Friday, May 09, 2008

University (non-)Relations

I would like to take this time to highlight the problems one student organization has been having with the Union Policy Board. This has extended into University Relations, as all of their records have apparently been transferred there.

Strategic Game Club has been denied an office in the latest office allocation, despite having filed all appropriate documents on time. In this, the latest round, the UPB held a meeting without notifying anyone who might be interested that it was taking place on May 7. The legality of such a move has yet to be determined, but the important part of that meeting, as far as this discussion is concerned, is that the club was removed from a previous allocation because of, among other things, "current and previous/continued lease-violations".

The idea of "current and previous/continued lease-violations" was news to the club, and London Burt, the Secretary, made a request for previous UPB meetings and any records of lease violations, so as to understand what things were being used against them. Here is the reply he received:
From: Amy R. Watson <>
Date: Thu, May 8, 2008 at 5:42 PM
Subject: Re: Open Records Request
To: London Burt <>

Hi London,

First, this message serves as receipt of your request for an audio copy of the meeting held on May 7th. I do not know if I am able to provide that to you in the next day or two, but I will certainly process your request as quickly as I can.

Second, I am still working on your first request, which I hope to complete soon. One clarification: you did ask for complaints, allegations, or investigations about lease violations about Strategic Gaming Club, but you did not provide the time frame of five years, so I will have to find out if there are any such documents that date back to 2003.

Also, one note. The reason this request takes some time is that in accordance with FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), I cannot release the personally identifiable information of students in conjunction with their activities in an organization. This means that the audio you are requesting as well as the copies of the UPB minutes will be heavily redacted, because personally identifiable information extends beyond just name. It includes other information that would make a student's identity easily traceable, and that includes a student's voice. So, the only portions of an audio recording of a UPB meeting that I can release are the voices of non-student employees who are members of the UPB or at a UPB meeting (for instance, Scott Gore or Tom Viel).
When I complete the request and provide the documents to you, I will provide a more detailed explanation as well as citation to the FERPA federal statute and regulations. I just want you to be prepared that the minutes and audio recording will have significant redactions.

Thanks, and I will be in touch as soon as I can.


Amy Watson
Communications Project Manager/
Public Records Custodian
Department of University Relations
(414) 229-5188
(414) 229-6261 fax
I understand that privacy issues regarding student organizations are to be respected. I would not want the records of random organizations thrown into the public record. However, the organization being considered here is the Union Policy Board, and the material being considered here is the audio record of the meetings at which they make policy for the UWM Union. A such, this is more of a government organization, as they have the power to vote on the Union budget and assign office space within the Union; and their membership, meetings, and activities are open to the public. Being willing only to publish non-students' comments (which make up 1/3 of the voting membership and 40% of overall membership) frustrates the idea of open meetings, especially since this is the committee in charge of a large portion of non-allocable student segregated fees. This unholy alliance of secrecy on the part of the University Relations department and the Union Policy Board in charge of large amounts of money (and half a floor of office space) is an open invitation to corruption.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

SA Sedition Act?

From the preprinted agenda for tonight's meeting:

SA Sedition Act
Author: Senator Ohler
Sponsors: Senator Ohler, Senator Piwarun, Senator Draheim, Senator Kristopeit

Whereas the Student Association at UW-Milwaukee is a venerated institution critical to preserving and expanding student rights, and

Whereas in the recent past some parties have disseminated untrue or otherwise misleading statements about the Student Association, and

Whereas libel and slander are not protected free speech, therefore

Be it resolved that upon evidence of libel or slander communicated by one or more individuals, or by one or more groups, the Student Association shall issue a cease-and-desist order to such entities, and

Be it further resolved that if the aforementioned entities do not cease libelous or slanderous communications regarding the SA after being served, the SA shall pursue civil relief against said parties, and

Be it finally resolved that the SA shall allocate from its reserves for this purpose if and only if no other funding mechanism is available.

I have been asked to comment on this proposed legislation. Here are my thoughts:
1. If the SA is really being libeled or slandered, the Senate has every right to fight against it.

2. However, my past dealings with the SA Senate lead me to believe that the actions the Senators term "libel" or "slander" is probably just dissent, and dissent is a natural part of the democratic process.

