Ms. Vice President for Student Affairs Gail Hurley,
After years of disarray in the office of Student Affairs, a coalition of student leaders came together to form an organization called Safeguard Old State. Our goal is simple: to see a truly student-centered university. To that end, we offer this policy recommendation as a roadmap for change. It is our hope that both administrators and student leaders will follow this roadmap back down the time honored path to student shared governance at Penn State, a concept outlined in Board of Trustees Standing Order IX:
Standing Order IX, section (2), part (b) entitled “Who Performed By” in reference to internal governance of the University:
“The Internal Governance of the University shall be performed by the President and his/her administration, by the faculty, and by the student body in accordance with the delegations of authority and advisory roles hereinafter set forth.”
Standing Order IX, Section (3), part (g) entitled “Consultation with Student Body on Student Affairs”:
“The President shall consult with the student body, as appropriately organized, in the area of student affairs.”
Standing Order IX, Section (5), part (a) dealing with students entitled “Consultation by the President”:
“The student body shall be consulted by the President concerning the establishment of policy for student affairs.”
It is probably no big secret at this point that we in Safeguard Old State opposed many of Dr. Vicky Triponey’s policies. Safeguard Old State’s first allegiance is to preserving the best of Penn State’s proud legacy for its students, the people for whom this University exists. When Dr. Triponey enacted policies in the Office of Student Affairs that disregarded elected student leaders and aggregated power once held by students to administrators, doing so with total disregard for well-established and worthy traditions, we made it a point to speak up.
It is important to realize, however, that we do not inherently oppose administrators, and we hope that your time in Student Affairs will be one relatively bereft of conflict with Safeguard Old State (SOS), following the model of other Big Ten student governments and advocacy groups. There is no guarantee that we will always agree, but all that we ask is that student voices are given their due respect and that we, the students, are treated as equals at this University, a courtesy that SOS has hopefully already shown you.
The Student Activity Fee – The Founding Intent
One of our major concerns is the treatment of the Student Activity Fee (SAF). A report providing a summary on the state of the Student Activity Fee from the University Faculty Senate Student-Life Committee was presented to the Faculty Senate on April 24, 2007. The report states the activity fee was created in 1996 to “increase co-curricular opportunities and enhance the out-of-class experience for students at all campus locations.” It also says that the fee started at $25 and since its inception had “student-run” committees established at each University to handle its allocation and policy. The report goes on to mention that the fee also helped underwrite the HUB-Robeson Center, the only building project current student activity fee policy allows it to fund. Increases in the fee, if greater than the rate of inflation, would be approved by students as “appropriately organized at the time.”
The key goal is Penn State’s student body itself directing the fee and implementing it. If great power brought great responsibility, the students learned to live up to the expectations of such responsibility. All was well.
What we today have, as a direct result of recent student affairs policy changes, is an utterly mutilated form of student involvement with this fee. The activity fee has, of course, been increased throughout the years, and until recently, its disbursement rested in the hands of the University Park Allocation Committee, or UPAC.
This student organization was not associated with the student government, as is the custom at all Penn State branch campuses. Though a majority of its students not popularly elected, UPAC was, at least, proof positive that students themselves directly controlled and allocated their own activity fee money.
In other words, the system might not have been ideal, but the original spirit and intent, the principle behind the implementation of the Student Activity Fee, had remained intact throughout the course of time.
The Student Activity Fee – Today, Administratively Controlled
Today, students no longer control or even allocate their activity fee. The Student Activity Fee Board (SAFB) currently advises on activity fee policy to the Vice President for Student Affairs. This board is composed of eight students, one faculty member, and four administrators. The Vice President for Student Affairs is ultimately in charge of choosing the membership.
While the Vice-President for Student Affairs ultimately set the policy, the allocation of the activity fee, once it is paid by students, lies in the hands of the Funding Allocation Board (FAB). This board takes votes from seven students and three administrators when making a decision. When the FAB comes to a decision, it makes only a recommendation to the Vice President for Student Affairs. Again, the Vice President for Student Affairs is ultimately in charge of choosing the membership. Students of all stripes, whether in FAB or UPAC, ultimately are at the mercy of the Vice-President for Student Affairs, and have little to no control over their Student Activity Fee.
Is this really the way the initiators of the Student Activity Fee, and the many students involved in its creation, envisioned it being handled? Is this really, in any way, student-run? It is clear at this point that with no control over the policies of the Student Activity Fee by the elected student government that students really do not have control over what, essentially, is a tax is imposed on them.
The Student Activity Fee – Unchecked & Unapproved
As students have become less and less a part of the process, poor policy has followed. The Student Activity Fee is now just under $70 per semester, increases which took place without any University-wide referendum (“students as appropriately organized”?).
