Groups say rule reduces staffing

by Jens Krogstad

Without a full-time staff member, the Queer Student Cultural Center said it will not be able to provide its Safe Space program for students all day.

A handful of groups claim they will also have to cut programs because of a resolution that last year’s Student Services Fees Committee passed. The rule does not allow more than 30 percent of a group’s total income to go to payroll.

“I think (the resolution) is misinformed,” said Brian Wiedenmeier, last year’s student groups fees committee chairman. “I think it’s irresponsible to base funding decreases and cuts based on this resolution.”

Although the resolution was nonbinding, this year’s student groups committee has abided by it.

Wiedenmeier and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly said the problem with the rule is that it misinterprets a widely accepted nonprofit guideline for payroll costs.

Lindsay Brown, this year’s student groups fees committee chairman, said the rule – which he helped create last year as a member of the fees committee – was put in place to help generate equality among cultural centers.

He said the rule does this by eliminating situations in which the committee has to decide which groups deserve money for a staff member.

Before this year, a group such as the Queer Student Cultural Center received significant fees money for staff, while a comparable group such as the Al-Madinah Student Cultural Center did not, Brown said.

Abu Jalal, GAPSA’s vice president for finance, said his group mentioned in its fees presentation last year that it abided by nonprofit organization guidelines prohibiting more than 30 percent of its budget go to administrative staff costs. Jalal and Wiedenmeier both said the fees committee resolution stemmed from GAPSA’s presentation.

The Queer Student Cultural Center’s budgeted administrative staff costs for next year are less than 30 percent of its total income.

Unlike the GAPSA standard, the resolution does not make the distinction between programming and administrative staff costs.

Programming services like Safe Space – which the Queer Student Cultural Center said provides gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students with a comfortable environment to go – and others require a staff member, groups have said.

The Internal Revenue Service’s 990 forms – which tax-exempt organizations such as charities use – allow groups to distinguish between program services, management and fund-raising costs when stating payroll expenses.

Groups criticizing the fees committee resolution claim staff members dedicate most of their time to programming, abiding by nationally accepted standards for nonprofit organizations.

The Charities Review Council’s accountability standards states that no more than 30 percent of an organization’s annual expenses can go to management or fund raising and that 70 percent should go to programming.

Groups also complain the committee rule is vaguely worded and inconsistently enforced.

The resolution specifies the Student Dispute Resolution Center and the Community Child Care Center as examples of groups exempt from the rule because each spends “a majority of its income specifically to pay staff.” It does not specify what that means.

The Wake and The Minnesota Daily are student publications that spend nearly half of their annual budgets on staff, according to their fees requests.

In its initial fees recommendation, the committee criticized The Wake for spending more than 30 percent of its budget on payroll. It did not criticize the Daily.

The Minnesota International Student Association said it plans to spend more than 30 percent of its budget on staff, according to its fees application. The committee recommended the group receive a fees increase, but its rationale mentioned staff would raise funds for 75 percent of the salary.

Other than the resolution itself, no documentation of its passing exists. Therefore, Jalal said his group refuses to acknowledge it.

“The University of Minnesota cannot depend on hearsay as a basis of official decision-making processes,” he said in a prepared statement.

Last year’s chairman, Wiedenmeier, said any documentation of the resolution was probably lost in the transition of replacing last year’s fees adviser.