3. Therefore, while I support the concept of the bill, I will be very suspicious of any letters sent under its auspices, and extremely suspicious of any civil suit filed.

4. I will be even more suspicious if any such letters are sent my way.

This situation will be monitored here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

No one claims responsibility for Union Policy Board

Last year, the University Student Court denied that it had jurisdiction over decisions made by the Union Policy Board. This year, it's the Administration. Here is the redacted text of a letter sent by the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Helen Mamarchev:

August 14, 2007

Dear [student organization representative]:

Following an extensive review of the Union Policy Board Constitution, I have determined that student organizations' rights to appeal are limited to the Union Policy Board, not the Director of the Student Union or the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.

Therefore, any request for appeal by [your organization] must be submitted to the Union Policy Board for their consideration.

Helen L. Mamarchev, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

This places the Union Policy Board in the unique position of being its own oversight board. So if a decision is clearly wrong, you just appeal it -- to the Union Policy Board. And if they refuse to hear it, appeal that decision -- to the Union Policy Board. This is obviously an exercise in futility.

The Union Policy Board Constitution states that the Union Director may appeal policies within ten days, and he may choose to send this appeal to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, but Dr. Mamarchev's interpretation of this is that student organizations may not ask for such an appeal, not even from the Union Director. This means that, if the Union Director is somehow unable to attend a Union Policy Board meeting at which a problematic policy is passed, and the record of the meeting does not allow him adequate time to file an appeal within ten days, a student organization representative can't inform him of the problem. Instead, this must be filed with the Union Policy Board itself, which meets every month -- far too late for any appeal.

Action needs to be taken now for there to be a legitimate oversight mechanism for the Union Policy Board.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Needless panic over stupidity on Facebook

DISCLAIMER: I do not condone violence against any student, student government official, or member of the campus community at UWM. Any attempt to read the remarks below as encouraging any of the above actions is a misreading, and should immediately be abandoned. If you do not see how to avoid such a reading, please contact me before making any public statements so I can help you understand my intentions more clearly.

The Student Association again made news this week when an alumnus made comments on Facebook suggesting that their problems could be solved by gathering them into a room, locking the door, and gunning them all down. The reaction by SA officials is to demand that this person, who now lives in another state, be charged with a crime for making these remarks. While the comment is stupid, the facts of the case indicate that anyone who has any sort of knowledge of the workings of SA could immediately see that this was harmless, and anyone who has such knowledge but chooses to take the threat seriously is just causing needless panic.

Take the substance of the threat. The poster suggested that the solution to SA's problems would be to call a general meeting of SA in Bolton 150, lock the doors, then take his machine gun (which he conveniently provided a picture of, with him holding it) and open fire. This sounds scary, as he seems to provide all the details as to how to pull this off. However, the chances of this scenario coming to pass are about as likely as watching Jupiter eclipse the sun.

To begin with, the poster makes no distinction among the various officials of SA: senators, justices, and the members of the Executive branch are all apparently treated equally. The rules for calling each branch into session are far different, and no single act has brought all of them together into one place in quite some time. Even if it were to happen, it would not be possible for a single student to call a general meeting of all of them, much less an alum. Emergency senate meetings, which this would have to be, require either the President or five senators, and can only be called for specific purposes.

As for the named room, Bolton 150 is a large lecture hall that is totally unsuitable for senate meetings. The standard setup for a senate meeting is to have a front table with the Speaker and other officials, the senators seated at long tables, and then seating for observers set behind the senators, so that a clear space exists between the senate and the crowd. Bolton 150, while large, does not have the capacity to conform to this. Therefore; since the Student Association would be the ones making the request for a room, they would not choose Bolton 150.

In addition, Bolton 150 is considered a classroom, unlike the normal meeting areas of the SA. Most events done by Student Association are done in the Union, and reservations for these rooms are handled by the Union Reservation and Event Planning Service (REPS). Classrooms, on the other hand, are done through a different agency, and the only time such a room would be used is if no other suitable room were available in the Union, as that process is much longer.