The average student activity fee among our peer institutions in the Big Ten is less than half of what Penn State students currently pay. The officially recognized voice of students, whether in the now defunct Undergraduate Student Government (USG) or the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA), was not consulted as a whole.
In the Faculty Senate report, select members of different student organizations, Pulse surveys, and the Student Activity Fee Board (the glaring shortcomings of which we have already enumerated) are cited as justification for fee increases. These are not representative of the entire Penn State student population, and yet all students pay the fee.
Also, whereas the HUB-Robeson Center was originally the only building project funded by the activity fee, the new University Health Center is now receiving funding from the activity fee to the tune of $3 per student, a number which will rise in successive years until it reaches $5 per student. Again, neither the student body as a whole nor its elected leadership were consulted.
Shared Governance In Action – The USG Supreme Court
While we feel the change in Activity Fee policy marks the biggest mistake of Dr. Triponey’s tenure, there are many other issues worth mentioning. Under Triponey, the USG Supreme Court, perhaps the best example of true shared governance at work on campus, was stripped of its right to register student organizations. Student Affairs, via Triponey, justified this monumental realignment by citing concern over the Court’s potential for getting Penn State into legal trouble (First Amendment violation) when granting or denying student organizations registered status.
In the summer of 2004, a group known as the Disciplemakers was denied registered status, because the group was a duplicate of an already existing club within Student Affairs (another rule, and a good one, from the Policies and Rules for Student Organizations, intended to prevent dilution of the SAF). The Disciplemakers then chose to file suit against the University. It was after this that Student Affairs revoked the chartering powers of the USG Supreme Court, citing a need to prevent lawsuits.
The main fault of this rationale was that the USG Supreme Court did not deny the Disciplemakers club status. That group’s application was considered during the summer, when the court was not in the session, and the decision to reject them was made by a Student Affairs administrator.
Dr. Triponey used a legal situation directly resulting from the decision of a lone University employee as the rationale for stripping students of the power to register their peer organizations, granting that authority instead to a lone University employee.
Student Affairs also proceeded to change the rules such that duplicates of existing groups were allowed. Student organizations are comprised only of students and are strictly a student issue, so why shouldn’t students govern them themselves? It is especially befuddling that this power be revoked using, ultimately, such flimsy reasoning.
Shared Governance In Action – Student Club Discipline
Along with registering student organizations, the USG Supreme Court also reviewed constitutional amendments for student organizations. The Student Organization Appeals Board (SOAB), also student-run and whose membership, like the court’s, was appointed by democratically-elected student leaders of the Undergraduate Student Government, handled appeals of the Court’s decisions.
It too was dissolved during Dr. Triponey’s time in charge of Student Affairs. Paid administrators in the newly-created Center for Student Engagement and administratively-appointed students in the Student Organization Conduct Committee (SOCC) now ostensibly handle the bulk of these tasks, but according to members have not even met this year.
Shared Governance In Action – Student Government
In Dr. Triponey’s time the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) itself also dissolved. The University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) replaced it as the official, administratively-recognized voice of students, violating the undergraduates’ forty-five year-old Constitution. This transfer left many responsibilities that once where held by democratically-elected students vacant, leading to the current problems of decentralized student power and great responsibility in the hands of isolated, unelected (or handpicked), and administratively ‘guided’ groups.
Simply put, Penn State now lacks a functional student government structure. A fact recently highlighted by the Association of Big Ten Schools’ condemnation of Dr. Triponey and refusal to recognize the UPUA. The forced dissolution of the USG is both a symbolic and practical ending of shared governance at Penn State, replacing it with mere advocacy, which is the founding mission of the current UPUA. While the UPUA mission is continually evolving, both in structure and in form, it will take administrative help to recentralize and constitute the powers that have been lost or taken by administrators.
Shared Governance In Action – Legal Services & Student Radio
We also would like to note Dr. Triponey’s troubling handling of free legal advice and the student radio station. Dr. Triponey decided to terminate the employment of Mr. Jose Texidor last fall, an attorney who, for years, provided free legal advice to students and served as an invaluable asset to the student body of Penn State.
Attorney Texidor worked for well below his reasonable going rate, and the absence of his (or any) legal counsel for students has left a tremendously embarrassing void for a university of Penn State’s stature.
She also cut all Student Affairs funding (then totaling $25,000 per year) for the student radio station, The LION 90.7fm, a free speech medium at Penn State, citing its content as the reason for her decision in private meetings with the late Robert Zimmerman and then-student President Daniel Hausman. As a result, the station was severely crippled on a basic operational level until students in UPAC – then still in control of the Student Activity Fee – voted the station operational funding on a limited one-year basis.
That this type of brash and unchecked decision-making occurred, not just affecting The LION 90.7fm but all student leaders, without the students’ ability to impact decision making on a legitimate level is case in point of what went wrong in Student Affairs.
