Misspending plagues student government

MSA and GAPSA have been mishandling your student fees money for years.

The recent controversy over the Minnesota Student AssociationâÄôs profligate strategic communications budget is merely a symptom of the financial disease infecting our student governments. MSA and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly have been hoarding student fees for years.

Last year, after MSA promised the Student Services Fees Committee it would spend all the money it had been allocated, the group instead kept an extra $20,000 of unspent student money. MSAâÄôs incompetence was again on display when a promised $20,000 check from University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks was never obtained by the student governmentâÄôs leadership, led by then-MSA President Paul Strain.

Despite at least $40,000 of accounting blunders, 2009-2010 was MSAâÄôs best-budgeted year in memory. A year prior, MSA over-budgeted by nearly $40,000, including a $17,000 certificate of deposit MSAâÄôs President Mark Nagel tried to hide from the fees committee. More egregiously, Nagel attempted to sell the Legislative Certificate Program concept to the Minnesota-Duluth student government for personal profit.

MSAâÄôs current budget is virtually identical to its previous budget, with one exception: MSAâÄôs leadership callously dropped the $40,000 Lend-a-Hand, Hear the Band program and replaced it with a $12,000 volunteer program in which, ironically, 75 percent of funds go to stipends for six students to run the program.

As for the other $28,000 saved by cutting Lend-a-Hand, Hear the Band? MSA plans to put the bulk of these funds toward internal operations rather than campus-wide programming.

MSA continues to overpay its staff, particularly those who are friends or roommates (current and former) of MSA President Sarah Shook, who herself rakes in $5,000 annually. MSA is proposing a total 55 percent increase in stipend dollar amounts over the 2010-2011 budget.

GAPSAâÄôs financial indiscretion is piled higher and deeper than their undergraduate counterpart, led by a failure in leadership by GAPSA President Ryan Kennedy and his predecessor, Kristi Kremers. Last year, the graduate student government received a staggering $375,000 from students.

Despite failing to meet the minimum requirements to receive fees this year, it was granted $188,000 of student fees from Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Jerry Rinehart. Less than a week after RinehartâÄôs decision, GAPSA revealed it âÄúfoundâÄù a stash of reserves in excess of $200,000 that had gone undisclosed for years. Confronted with this revelation by the Fees Committee, Rinehart refused to intervene after the fees process afterward.

The only remedy to this affliction is to starve the student governments of their excess student services fees until they prove themselves fiscally responsible. Former University President Mark Yudof made a similar proposal in 2000. Unfortunately our current crop of University administrators cannot muster the similar integrity to do the right thing in the face of such stark impropriety.

MSA and GAPSA leaders cannot expect me and should not expect students blindly to accept this near-thievery, even though the University administration is unwilling to provide healthy scrutiny. The behavior of our governments at this University reeks of an entitlement mentality that is eroding the relationship between students and their student representatives. This community deserves better. Everyone âÄî including students, student government, the administration and this newspaper âÄî must demand accountability, ask the tough questions and raise our expectations for two organizations that never cease to expect more of our money in exchange for increasing mediocrity.