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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration

Student Programming Assocation, Unequivocal Failure?

Editor’s Note: This blog post originally appeared on the website of “Safeguarding Traditions Of Penn State,” which was the precursor to Safeguard Old State. It appears here for posterity.


The Student Programming Association (SPA), the administratively created and contrived organization to allocate portions of the student activity fee, continues its embarrassing march toward total failure this week as deadlines for student applications have been pushed back for at least the second time until Thur., December 7.

For those students or alumni who have up to this point wisely remained uninformed on what SPA is or how the student activity fee works, I’ll offer some helpful background on everything before closing by pointing out why I believe SPA and what it represents is not only ultimately anti-student, but by extension anti-diversity, both things that a supposedly “student centered” university would seemingly care about.

SPA was created over the course of the past few months through the administratively run Center for Student Engagement and by Dr. Vicky Triponey in Old Main. What it represents is the neutering of student-control over their own increasingly unwieldy student activity fee and in turn how those monies are allocated and to what degree to particular student organizations.

The University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC) was the sole organization responsible for controlling the allocation of the student activity fee to the some 700+ student organizations that exist at Penn State. UPAC, an organization that gave as much as $36,000 to a single student group just two years ago now is, by rule, not allowed to provide more than $1800!

Greg Heleniak, UPAC Chairman, has had his powers vastly curtailed as probably about 80 percent of UPAC’s power was stolen out from under it. Whatever the reason, Heleniak has failed to adequately advocate for student rights on this issue, though we here at PSU STOP would absolutely love to see him become a more ardent advocate and encourage him to contact us.

Now that UPAC’s own budget is so much smaller, where have the rest of the millions from the student activity fee gone? Why, to Dr. Triponey’s pet projects, of course! The Funding Allocation Board (FAB) and Student Programming Association (SPA), both more or less created by Dr. Triponey or her employees, by design exist to govern the majority of the activity fee.

So what’s the problem with these organizations? Well, aside from the fact that neither yet exist (and thus are not allocating much needed activity fee monies), neither organization is having very much success finding student leaders to partake in their contrived structure and purpose.

SPA particularly is going through what I’m sure Dr. Triponey hopes are just some awkward birth moments, though I would speculate that it speaks to the quality (or lack thereof) of SPA that application deadlines have had to be extended yet again because they’re not getting anywhere near the amount of students they need to make this sham organization viable.

According to Stan Latta in the HUB-Robeson Center, Penn State administrators are refusing to release the names of students who have so far applied or numbers on how many people actually have applied. Really, though, the problem is that neither UPUA, FAB or SPA offer true, democratic student leadership by their structure.

Sure, all of these groups are more or less “run by students”, but SPA and FAB specifically do not have elections but rather are filled by administrative appointments. Does anything about this system sound terribly wrong to anyone else?

In the case of SPA, the organization would require about 50 student leaders to function at its appropriate capacity. A source inside the HUB has speculated that somewhere less than 20 students have applied to be a part of SPA – even after administrators having extended the registration deadline three times and paying for quite a bit of advertising for the organization.

Just walk down to the HUB and you’ll see on the grand staircase the gigantic paper mache “S…P…A” letters hanging from the ceiling. Does anyone else realistically think any student-run organization could score this kind of deal?

What I’m saying is that Penn State administrators are propping up this joke of an allocation body in the SPA, which unilaterally deprived major money from UPAC, a truly student-run organization that had proven itself more than capable of quickly and effectively distributing required funding.

Why, Penn State? Why are you so gravely damaging student-run institutions and the once-proud history of shared governance at the most expensive public university in the United States?

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One of the things ive always found funny (ironic funny, not haha funny) about PSUSTOP is the degree to which the baseline has shifted over the years with regard to . UPAC is a great example.

When they first came up with the SAF in the late 90s, those at PSU concerned with student rights andd freedoms (those on the fledgling RFPS, for example) were objectiong in general to the very idea of taking money out of the students pockets and redistributing it to student organizations.

Within a few years, almost everyone accepted the SAF as a given, and the general criticism was that not enough of it went to student organizations and that UPAC, the body that controlled it, was undemocratic (less than 1/3 of upac members are elected, by the way) and that the administrators who were involved with it had too much influence.

Now, the vanguard of student leadership that once fought the adminsitration to make UPAC more subject to student control, fights to preserve the very small amount of particiaption present in UPAC as it stands.

It makes me wonder — what will they be fighting for five years from now. Its all too easy to imagine the hot issue being the Pat Scanlans, or Tom Shakelys of the next five years fighting not for a more democratic proccess, but against the removal of students (elected, appointed or otherwise) entirely from funding decisions.

JC, your observation is an interesting one, although I’d like to note that I don’t think UPAC is some fantastic, totally democratic organization. It’s got problems just like most others of its type, and while I wish it were more democratic, PSU STOP and those who support the things it support need to fight *first* to preserve at least the mechanism by which students enjoy power at all (USG, UPAC, etc) *before* they can go fighting for a more democratic process through them.

Get it?

It should be that students could demand democratic representation and receive full decision-making responsibility and authority. However, Tom is right; since we are dealing with unreal and unreasonable administrators like Triponey, we have to take what we can get and then work from there.

We certainly cannot take the UPUA approach, though. “Proving our worth until we are, someday, given some sort of authority.” We must work to vigorously augment what small democratic authority we currently have.

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