Also, the situation of who would be in a position to lock a door is different. Building custodians and UWM Police officers are the ones who hold keys to classrooms, while the Union's Client Services and REPS people hold keys to the Union rooms. Thus, the chances of finding the keys to lock the door are greatly reduced by doing the "hit" outside the Union. And even this problem is overcome, the fire codes mandate that the doors be openable from the inside even when locked.

Now for the problem of bringing enough firepower onto campus to execute the threat. There are people on this campus who are paranoid even about foam weaponry as used by live action roleplayers and wooden "swords" used for kendo classes. If any of these people saw a real weapon on campus, especially around the time of an historic "general meeting of SA", they would melt the phone lines of the UWM police, the Milwaukee Police, and any other officials they could reach trying to get people onto campus to stop the perpetrator.

To summarize, the "plan" to assassinate SA officials relies on people calling meetings they can't call; into a room that the people who are supposedly going to meet wouldn't use over several more eligible ones; finding one of the few sets of keys that exists to that room and using it to lock doors set up to allow people to exit despite being locked; and managing to bring a large machine gun past a campus that already is paranoid about weapons. As such, anyone who heard about it in all its "detail" should have recognized it for the joke that it is. The administration seems to understand this, as all they have demanded of this person is a public apology. For everyone else, may I point out that a threat that can't be carried out isn't really a threat?

Union Policy Board Meeting of May 7 to be redone

The Union Polilcy Board met on May 7 to finalize the office allocation map, or at least that was the intent. After some discussions about possible moves, a motion was made by SA President-elect Robert Grover to make no changes to the map. This motion was supported by three members (Grover, Stueber, Nelson) and opposed by three members (Scott, Givens, Dercks). The UPB chair then voted to break the tie and approve the map as final.

There are, however, two major problems with this maneuver. One has to do with the map itself. If you take a look at the map, which is found in front of the Student Activities office and in the Student Organization wing near the mailboxes (and has a revision date of 4/30/07), you will see that the UWM Post (currently in EG80) has no listing, not even in the "Not on Map" section, and that their current location is listed as being assigned to Student Association. Furthermore, the SA's current location (EG79) and the Studio Arts and Crafts Center (currently EG77) are both listed as empty.

But there is also a parliamentary problem with this maneuver as well. I reported that there were three votes in favor and three against, with the chair breaking the tie. However, the chair of the UPB is Robert Stueber, who had already voted on the matter. Robert's Rules of Order, the parliamentary authority of the UPB, explicitly forbids a chair from both voting as a member of the board, then again as the presiding officer. This matter has been forwarded to Scott Gore, the Union Director, who is using his authority per the UPB constitution to bring it back before the board.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Helping the Union Policy Board do its job...

With the Union Policy Board scheduled to take its last kick at the office allocation can in just two weeks (April 11, 3:30 p.m. to be exact), I would like to take this opportunity to encourage the members to become knowledgeable in the process. To that end, here are some questions that members should familiarize themselves with. In addition, being able to cite written, verifiable sources of the policies involved is a very good thing.

1. Which documents provide relevant information on the office allocation process?

2. What are the criteria under which the UPB may assign office space?

3. Does filing an application for office space guarantee that one will be allocated to the applying organization?

3a. If so, what should an organization who knows that an applying organization is ineligible for an office do?

3b. If not, under which conditions would an organization not receive an office, and what procedures are in place for checking for these conditions?

4. If the UPB is unsure of the capacity or usage of an office, what options do the members have to gain this information?

5. If, after this meeting, an organization believes there are procedural errors which unduly damaged the members, what is that organization's next productive course of action?

I know of at least two members of the UPB who read this. I would ask any members who do read this to forward these questions to those who do not.

When I can get to it: The election madness

Monday, January 29, 2007

Senate runs late into night to complete funding requests

In a meeting that lasted nearly six hours, the SA Senate approved funding for all of the entities that were recommended for funding by the Senate Finance Committee, plus added funding back into the budget for four entities that were declared ineligible by SFC: Women's Resource Center (WRC); Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center (LGBT), Peer Outreach and Mentoring (i.e. the LINKS center) and the Center for Volunteerism and Student Leadership (CVSL). However, the means by which this was done is a parliamentary nightmare that I, for one, don't feel comfortable about. I will go into the funding votes, from the beginning, and discuss all the decisions made. Those of you who fancy yourself to be experts on parliamentary procedure may wish to inject commentary as to how legal this is, and what the ramifications of the process as done are.