The Impact On Students’ Rights & Traditions
The aggregate effects of these policies point to a disturbing trend in the general attitude and goals of Student Affairs under Dr. Triponey – elimination of shared governance, of students’ ability to self-regulate. Those things that students controlled in a centralized process through the USG, the Supreme Court, and UPAC, were handed over to new, decentralized organizations that are managed by either paid administrators or administratively-appointed students. These policies are a threat to the rightful independence of students at Penn State, and Safeguard Old State has opposed them as such.
This university is supposed to be nurturing better, more well-rounded young adults and developing captains of industry and leaders in science and the arts. How are we supposed to become leaders of the world of tomorrow if we cannot lead today at our own alma mater?
Ms. Hurley, you have given many years of valuable service to Penn State. You were here before Dr. Triponey, before shared governance began to fade, and before we saw so many worthy Penn State traditions left in the dust without good reason.
In your time here, you have certainly not given us any reason to believe that the recent trend of anti-student policies will continue while you are in office. The problem now is that we are stuck with these policies until someone takes action.
Thus, in order to initiate positive dialogue on the best ways to revitalize Penn State’s traditions and genuinely empower its student body to meaningfully contribute to University life, Safeguard Old State has outlined a comprehensive roadmap for change.
President Spanier said in a 2002 address to the Penn State Board of Trustees that shared governance here was “the best he has seen.” Recent history appears to contradict this, but we believe through open dialogue and change, this statement can actually become true for both current and future generations of Penn Staters.
The Safeguard Old State Roadmap for Change
1. The Student Activity Fee – Hand absolute and total control of the Student Activity Fee back to the University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC) or another body as appropriately organized. By “appropriately organized,” we simply mean that elected students choose its full membership, while administrators and faculty have only an advisory role within it, and that student decisions on allocations are final. Since the Activity Fee exists solely to benefit students as explained in the aforementioned report to the Faculty Senate, students should have full control over it. While UPAC should be given excusive allocation control, which would mean the dissolution of the Fee Allocation Board, the student government, the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA), should be given policy control about how and on what the Activity Fee can be spent at University Park and provide oversight on the UPAC membership. An example being the UPAC allocation team leaders being internally elected to the UPAC but then approved through the proscribed process of the UPUA (as an accountability mechanism).
2. Transparency in the Student Activity Fee – As a condition of restored control over the Activity Fee, UPAC must in turn must make its budget entirely transparent and provide a report of allocation, so the students affected by their decisions are exposed to the rationale and proceedings behind them.
3. The Student Programming Association – UPUA must have control of the Student Programming Association (SPA). Administrators in student affairs currently choose SPA’s membership and students have no say in whether or not those students stay in the organization. The membership is, then, not accountable to students in any way and should not have the privilege of appearing before FAB as a large ticket item. Since the UPUA is the officially recognized voice of students and is popularly elected, they can do the work of choosing the membership of SPA, determining policy on SPA including whether or not it should even exist in its current capacity. The members of SPA can then be accountable to real students (see Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government for a functioning example).
4. Student Legal Affairs – Legal Affairs must be integrated completely with UPUA.
5. HUB Advisory Panels – The HUB Advisory Board and LateNight Advisory Board must be completely dissolved and authorities granted to the standing committees of the UPUA Assembly. Why have elected leaders if every niche of the campus has a student board? Administrators much solicit the opinion of elected student leaders. If elected student leaders feel that a focus group or advisory board needs to be form, the student government should be the initiator.
6. Status of Advisory Councils & University Affiliates – Those entrusted with chief advisory roles to administrators such as the Off-Campus Student Union (OCSU) and the Council of Student Leaders (COSL) must ultimately be accountable to the student body. Whether this is accomplished through a direct election of their leadership or appointment by the students of the University Park Undergraduate Association, no group can be considered an official voice or representative of the student body to administrators without their being popularly elected.
7. The UPUA As The Ultimate Voice – The UPUA, as the “appropriately organized” student voice according to Standing Order IX of the Board of Trustees, must be the final organization that is consulted on all policies of Student Affairs. This does not imply that the UPUA should be the only organization consulted, but merely have the final decision. This will involve the UPUA, (not just the President) being written into the procedures of Student Affairs and involved in the process for policies.
8. Re-structuring of the Student Activity Fee – The HUB mortgage must be made a priority and paid off as soon as possible, while alternative sources of funding must be found for the other budget items that have been improperly included in the Student Activity Fee, including University Health Services, activities like Late Night and miscellaneous building projects. Handling these matters will result in a lower Student Activity Fee in the future and will be more consistent with the spirit and intent of original Student Activity Fee policy as decided upon by students.
