Lawsuit results in student oversight of activity fees

In response to an August 2015 lawsuit filed by Francisco Gomez over the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group’s use of a portion of its $3 share of the activity fee to lobby politicians, Lane offered Gomez an opportunity to help shape the new Student Activity Fee Committee and a $6,500 settlement. All Lane student activity fee funded organizations will now have to annually provide full accounting of funds expended the previous year, along with a full budget proposal for the upcoming year, to the new student committee.

This will affect all of the student-run organizations that currently obtain funding through the $56 per student activity fee. This includes over 20 groups like the Titan Fencing club, Asian/Pacific Islander Student Union, Black Student Union, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance and OSPIRG, among others. Both Lane student publications, The Torch and Denali, also receive funding from the student activity fee.

“My original intent [in filing the lawsuit] was to put pressure on OSPIRG and have them adhere to fiscal transparency standards,” Gomez said.

The SAFC will be made up of a student non-voting chair, the ASLCC Student Leadership Director as a non-voting advisor, two ASLCC student government chosen representatives, two union chosen student representatives (NASA, MECHA, BSU, GSA), two student representatives chosen by other fee-receiving organizations, one student representative chosen by the Council of Clubs and four students selected during the annual ASLCC election process.

The meetings will be open to the public, and are planned to take place at least once per term. The first meeting next fall will take place before Oct. 30. The final recommendation from the committee must be forwarded to the President of Lane by the end of the first week of Spring Term each year.

The previous referendum process had students getting 500 student signatures on their petition to raise the activity fee to support a new organization. Their initiative would then be voted upon in the next ASLCC student government election.

“It was giving a blank check to all these organizations with no transparency from the other side,” Gomez said.

This is because once the initiative was approved the fee increase became mandatory and the organizations would be able to, in theory, use their funds for whatever they desired. Gomez believes that having the student organizations provide their accounting information and creating a set of guidelines for the organizations to follow will keep them in line with the students goals for those organizations.

Christina Walsh, ASLCC Student Leadership Director, will be serving as a non-voting adviser for the committee.

“Having an advisor is intended as a resource for the committee, a consultant and someone who can guide the group to avoid viewpoint bias,” Walsh said.

Viewpoint bias is when a student organization is discriminated against based on the views that they hold, including religious or political views. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Southworth v. The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System that schools must only consider factors that have nothing to do with the views of that organization when evaluating funding.

To avoid any viewpoint bias, the committee will be provided with a set of guidelines. These guidelines include enhancing students’ campus experiences and educational opportunities. How closely these guidelines are followed by the student organizations will affect the decision of the committee.

“It will take a moment to figure out how it’s going to work and how we can work within that system to our best ability,” Ben Jelinsky, OSPIRG campus organizer, said.

All organizations will have the ability to appeal if the committee does not provide proper funding because of a dysfunction within the committee, or if the organization provides new information that was not available at the time of the decision. If the appeal is considered by the committee, the organization will either keep its original level of funding or be provided additional funding.

For example, if the Table Tennis Club was given less funds because they weren’t able to provide the receipts from their equipment purchases, they could appeal once they found those documents.

The committee’s decision is not final. Its recommendation will be reviewed by Lane’s president and the Board of Education for a final decision.

“I think we still have student power which is great,” Jelinsky said. “We want students to have a voice in their funding and in what groups they have on campus.”


UPDATE 5/18/2016: The first reference of Lane’s GSA was referenced as the Gay-Straight Alliance. It has been changed to the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, which is the current name of the organization.