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Student Council overturns SAC decision on debate broadcast funding

By
September 30, 2004

In a marathon meeting that stretched from Tuesday night well into Wednesday, Student Council (SC) voted to take the rare action of disagreeing with a Social Affairs Committee (SAC) decision on the funding of a campus event, choosing to grant the Swarthmore Voter Registration Coalition (SVRC) $150 for an event that will include the screening of the presidential debates on Thursday night. The decision was the culmination of over two hours of sometimes heated and sometimes philosophical debate about SAC, Student Council, and their roles in representing the student body.

The process for funding began with a typical proposal to SAC for funding. Ethan Ucker ’07, one of the heads of SVRC, requested $350 at SAC’s Monday evening meeting–a quantity of funding which Ucker said he was told was consistent with that for a large weekend party. SAC rejected the proposal on the basis that it fell under the category of “events which advance political ideologies.” Ucker expressed to Student Council that he felt that the event was not promoting a political ideology but rather was “a chance to forego partisanship,” and thus was requesting that Student Council provide funding for the event. He noted the value of SAC funding for an event, saying that it increases campus awareness of the event and serves as an endorsement by the student body.

Student Council representative and ex officio SAC member Myra Kate Vallianos explained SAC’s decision to SC, saying that “although it doesn’t promote an ideology…it is promoting political ideologies–that’s what debates do.” She added that the vote was “surprisingly close.”

Student Council members, with SAC Co-Directors Darshan Patel ’05 and Charlie Sussman ’05 present for reference at various times, set about the task of debating the correctness of SAC’s decision. With Vallianos abstaining, the other ten members of SC quickly decided that SAC had incorrectly interpreted its bylaw and that the SVRC event should have received funding.

The decision on the proper course of action to rectify the error was much tougher, and heated debate ensued between those who wanted simply to send a message by funding a minimal amount for the party and those who felt that SVRC deserved to get all $350 it initially requested. Complicating the matter were the fact that SVRC had been offered funding by the President’s Office should SAC refuse to pay for it and that SAC had already granted its weekly suggest amount of funding.

Student Council attempted to balance all of these concerns, including the dominating theme that SC and SAC are ultimately organizations that work for the good of students. Jon Fombonne ’05 expressed this view, noting that “SAC is supposed to represent, in its decisions, what the student body wants to spend money on.” Sussman explained that even if SAC had agreed to fund the party on a philosophical basis, it would likely not have given SVRC all $350.

While Student Council strongly considered granting SVRC all $350, an 8-2 vote (Vallianos abstaining) ultimately granted Ucker and his group $150, with the understanding that the rest would be provided by the President’s Office.

Such a debate on SAC’s interpretation of its bylaws has long been anticipated. Last spring a similar question arose when the College Democrats requested funding for an all-campus study break. Student Council may further consider revising the bylaws to make them more explicit on this issue, especially since this decision may set a precedent for the funding of other nonpartisan political events.

Asked his reaction to the decision, Ucker said: “I think it was important that the organizations that represent the student body get on board with this in more than a symbolic way without taking away funding from other events.”