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Campus 'bullies' or student activists?

Campus organizations draw ire from vocal students and administration

On Dec. 1, Arts & Sciences Student Council (ASSC) learned its ability to allocate funds to Arts & Sciences (A&S) student organizations had been revoked.

The decision was made by Assistant Dean of Students Eric Grospitch and Director for Student Life Angela Cottrell after multiple student organizations complained about ASSC.

“Throughout the fall semester we had been working with ASSC to encourage them to create and follow their bylaws related to funding student organizations,” Grospitch wrote in an e-mail to U-News editor-in-chief Melissa Oribhabor.

“Throughout this process we heard from many student organizations, not simply the Black Law Student Association as you identified, that meetings were cancelled, and funding processes were not communicated to the organizations, resulting in programs and events being cancelled or postponed,” the e-mail said.

Grospitch declined to comment further despite two requests from U-News.

ASSC Comptroller Brittany Cook and Deputy Comptroller Elizabeth Johnson shared a different perspective.

According to them, members of the Black Law Student Association: Collegiate Student Division (BLSA:CSD) led the charges against ASSC.

BLSA:CSD President Derecka Purnell said she was told her organization did not fall under ASSC when her organization first approached Cook to submit a funding request.

“Initially, we tried to submit a request for funding,” Purnell said, “but the comptroller said we didn’t fall under the Arts & Sciences Student Council, and we were supposed to request funding from the law school.”

ASSC President Patrick Shami said he confused BLSA:CSD with the graduate Black Law Student Association when approached by BLSA:CSD treasurer Donald Reeves.

Reeves said Shami told him BLSA:CSD should submit its funding request to the Minority Student Affairs Office because his group’s title included the word “black.”

“Despite previous confusion about whether BLSA:CSD fell under A&S, it is officially recognized as an A&S organization, and we don’t dispute that,” Shami wrote in an e-mail reply to Reeves.

“As to my comments, BLSA:CSD is a minority organization as defined by its purpose and name,” Shami wrote, “and while I personally feel that BLSA:CSD is a special-interest organization and should go to SAFC (Student Activity Fee Committee) first, I accept it as an A&S organization.”

Reeves said he wasn’t explained the criteria used to fund A&S organizations.

“When I was speaking with the president, he gave me a list of organizations,” Reeves said. “I guess his rationale is that he just ‘picked and chose.’”

When Reeves finally submitted an operational budget request of $6,682, his organization was offered only $630, which was declined by BLSA:CSD.

Cook said she was confused why BLSA:CSD had submitted the operational budget request to ASSC.

“Any budget over $5,000 is supposed to be submitted to SAFC,” Cook said.

Cook and Johnson also thought the $6,682 budget was for a conference.

“Because the conference was not on our campus and they were simply going to watch a speaker, we did not feel this met our standards,” Johnson said.

Purnell and Reeves said the $6,682 request was the group’s yearly operational budget, not a single confernce.

ASSC’s total budget is $28,000, which was $10,000 less than its allocation last year.

Cook said ASSC had allocated $1,611.22 to BLSA:CSD in total, including the $630 that was rejected.

The only group to receive more, Cook said, was the Dossier magazine, which received $1,795. Dossier had requested $3,400.

In total, Cook said, BLSA requested an excess of $10,000.

Cook said after declining the $630 allocation from ASSC, that BLSA:CSD members started attending weekly funding meetings for ASSC.

“We decided we were going to present on an event-by-event basis,” Reeves said.

Cook recalled Reeves and BLSA:CSD advisor Kimberly Johnson attending ASSC funding meetings.

Cook described Kimberly Johnson’s behavior as rude, and said she would slam books and cover her face with a clipboard when her questions were being addressed at meetings.

“She continues to tell us that she’s an undergrad and that she was there to let other undergrads know that this group exists,” Elizabeth Johnson said.

Shami also recalled Kimberly Johnson telling ASSC she was an undergraduate student.

“I remember her saying that she was a freshman at one point,” Shami said. “One of the complaints she had was that a lot of students didn’t know there was a student council and she was having a hard time figuring things out.”

