Former University student government leader runs for office after student service fees scandal

Brittany Edwards, former GAPSA president, is running for Minnesota House District 46A.

by Kayla Song

A recent University of Minnesota Graduate School alumna and former president of a graduate student group is running for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Brittany Edwards — the former president of the now-defunct University student government group Graduate and Professional Student Assembly from 2013 to 2014 — is vying to become the 46A state representative for a district that covers St. Louis Park, Plymouth, Golden Valley and Medicine Lake.

Partially as a result of Edwards’ incident, COGS was removed from GAPSA and GAPSA was renamed to the Professional Student Government in spring 2015. Additionally, presidents of larger student groups now have less autonomy in requesting and receiving funds.

Edwards, who graduated from the University with a master’s degree in educational administration and public policy, is running her campaign on issues such as health care, climate change, student debt and loans. 

Edwards said she uses social media to reach millennials and get them more involved in state elections. 

“They may look at it for five seconds, but social media has more ability to get in front of people and stick,” Edwards said, who is also urging students to seek leadership opportunities and learn how to advocate for student issues with legislation.

Edwards held leadership positions during her college career, though a complaint was filed in 2014 against Edwards, which claimed she spent more than $4,000 of student service fees without approval for GAPSA purposes.

“I probably agree with Brittany Edwards … on most surface level issues,” said Keaton Miller, a professor at the University of Oregon and former executive board member of COGS. “But my experience with her during her time at Minnesota was that she used the power that she had to benefit herself and her friends at the expense of her constituents.”

The University’s Student Service Fees Committee limits the influence presidents of the Minnesota Student Association, COGS and PSG have on the student service fees allocation process, said Ben Beutel, a Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M University and the chair of the SSF Committee at the time of Edwards’ incident.

Edwards said that “it was all approved by the fees committee and by the assembly.” She said she never violated University policy and sees “no basis” for the claims. 

“There were a couple students who didn’t like how effective we were and they couldn’t get to us through the normal channels,” Edwards said. “They would just start filing conduct complaints against us.”

Deloitte, a financial consulting firm, was hired to audit GAPSA’s finances and finished the investigation in 2015.

Though the firm determined the evidence did not point to Edwards misusing funds, Deloitte found many transaction inconsistencies due to several expenses made without written approval.

Deloitte compiled a list of recommendations for GAPSA’s policies and processes to avoid another case like this in the future.

“[Deloitte’s investigation] basically says, in short, that we can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that something illegal happened,” Miller said. “But boy, it looks like there’s a lot of weird stuff going on here, and this is maybe not the way you want to run an organization.” 

Despite the allegations, Edwards said she plans to advocate for the University in the legislature and that she learned from the incident. 

“It doesn’t really matter whether it’s true or not,” Edwards said. “If people decide they want to claim something about you, they can claim it, and then you have to go through due process to get it resolved.”