UPUA Budget Commission Leadership Ousted After Communication Breakdown
It was a brisk April night outside the third floor of the HUB Robeson Center when the University Park Undergraduate Association passed the legislation to create a budget commission of its own. This commission’s stated purpose was to review the available information on the university budget in order to inform students on how their money was being spent, and recommend improvements to the University.
At-Large Representative Elias Warren was appointed as chair of the commission by President Lennartz, with Off-Campus Representative Anthony Christina named as his vice-chair. It was obvious from the start that the pair was passionate about the cause, and they got to work right away, putting together a committee full of UPUA members and accounting students that was well-equipped for the project.
Their first order of business was to send a Right-to-Know request to the university budget office, asking for the budget in its entirety — a request that almost certainly would be denied. After there was no response to the request, Christina filed a request appeal to Harrisburg’s Office of Open Records.
That was strike one.
Soon after, UPUA executive board members — including President Courtney Lennartz and Chair of the Assembly Spencer Malloy — were contacted by members from the Penn State Student Affairs 0ffice who notified them that Damon Sims, Vice President of Student Affairs, was not happy.
Sims and his colleagues were concerned that the Budget Commission didn’t simply ask for their assistance in working on the project. In Malloy’s words, they “wanted to know how they could us help us without us having to take quasilegal steps.”
Soon after, Lennartz and others informed Warren in a video chat meeting that they were frustrated with his lack of communication regarding the RTK request and subsequent appeal. The leadership felt that taking such a significant step in filing a RTK request crossed the line, and should have at least been run by UPUA leadership.
An admittedly flustered Elias Warren agreed that nobody involved with the commission would contact third parties without first discussing it with UPUA leadership in the future, although he walked back that statement shortly after the meeting. Apparently, Warren and Christina were under the impression that their commission was authorized to operate completely independently from UPUA, although UPUA by-laws specify that all commissions — though technically independent — report to the President.
At this point, Harrisburg informed Christina that the appeal was not received, and was presumably lost in the mail. They decided, after some insistence on the part of Christina, that they would re-send the appeal.
In an e-mail exchange between the two, Warren seemed hesitant to go forward with the second appeal, asking for assistance on a response to President Lennartz should she question his decision. Christina responded, “DON’T be afraid of getting flack. Last time I check YOU were the Chairman of this INDEPENDENT Commission, not her!”
So they sent the second appeal, with Warren rationalizing his decision not to inform Lennartz by saying that they were just “following up and [it was] not something new.”
And here’s the real kicker — Warren and Christina had the entire debate about whether or not they should inform President Lennartz before re-sending the appeal in an email account that the entire UPUA leadership was authorized to monitor.
Malloy got word of the appeal being re-sent, so he emailed Warren and Christina to inform them that the commission was being put on hold for the time being and that they should not represent UPUA as chairs of the budget commission effective immediately.
Malloy said that the executive board was worried that they were “sending out random stuff with UPUA letterhead”, and so it was decided that Warren and Christina would be asked to step down from their budget commission positions. They both declined, claiming that their resignations would be an admission of guilt.
At last week’s UPUA meeting, a motion to dissolve the budget commission in its current state was adopted, with the executive board stepping in and leading the project from that point forward. Malloy said that “the original commission’s goals didn’t align with ours” and that “the commission will be more efficient under the direct leadership of President Lennartz and Vice President Mullen.”
It’s clear that UPUA leadership believes that Warren and Christina lost sight of the project’s original vision. Indeed, it seems as if the commission decided to try to uncover the dark hidden secrets in the university budget, instead of practical solutions to the information that was already available.
“There’s no Sandusky Cessna jet sub-account that we’re going to find in the budget,” Malloy said.