It wasn’t until ASSC requested the name of BLSA:CSD’s advisor, Cook said, that they learned Kimberly Johnson’s role in BLSA:CSD.

Kimberly Johnson is also Administrative Assistant No. 3 in the Chancellor’s Office.

Kimberly Johnson was unavailable for comment when contacted by U-News, although administrative assistant Ramanda Hicks confirmed Johnson was a graduate-level student at UMKC.

Cook said other BLSA:CSD members disrupted funding meetings by answering cell phone calls and speaking out of turn.

Cook said Reeves even wore headphones during one meeting.

“What’s really sad is that it’s a bully situation,” Cook said. “Their demeanor at the funding meeting is definitely different than at the executive meeting.”

Reeves stated otherwise, denying Cook’s accusations.

“I wouldn’t say there was any tension,” Reeves said. “I feel like we were trying to ask questions and get answers to their policies and procedures. We were just asking questions.”

But BLSA:CSD did not get the answers they wanted, Reeves said.

“They did try to get a funding body or a funding committee intact, but it was real sporadic how they did it,” Reeves said. “Each week there would be someone new or somebody who wasn’t there before.”

Cook said ASSC had a meeting in early November to amend its bylaws and Constitution.

“We first started out with amending the constitution,” Cook said. “There was a meeting to determine how to vote, and they made all these suggestions. We followed up with some of these suggestions, and they [BLSA:CSD] refused to vote.”

However, Purnell and Reeves said their concern was ASSC’s lack of communication, not the allocations they had received.

“There was so much confusion on their part,” Reeves said. “All semester we asked for the minutes from all their meetings. We were never given those minutes, and we never found out what those allocations were actually for.”

Cook said ASSC sent minutes from meetings to BLSA:CSD, although Purnell said the only funding meeting her group received minutes for was the Oct. 7 meeting. Shami attached the minutes in an e-mail to Purnell dated Nov. 21.

“I’ve been asking for a copy of all the minutes since September,” Purnell said. “I even had a meeting with the president and was promised minutes within a week’s time, and it was only the most recent funding meeting [that I received minutes for].”

Cook acknowledged the lack of minutes from recent meetings on the ASSC website was a problem.

“Their biggest problem is that we do not have control over our website right now,” Cook said.

The problem that hurt ASSC the most wasn’t the lack of minutes or miscommunication with BLSA:CSD, Cook said.

In November, ASSC’s funding committee failed twice to meet quorum, the number of committee members necessary to proceed, which meant student organizations could not present funding requests.

Students from BLSA:CSD had been trying to present requests as individual students for several weeks so they could receive funding for an upcoming trip, the National Black Pre-Law Conference, an event unrelated to BLSA:CSD.

Reeves said after the meetings were cancelled due to the inability to meet quorum, he, Purnell and other BLSA:CSD members complained to the Office of Student Involvement and later met with Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Mel Tyler.

“Speaking with him, we asked what could be done about the student organizations that are trying to present,” Reeves said “We asked what we can do as students and what he can do as vice chancellor. He said he would look into it.”

Cook said she received an e-mail from Grospitch demanding a special circumstance funding meeting.

“We got an email Friday morning from Eric [Grospitch] threatening to pull all of our funding if we didn’t have a meeting that weekend,” Cook said.

Cook said the meeting was Tyler’s suggestion.

“What’s disturbing about that is that ASSC had been constantly criticized for not following the guidelines,” Elizabeth Johnson said. “They wanted us to break every single guideline by having that special meeting over the weekend. Only two of us were able to make it and no one was able to present.”

BLSA:CSD’s account was allocated $52, which surprised Purnell, because students had requested allocations as individuals, not as BLSA:CSD.

“Nothing we submitted had BLSA’s name on it,” Purnell said.

Elizabeth Johnson said she later received an e-mail from Director for Student Life Angela Cottrell saying ASSC would need to meet with the administration before allocating further funds.

On Dec. 1, Cook, Elizabeth Johnson, Shami and ASSC Vice President Anthony McDaniels met with Cottrell and Grospitch, who informed them their ability to allocate funds had been revoked.

