Provost Jones says fees committee chairman’s secret meeting broke no rules

by Tom Ford

While a secret meeting arranged by the Student Services Fees Committee chairman upset several committee members, it does not warrant disciplinary action, said University Executive Vice President and Provost Robert Jones.

Jones, the University administrator charged with overseeing the committee, said committee activities are presumed to be open and Lee’s meeting did not cohere with that notion.

But he said no apparent harm was done and the meeting didn’t break any particular rules.

Tim Lee, committee chairman, organized a private meeting Jan. 23 with four committee members to discuss Twin Cities Student Unions fees request.

Other committee members learned of the meeting after Lee accidentally sent an e-mail to a member he didn’t intend to invite. The e-mail was forwarded to the remaining members.

TCSU is seeking $3.7 million to pay back bonds that have funded Coffman Union renovations. Lee, former chairman of Students Against Fee Excess, has been a vocal opponent of the Coffman project.

After speaking with Mary Amundson, fees committee adviser, Jones said the committee resolved the issue and the process can continue. However, Jones said he expects subsequent changes in committee rules regarding such meetings.

“I’m satisfied that the committee can still do its job,” Jones said.

But Kristen Moore, president of the TSCU Board of Governors, said many union representatives remain upset about Lee’s meeting.

“We will be looking into this matter deeply,” Moore said.

Moore said the TCSU board’s executive members discussed the issue Tuesday.

While Lee’s actions upset several committee members, they do not affect the committee’s ability to function in a viewpoint-neutral manner, said Jordan Lorence, an attorney who has represented parties with fees process grievances before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lorence cited a March 2000 case in which the Supreme Court ruled a public university cannot base funding for student organizations on the viewpoint of either the group requesting money or the people who determine those levels.

This ruling denied the claim of several University of Wisconsin students who sued the school for requiring them to fund student groups advocating views with which they disagreed.

Lorence, who represented those students, said TCSU does not use fees to advocate political beliefs. Therefore, Lorence said, Lee’s meeting and his opinions against increased Coffman funding do not raise viewpoint-neutrality questions.

He said Lee could freely advocate intentions to either heighten or reduce funding for Coffman renovations.

Lee outlined his opposition to Coffman when he applied to the committee last fall.

On his application, Lee said he would find ways to reduce fees and said funding increases for the Coffman Union renovation make him “particularly uneasy.”

Lee noted that the more than $1 million increase for Coffman bond repayment approved by the committee last year was opposed by seven of 11 student members who voted.

Lee was asked to identify fees-receiving groups on whose request he would not vote or deliberate because of a conflict of belief, defined as a “deeply held conviction that is so strong that it prevents one from rendering an impartial decision.”

Lee did not single out any group, including TCSU.


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