Cornell Multicultural Group Penalized for Mismanaging Funds; Supporters Cry Discrimination

by Nathaniel Hunter - Cornell University on December 18, 2013

The African, Latino, Asian, Native American Students Intercultural Programming Board at Cornell University wasted, overspent and even “lost” tens of thousands of dollars during the last school year, but attempts to cut its budget because of the mismanagement were labeled discriminatory and insensitive – and ultimately defeated.

Despite the mismanagement – in which ALANA spent lavishly to fund sparsely attended events that cost as much as $90  per person, used $5,600 to help host a LGBTQ dance party that included go-go dancers and drag queen performers, and allegedly “lost” 8,000 – the group’s funding will remain level.

The Student Assembly voted in early December to give ALANA, an umbrella organization for about 50 multicultural and minority student groups, about $108,000 for the 2014-16 school years, down only slightly from its 2012-14 budget of $118,000.

The move is a reversal of a November decision by the student government’s appropriations committee to slash the group’s budget by nearly $25,000, and comes on the heels of outcries of discrimination and unfairness.

For example, Cornell alum and former ALANA President Yizary Polanco said in an email to students that cutting the budget represented Cornell’s inability to appreciate “the beauty of a growing diverse community.”

But in explaining the rationale behind the cuts at a Nov. 21 meeting, appropriations committee members said ALANA had lost approximately $8,000–there was no record of where it had been spent.

Beyond this, the organization overspent on programming, even by the standards of its own constitution, which states no more than $1,000 may be allocated to an event per sponsoring organization. But at least one event, Filthy/Gorgeous, a yearly dance party put on by the LGBTQ group Haven, received as much as $5,600, records show.

Even when this cap wasn’t broken, ALANA still broke the Student Assembly-recommended funding limit of $10 per attending student: ALANA’s events averaged out to $23 per student, with some events, including banquets, costing as much as $92 a head. What’s more, many of these events drew minimal interest from students, who pay $229 annually in mandatory student fees.

As if all that wasn’t wasteful enough, the group threw away $450 for pins for the executive board.

Initially, student government members stood firm on their decision to slash the group’s budget. Even the notoriously left-leaning Cornell Daily Sun published an editorial which said calling the cuts anti-diversity was “a shameless emotional smokescreen that skirts the real issue.”

But fear not controversy seekers, for the drama does not end there.

After the decision, Sun student columnist Bailey Dineen (who prefers the pronoun “they” and helps lead the LGBTQ group Haven) decried the very structure of the appropriations process, stating the student government’s expectations of ALANA to follow its own bylaws and make sensible spending decisions “were made and applied without being sensitive to the needs of cultural umbrella and programming organizations like ALANA.”

“Our budgets are reflections of the vast realities of our missions,” Dineen stated. “Our operations are necessary to the safety of a large portion of the student body, and to expect us to adhere to the same guidelines that regulate byline-funded groups like the Slope Day Programming Board or Athletics and Physical Education is absurd.”

So, to update the previous sentiment that the cut was discriminatory and anti-diversity: it’s not just the cut itself that’s discriminatory, but the entire appropriations process. Because ALANA sponsors cultural and minority programming, it must be held to a different standard than any other student-funded organization.

In conservative circles, Dineen’s logic is called the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Moreover, the argument has at least one fatal flaw: it doesn’t take into account that ALANA was unarguably fiscally irresponsible.

For one, they lost $8,000. And it isn’t as if they merely failed to meet the student assembly’s standards for fiscal responsibility, as Dineen argued: they didn’t meet the standards set forth in their own constitution, which they themselves wrote.

What Dineen’s arguments, Polanco’s email, and similar sentiments occasionally echoed on campus speak to is the modern tendency to immediately shout “discrimination!” at any act which negatively affects minority groups. This “call-out culture” creates a downright toxic atmosphere, in which honest and constructive discussion is thrust to the wayside in favor of calling out racism, sexism, or any other -ism you can think of.

But in the end, at least at Cornell, it worked. Political correctness trumped logic and common sense.

“I think this was a mistake,” senior Geoffrey Block, vice president of the student assembly appropriations committee, told the Sun about his peers’ decision to give  ALANA its full funding after all the uproar. “I think (the assembly) caved to political pressure.”

Fix contributor Nathaniel Hunter is a student at Cornell University.

IMAGE: bruckeelb/Flickr

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