NORFOLK, VA: Members of the Old Dominion University College Republicans are crying foul after nearly half of their approved yearly budget was taken away on the basis of a technicality. Worse yet, the student in charge of taking away the Republican Club’s money is using student government funds to pay for a costly trip to a gay rights festival in the UK.
Last November 22, the Old Dominion University College Republicans made a request to have a large portion of their existing budget, about $1200 dollars, transferred from one line item to another. This money, previously set aside for a campus speaker, would be used instead to fund the group’s annual trip to the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, held yearly around the nation’s Capital. The money was transferred on November 23rd with the express understanding that it would be used for CPAC.
On Wednesday, February 19, 2014, the College Republicans went to their club mailbox and found a letter from the Finance Director of the ODU Student Government Association saying that because the club did not submit an email by January 17, 2014 concerning the use of our budget allocation, that up to half would be taken away and put back into SGA’s “collective pot.”
The letter even stated that our budget for next year could be affected.
The club’s budget, which previously held enough to pay for lodging and tickets for the ten students attending CPAC, over $1800, was slashed to a little over $1000.
As Chairman of the Old Dominion College Republicans, I have fought to get our club’s funds returned. But my experiences with student government leaders left me concerned that personal bias may have played a role in the removal of our funds.
The College Republicans questioned the Student Government Finance Director, ODU student Connor Norton. Norton said his hands were tied by SGA bylaws and there was nothing he could do. If we had further questions, we would have to take it up with the Coordinator for Student Organizations, Andrew Fortman.
You can guess what happened next. The Coordinator informed the club that he had no power to return the money and that the Finance Director had sole authority and full discretion to reassign our funds and could do it right now if he wanted.
When asked why the money was taken away, he replied that the email did not specifically say when CPAC was. (The Finance Director made no effort to find out the dates for a trip, which our club takes every year.) He also said that our request for transfer was sent before a message requiring an email to notify the SGA that the bulk of our budget would be used in the spring semester was sent out to every organization. Upon further investigation, this was found to be false, due to the fact that the message requiring a separate email was sent out on November 20th, two days before the request was made, and three days before the transfer was conducted.
While the College Republicans were getting their budgets slashed, the SGA decided that the bulk of its money would be well spent sponsoring a theatre troupe to perform at a gay rights festival in the UK, instead of enriching the lives of the students who attend the university. This $5000 granted by SGA, without any contingencies, was on top of $7000 raised by the group to support their two week trip to the UK and Ireland.
The troupe is led by none other than Connor Norton, the Finance Director of the Student Government Association.
That’s right. The very same person in charge of taking funding from the College Republicans—on the basis of a technicality, mind you—was responsible for overseeing the funds that will pay for this far more costly overseas trip.
The Finance Director is also the former head of the campus’ main LGBTQ rights organization, is very active in the Hampton Roads LGBTQ community, and has the full backing of the administration in his endeavor to take his group to the UK.
If you sense a conflict of interest here, you aren’t alone. To those of us who belong to the College Republicans, it feels as though the money we were counting on for our own trip has been appropriated by the Finance Director—and that money is being used for a project in which he has a clear personal interest.
$5000 in university funds is a large amount since it will only benefit the seven students who will travel to the UK gay rights festival. That’s seven students out of 25,000 at Old Dominion.
The student Finance Director has full discretion to return our funds. But it looks like he has other financial priorities.
Here’s the bottom line: If university administrators and student government leaders are willing to support the Finance Director’s costly trip to an overseas gay rights festival, then they ought to hold that same student accountable for the money he has taken from College Republicans and refuses to return.
Julius Lacano is a student a Old Dominion University and chairman of the ODU College Republicans.