“They didn’t give us a chance,” Elizabeth Johnson said. “The decision had been made to revoke our funding.”

Cook said she believed the decision was based on misinformation.

“[BLSA:CSD] misconstrued a lot of facts to the administration,” Cook said. “Eric could have looked at the money from those closed sessions. Everything we did was consistent. They didn’t ask for any of that. They just went straight to the top and said that none of [the records] were there. And it was there, but they didn’t give us a chance.”

Cook said Grospitch and Cottrell told her the decision to revoke ASSC’s funding privileges was made by Tyler.

Cottrell denied this.

“After working with the ASSC and other student organizations, faculty members and advisors, the recommendation was made to Vice Chancellor Mel Tyler to suspend ASSC’s funding privileges,” Cottrell said, “and the recommendation was approved by the vice chancellor.”

Cottrell said she and Grospitch are working with ASSC to reinstate the organization’s funding privileges, but declined to comment further.

On Dec. 9, Cottrell sent an email to A&S students informing them of the decision to revoke ASSC’s funding privileges.

“This change of the funding process is only temporary,” Cottrell wrote. “When ASSC resumes hearing funding decisions, you will be notified via e-mail by me.  Until then, please continue to submit this document directly to [SGA] Comptroller [Brandon] Maurer and expect your requests to be heard by members of the Student Activity Fee Committee.”

ASSC, however, isn’t the only organization members of BLSA have had issues with.

When Reeves and Purnell met with Tyler, they also discussed other student organizations, including the U-News.

“We went on talking to him about a lot of different issues going on around campus,” Reeves said. “Regarding A&S, we realized there were a lot of issues with funding bodies on campus. Arts & Sciences Student Council was the one that opened our eyes.”

Reeves and Purnell are also members of an unofficial group known as The Movement.

Reeves said The Movement was formed in early October after the publication of a controversial Forum article titled “Do I have a booger?” in Issue 6 of the U-News by former A&E editor Nicole Bomgardner.

“I knew a lot of students on campus and people in the community were wondering how this article got printed in the paper,” Reeves said. “I guess this was just another eye-opener about the racial climate on campus.”

Issue 6 was removed from circulation and the newspaper apologized for the article.

A meeting was held afterward with the U-News to discuss student concerns. The discussion was conducted by Multicultural Student Affairs Director Tiffany Williams, who invited students to participate who had spoken out about the article.

Several minority student organizations were represented at the meeting, including The African American Student Union (TAASU), National Panhellenic Council fraternities and sororities, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), BLSA:CSD and other organizations.

Since the forum, Reeves said The Movement has expanded its focus.

“I guess you could say The Movement kind of became official when the article was published,” Reeves said. “The Movement has grown to a broader area of everything because the U-News just opened our eyes to the bigger issues that were going on around campus.”

Reeves said one goal of The Movement has been to obtain diversity and transition training for all campus organizations.

“We were trying to get diversity training for the U-News, and we were going to suggest diversity training for the SGA, SAFC and student councils for all the different schools and organizations,” Reeves said.

The U-News volunteered to have diversity training, which will be conducted through the Office of Diversity Access and Equity and is scheduled for Jan. 23.

Reeves, however, said The Movement cut off contact with Oribhabor after the U-News published a letter in the paper’s Forum section stating the U-News would no longer have official contact with The Movement.

Reeves said The Movement also pushed unsuccessfully for Student Government Association (SGA) to pass a resolution requiring diversity and transition training.

“We have spoken with the SGA executive board and requested for them to implement a resolution, so that it could be implemented for spring 2011,” Reeves said. “They said there was some confusion on their part, and that resolution was never able to get presented to the SGA to get voted on. They postponed us until the spring semester.”

Reeves said The Movement hopes to make a positive impact.

“We’re trying to open up people’s eyes because I feel like it is needed on campus,” he said.

BLSA:CSD= Black Law Student Association: Collegiate Student Division

ASSC= Arts & Sciences Student Council

A&S= Arts & Sciences

SGA= Student Government Association

SAFC= Student Activities Fee Committee

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