9. The UPUA Gains Institutional Support – Student Affairs should award the UPUA a full-time salaried staff assistant to work in the capacity of a secretary. This occurred historically with student government over the past 50-plus years at Penn State. It must continue if student leaders within the student government are expected by students and administrators to act quickly on the unique needs and demands of the student body as a whole.
10. Control of the Student Union Building – The HUB-Robeson Center (the student union building) must be given back to student control and its offices awarded by an independent committee of the UPUA. Currently, over 60 percent of the office space in the HUB is occupied by either administrative’ offices or for-profit establishments that enjoy monopolies. This is absolutely unacceptable when considering that the building is funded and intended purely for student use. All administrative offices, except those of Associated Student Activities, the HUB Information Desk and the HUB staff managers, must be moved out of the HUB or otherwise eliminated. There are nearly 800 student clubs at this university that are more deserving of space in a student union building than administrative groups.
11. The UPUA & Registered Student Organizations – The UPUA must have the power to recognize student organizations. The Undergraduate Student Government previously and rightfully held this authority, and in finding the justification for its removal lacking, we ask that this power be returned to students. Lingering concerns over legal liability should be handled by University attorneys, who are able to advise a student committee just as easily as a Penn State administrator.
12. The UPUA & Shared Governance In Action – Further, it is vital that there is a student-led court or board of arbitration to handle disputes or constitutional violations, as the USG Supreme Court once did. Dr. Triponey was quoted in the August 31, 2004 Daily Collegian as saying, “The Undergraduate Student Government Supreme Court becomes the discipline arm.” Since that organization no longer exists, there must be a new court or some organization analogous to it to adjudicate student matters. The Student Organization Conduct Committee (SOCC) is, once again, administratively appointed and the ability for elected students to select those who will enforce rules should be restored. The SOCC should be merged with the UPUA and be considered a subordinate board to the UPUA Board of Arbitration. All members of this board should also be appointed through the prescribed process of the UPUA. All judicial boards existing at Penn State should have as their undergraduate student representative(s) members of the UPUA Board of Arbitration.
13. Independence & Student Autonomy – The UPUA must be able to operate as an autonomous organization that is able to amend its constitution internally or through student referendum. This spring, elected leaders in the UPUA voted unanimously for a new Constitution, but an external board chaired by Dr. McGinty of Student Affairs and comprised of unelected students voted to reject the changes. This is unacceptable. For the UPUA to act as the official voice of the students, it must maintain independence in the ability to amend its own Constitution, and to suggest otherwise is farcical. The Revised Constitution of 2007 ensures a system of democratic processes and establishes entities that will make the UPUA capable to handle the responsibilities we wish to see it granted as the officially recognized voice of students, including but not limited to a Board of Arbitration.
14. Future Increases of the Student Activity Fee – All increases in the Student Activity Fee that are above the rate of inflation must be approved by a majority of the University Park undergraduate student body via electronic referendum (i.e. vote.psu.edu). In order for this vote to be binding, no less than 10 percent of the registered undergraduate students at University Park during the semester the referendum is held must cast a vote. If the vote totals fall below this number, the Student Activity Fee cannot be increased beyond the rate of inflation. This could be incorporated into a new UPUA constitution.
15. Students & the Board of Trustees – Students must select the individual appointed to the student seat on the Penn State Board of Trustees, currently held by Galen Foulke. Again, electronic referendum of students should be taken to popularly elect the student trustee, in this case, biannually. Since this seat exists to represent the interests of students, students as a whole must be more involved in the process.
16. Administrative Transparency & Accountability in Student Elections – For all electronic votes by the student body (UPUA, ARHS, and UPAC elections, referenda, etc. – vote.psu.edu), a complete list of the user ids for every student who voted must be published no later than 24 hours following the closing of the polls. This model is no different than what is used for every local, state, and national election in the country, and it further fosters an atmosphere of transparency, one that lends an air of legitimacy to the election process and combats any perception of impropriety.
If you charter a course toward making these common sense and student-centered reforms, which in essence reestablish student shared governance in a centralized, popularly-elected student government with administrative support and advising, much of the damage inflicted by your predecessor can be reversed and a return to glory at Penn State can occur.
In the opinion of Safeguard Old State and the many current and past elected student leaders and alumni that comprise its membership, this should be of top priority and completed by the end of the Spring 2008 academic semester coinciding with the UPUA elections. This will take time and much effort, as there will be resistance, but the long-term benefits to the University and student life will be undeniable. We hope this document will truly serve as a roadmap to restored shared governance, one that you will embrace fully.
Gavin P. Keirans, Executive Director of Safeguard Old State
Thomas A. Shakely, Associate Director for Advocacy Initiatives
Michael Anderson, Associate Director for University Relations
Ralph K. Crivello, Associate Director for Business & Innovation
Annie Bontempo, Associate Director for Alumni Relations
Joseph Veltre, Associate Director for Student Rights