After attending to the necessary business of hearing reports and electing replacement senators to fill vacancies, the next item in Special Orders was the SFC funding requests. Most of the groups who applied were recommended for some level of funding. One group, Campus Activities Board, was approved for a token amount of 5 cents per student (or about $1400 total). This recommendation was made because the SFC did not think they were doing anything useful, but since they are a standing committee of SA, they must be funded at some level. Campus Activities Board is the organization that sponsors the Homecoming events at UWM, and has sponsored several other events in the past.

Six other organizations were declared ineligible for SFC funding: These are the organizations, together with a summary of the reasons they were declared ineligible:
Panther Dance Team -- neither a sub-unit of SA nor a critical service as defined in the SFC Bylaws section VII.D
Union Activities Board (8th Note) -- neither a sub-unit of SA nor a critical resource
Peer Outreach and Mentoring (LINKS) -- not a sub-unit of SA, and provides duplicated service already covered by the Peer Mentoring Center in Bolton Hall
Center for Volunteerism and Student Leadership -- not a sub-unit of SA and provides a duplicate service, since SA also provides opportunities for volunteerism and student leadership
Women's Resource Center -- not a sub-unit of SA, provides a duplicate service since SA has a Women's Issues Coordinator. Also, while it is an on-campus resource center not currently funded by SAC, it does not meet the requirements of Section VII.D8, because it does not serve the needs of all UWM students.
LGBT Resource Center -- not a sub-unit of SA, provides a duplicate service since SA has an LGBTQ Issues Coordinator. Also, while it is an on-campus resource center not currently funded by SAC, it does not meet the requirements of Section VII.D8, because it does not serve the needs of all UWM students.

With the exception of the SA Legislative and Executive allocations, two stipulations were put onto every group for which the SFC recommended funding:
I. SA Logo Stipulation: All official advertising/materials of the organization/deparment must prominently display the official SA Logo. The SA Senate will determine when a violation of this stipulation has occurred. A first time violation within any 12 month period will carry a fine of up to $10000, as determined by the SA Senate. Second and subsequent violations of this stipulation within any 12 month period will carry a fine of $10000.
II. Oversight Stipulation: Not including SFC suggestions, significant alterations to proposed budgets or negative alterations to services provided must be approved in advance by the SA Senate. The SA Senate will determine when a violation of this stipulation has occurred. A first time violation within any 12 monthe period will carry a fine of no more than $50000, as determined by the SA Senate. Second and subsequent violations of this stipulation within any 12 month period will carry a fine of no less than $10000 and no more than $50000, as determined by the SA Senate.

Two other groups received additional stipulations:
UWM Athletics: Funding level unconditionally set at $74.00, and to approve $77.75, contingent based on acquiring an additional $250,000.00 annually from the University, and it can not be from Segregated Fees.

Student Activities Office: Amount of funding would not go toward an assistant director.

When the funding requests came up, a question was put to the floor as to whether the groups that were denied funding could even be brought up by the Senate. From the SFC Bylaws:
XV. Senate Approval
A. The Senate may approve, deny or change a recommendation to fund or deny funding to an applicant.
B. The Senate may not fund an applicant whose request for funding was not considered by SFC regardless of the reason for non-consideration.

The argument (presented primarily by Senator Dan Bahr) was that since the organizations were declared ineligible, they were not considered by SFC for funding, and therefore could not be added back in by the Senate. After submitting the matter to the Student Court justice kept on hand to act as Parliamentarian, the ruling was that the determination of ineligibility was effectively a recommendation by SFC to deny funding, which could be changed by the Senate in accordance with Part A. Part B was put in place to prevent an organization from bypassing the SFC process by waiting to submit until after SFC had finished their recommendations, not to give the SFC absolute power to deny a group without Senate oversight.

With that ruling dealt with, the first motion on the floor was to approve the recommendation as presented by SFC. As this requires a 2/3 vote, it failed. Then a motion was made to split off the decision on the six groups denied funding plus UPARK. That motion passed by a majority vote (it did not approve or deny funding). The next motion was to approve the recommendations by the SFC for all other groups, which passed by the necessary 2/3.

