Student Activity Fees Financing Fancy Retreats, Money Handled Improperly

Photo by: Gesmen Begum
Photo by: Gesmen Begum

York College students paid for a vacation this past August with a hefty chunk of questionably approved student activity fees financing a retreat up in the Hudson Valley for Student Government Association (SGA) members and other club leaders, according to interviews with faculty members and documents obtained by Pandora’s Box.

Historically the SGA’s elected members invite club leaders to join them every August on a three-day retreat that involves leadership training, bringing in expensive speakers. The selective group of students receive an all-expense-paid trip to a hotel up in the Hudson Valley using student activity fees, which are $208 for each full-time student and $126 for part time students.

(Disclaimer: Pandora’s Box Online/Magazine Editor Allyson Gill accompanied the group this year)

The York College Association, composed of faculty, administration and student government leaders, is the regulatory body for deciding how student activity fees are allocated. But this year’s retreat, which was held at the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa, was funded without formal approval from the Association, causing resentment among members who felt like their authority was sidestepped.

“No students were invited to attend the meeting,” said Rooney. “The people for the retreat decided to circumvent the Association.”

The retreat funding should have been proposed to the Association during a July meeting, but because of issues with student elections during the Spring 2014 semester, student representatives for the Association weren’t filled. Administration members proposed holding the meeting without them, but Prof. Theresa Rooney, who serves on the Association,  refused to show up without student representation.

“I found it problematic that they would even conceive of having an association meeting without inviting any students,” said Rooney. “How could you do that? It’s their money.”

Rooney and other officials were told the funding was approved through the president’s office with the understanding that the Association would reimburse the funds in the Fall.

Some members of the Association, including student representatives, are incensed about not being advised on the allocation, since student clubs are routinely denied funding for not filing paperwork in the proper fashion.

Vice President of Student Development and head of the Association Geneva Walker-Johnson claimed that the money used for the retreat was funded by a loan from York College’s Auxiliary, which are profits culled from the bookstore and parking lots. She said the loan has since been repaid.

“If it has, it wasn’t approved by the committee at a meeting,” said Rooney in response to Walker-Johnson’s comment.

Minutes from the last Association meeting support Rooney’s statement.

“Nothing was basically met from the retreat,” said Gesmen Begum, SGA Vice President. “It was not much of a learning experience, it was just a vacation to have fun,”

Amin said that the retreat required better planning and organization and there was a lack of communication among the board and SGA members, and many students took it as a vacation experience than as a learning experience.

“The retreat was not necessary, it lacked proper planning and lack of communication. Last year’s retreat was 80 percent better, this year was a waste of time,” Amin said.

But the money used for the retreat, which cost $40,000, was borrowed from the President’s fund on the assumption that the retreat would’ve been approved.

The debate over the retreat dates back to a a May 14 Association meeting when a scuffle broke out among Association members led by Rooney who claimed the funding for the retreat was approved illegally, according to the meeting’s minutes.

The Association will meet again the last week of October. As of the last meeting on Sept. 11, retreat funding hasn’t been paid back, according to meeting minutes.
Rosanna Singh contributed to this piece.

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