Fees members to vote despite accusations

by Travis Reed

Despite recent conflict-of-interest allegations, the University’s Student Services Fees Committee announced Monday all of its members will be allowed to vote on the entirety of this year’s funding proposals.
The committee, widely regarded as the most important student and faculty group on campus, apportions funding for University student organizations — including The Minnesota Daily.
The objectivity of five committee members was called into question last week when four University students alleged the members did not disclose their affiliation with Students Against Fees Excess, an organization opposed to the student fees.
The students requested committee members with SAFE ties abstain from voting on Minneapolis Public Interest Research Group funding because of SAFE’s history as an anti-MPIRG organization.
MPIRG is one of two student groups that receive student-fee funding in the form of a voluntary checkoff box on student enrollment forms — a benefit they fear losing with the current slate of committee members.
Committee Chairman Jesse Berglund rejected the students’ request based on the recommendations from committee advisers, the Office of the General Counsel and a ruling from the Student Services Fees Selection Committee.
In the publicly released Fees Selection Committee report, the members say they were aware of the alleged conflicts even though they were not mentioned on the members’ applications.
“We find that the complaint raises no new issues not already considered prior to the approval of the fees committee slate,” the committee wrote. “We find the concept that students should be excluded from any University activity solely on the basis of their political affiliation to be intolerant, disturbing and not representative of the diversity we hold dear at the University of Minnesota.”
The report both defended the committee’s efforts to ensure a just selection process and denounced the students’ efforts to raise allegations in the first place.
The committee’s intentions were unclear in the report. Committee members said it is inappropriate to solicit information about an applicant’s political beliefs even though the application asked for full disclosure of conflicts of interests and beliefs.
The four students who filed the complaint wouldn’t comment on the judgment because they hadn’t yet received the entire report Wednesday afternoon. They sent a letter to Berglund on Tuesday expressing their displeasure with his announcement that the issue would be examined by the Selection Committee.
“Our letter did not discuss whether there were or were not problems with the Selection Committee process,” the students wrote. “It dealt specifically with the failure of six students to disclose information about SAFE.”
“It’s obvious that the Selection Committee felt that it was OK, because that’s why they chose them,” said MPIRG Executive Director Lea Schuster. “The real issue is whether these committee members have a bias that will affect their ability to judge MPIRG fairly on objective criteria.”
Hearings for MPIRG funding proposals — postponed until the allegations could be resolved — will continue as soon as possible, Berglund said.
The resumption of the hearings means Jared Christiansen, a former Minnesota Student Association presidential candidate who ran under the statement, “Stop MPIRG from stealing your money,” will head the subcommittee entertaining MPIRG’s funding proposal.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at tree[email protected]. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.