After this, a motion was made put the four student resource centers (LINKS, WRC, LGBT and CVSL) into a package and approve them en masse. Heated debate ensued, but this motion failed by one vote.

The next motion was to approve the LGBT center for eligibility. After more heated debate, this passed 21-7.

The next motion, which would approve WRC, had another strange quirk in it. Senator Antwan Jones was not in the room when the roll was called, but he entered as the vote was being counted. When he asked for the right to vote on the matter, he was denied, being told that the votes had been counted (even though they had not yet been announced). Despite that, the motion failed failed 18-10, another close call. As it turned out, his vote would have made it 19-10, which still would have failed.

At this point, a motion was made to adjust the SAC funding, as now it looked like SAC would need extra funding to cover the lost resource centers. After more rancor, the motion was tabled until afterward to see just how much extra funding would be needed.

At this point, it was getting to be 10:40 p.m., and the ballroom was only reserved until 11:00. (A word of advice to whoever reserves rooms for SA: If you are going to reserve the room until 11:00, go all the way and reserve it until midnight, as no one will reserve a room for that hour anyway. True, no one's going to kick you out of that room in the meantime, but at least you don't have the mad panic at 10:40 wondering what to do.) So a motion was made to recess the meeting until another time to be determined by Speaker Voigtlander, so that they didn't automatically reject all unconsidered organizations. Since no one was sure if they could make the meeting time and they couldn't agree on one on the spot, the vote to recess failed 14-16. Thus the meeting continued.

Debate times were constantly being shortened to get things done. So here are the remaining votes in rapid succession:
Package WRC and LINKS and approve them for eligibility: Passed 21-10
Deny eligibility to UAB & Panther Dance: Passed 21-9
Approve UPARK at $9.00, up from the $8.50 recommendation: Passed 25-4
Approve Eligibility for CVSL: Passed 24-5
Approve the four newly eligible organizations at 2006-2007 levels: Delayed to consider amendment
Amendment to stipulate that the funds only be used for student employees: Failed 4-26
Approval of 2006-2007 funding levels: Passed 21-6

Also, in a (literal) last minute action the Concurrent Services Act was passed. This defines the Presidential Cabinet in the Student Senate Bylaws as the President, Vice President, Chief of Staff, Treasurer, Academic Affairs Director, Legislative Affairs Director, and Shared Governance Director.

A complete list of funded groups, their per student funding levels, and an approximate total funding level, will appear later.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why is it closed? And why was it ever open?

The Student Organization Programming Center (SOPC) has been closed since the start of the semester. While I was never a big fan of it, there has been no explanation as to why this place was closed.

My cynical side wants to assert the utter uselessness of the SOPC as a reason for closing it. But there are so many other things that operate at this university without any concern for such trivialities as usefulness, so that's not a viable explanation.

I have heard a rumor that it is related to the general defunding of programming centers by the Senate Finance Committee. Links, CVSL, Women's Resource Center and the LGBT Center were apparently told they were not eligible for student funding because they don't service the entire student population. I don't think they are related, but I do want to comment on the defunding.

The reasoning for defunding them came from the newly passed Senate Finance Committee Bylaws:

VII. Criteria for Funding Eligibility
C. The applicant must:
1. Provide a critical resource, as its primary mission, not offered by other campus entities.

D. "Critical Services" consist of:
1. Student Health Facility
2. Transportation services for students
3. Professional legal services for students
4. Student housing assistance
5. Direct administrative support for student organizations
6. Child care services for students
7. UWM Athletics Department
8. On-campus student resource center, not currently funded by SAC, whose primary mission is to serve the diverse needs of all UWM students

That last part is the key. The argument is that these centers don't serve all UWM students, but rather a limited subsection of students, and therefore don't qualify for funding. But each of these were created to enhance the services for an underrepresented group, and the sum total of their efforts do serve the diverse needs of all UWM students. This seems a bit shortsighted on the part of the SFC.

The actions of the SFC must be approved by the student senate and SA President before they take effect. But as of now, this is a rather dramatic departure from previous policy and it deserves to be looked at.