved and the forms had been submitted,” GAPSA President Alfonso Sintjago said.

Former GAPSA executive board member Leah Hakkola said she was surprised when she found out the complaint was filed against her. She said she paid for her own registration for the conference, as well as her travel and dining expenses.

Hakkola didn’t attend the conference in association with GAPSA, she said.

GAPSA’s representative from the Graduate Students in Education and Human Development organization, Michelle Gensinger, was also cited in the complaint, but she said she had received funding from her department and a grant from GAPSA to attend the conference.

“I have all of the documents in my possession that indicate and verify that I didn’t take any other GAPSA funds,” she said.

Moving forward

To avoid future problems with GAPSA’s finances, some assembly members said they will discuss potentially having the councils that comprise GAPSA apply for their own student services fees next school year.

Currently, councils receive pass-through funding from GAPSA’s student services fees.

GAPSA’s vice president of grants, Ben Beutel, said having the councils apply for their own funding would help relieve tension among the councils.

“It’s a huge change, but it wouldn’t be the end of the organization,” he said.

The executive board will discuss the idea at a meeting on Wednesday, said Beutel, who is also a COGS member.

Last week, GAPSA members discussed ways the group can be more transparent with its finances, a goal it has recently been working toward.

“It’s not just about the trip to D.C.,” Sintjago said at the meeting. “In general, GAPSA’s finances were not discussed [last year].”

To increase its transparency, executive board members now have access to the group’s bank accounts, Sintajo said. GAPSA also added new executive board positions, including one that will specifically help handle the group’s finances.

But GAPSA won’t be able to begin planning for next year, as its funding is still on hold — something members said is concerning.

Vice Provost and Dean of Students Danita Brown Young said in an email statement last week that the Office for Student Affairs is still inspecting the group’s financial records and will be investigating the recent OSCAI complaint as appropriate.

Brown Young said in May that she would investigate the alleged discrepancy in GAPSA’s financial records and withhold funding until it’s concluded. GAPSA received more than $390,000 in student services fees in the 2013-14 academic year.

“No one really knows … what this will look like [in the fall], Beutel said, “but things have to change.”

Some members said they want to move past the investigation and the complaint and work to improve the student organization for the upcoming school year.

“This year, we just want to move forward and learn from last year,” GAPSA Executive Vice President Ashley Hall  said at the meeting.