UPUA Responds to Feedback: Proposed Amendment Would Ban Promotional Spending
Sides had been taken. The battle lines had been drawn. And Sunday afternoon’s meeting of the UPUA’s Steering Committee was shaping up to be one that defined the future of the organization.
Rewind, if you will, to last Wednesday, when the UPUA passed legislation authorizing the purchase of promotional items, including sunglasses, cups, and pens, to the tune of $3,000 from its budget taken from the Student Activity Fee. During debate on the proposal, it received significant criticism from within, passing by a relatively slim 25-15 margin. It wasn’t until the morning after that most UPUA members realized what they were getting themselves into.
Academic Affairs Chair John Zang realized the negative implications immediately, but was on the short side of the voting Wednesday. And starting Thursday, he heard all about it.
“The feedback was unanimously negative,” Zang said. It wasn’t just what he read on Onward State and in the Collegian, either. Zang was confronted by students who recognized him as “that guy from UPUA,” including one who accosted him at the Homecoming Parade.
“He came up and asked me ‘Where are your glasses?’ and I had to explain that I was against it,” Zang said. He also mentioned that even Penn State administrators voiced their disapproval to him, which doesn’t happen often.
“It’s unusual for them to even take notice of what we do.”
For Zang, who’s been involved in UPUA since his freshman year, seeing his student government in such a prominently negative position was a nightmare, and he was worried about “losing UPUA’s organizational integrity.”
“The reaction to this has been the worst since I’ve been in UPUA, worse than Donut Day,” he said.
With that in mind, he, alongside Ag Sciences Representative Spencer Malloy and Off-Campus Representative (and Onward State co-founder) Eli Glazier, sponsored a resolution that would amend UPUA Assembly’s bylaws, and prohibit the sort of spending the student body so unanimously reviled. In an email sent out to all members of the Assembly, the three laid out their argument, writing in part:
There is a time and place for promotion. There is a person responsible for such activities: the Press Secretary. Maggie Quinn does a great job at getting UPUA’s name out there. Her budget exists to do precisely what the recently passed measure intends to do. Therefore, with this amendment, we propose that we let the Assembly do what it does best, plan activities and pass legislation that directly benefits students, and we will let Maggie do her job, which is to make people aware of what UPUA is and what we are up to.
And that bring us back to Sunday’s meeting of the Steering Committee, where Zang had taken the unprecedented step of bringing the amendment directly to Steering, bypassing the Internal Development Committee in an effort to see the legislation hit the floor this Wednesday.
“I wanted to have something–anything–to put UPUA’s name on, acknowledging that the student body is upset with us, and that we’re changing the way we spend money,” Zang said. For him, only by responding as quickly as possible could UPUA save face–and he encouraged members of the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Council, on which he served, to show up at Sunday’s meeting, to present a unified front.
Chair of the Assembly Kelly Terefenko had other ideas, however, and, in an unsavory move, suspended UPUA regulations by closing the open-by-rule meeting to outside observers in an effort to hammer out issues with the amendment outside the public–and media’s–eye.
“Going on, it looked like it was going to be John against the other chairs who didn’t understand the amendment, and we didn’t want it to look like it was 1 on 6,” she said. “I didn’t think it was appropriate to have a story written about that.”
Yet, inside the closed doors, she said, the dispute quickly moved towards a resolution. Although dueling emails had been sent to UPUA members over the course of the week–with Terefenko taking the opposing viewpoint, and internal politicking had become prevalent, it was merely confusion, not resistance, that divided the Assembly.
“John and his co-sponsors were fueled by all the student feedback, and they wanted to let the student body know that we’d heard them,” Terefenko said, “but because this was written at the last minute, and didn’t go through committee, it created a lot of confusion.”
One concern was that although the Assembly wouldn’t have purchasing power for promotional items, “what was left out was kind of a loophole” that required closing. “If the Executive spends less than $1,000, it doesn’t have to be voted on,” Terefenko said, bringing up issues of transparency. “We realized this could be a problem; we certainly don’t want to spend student money without their knowledge.”
She consistently reiterated that the concern wasn’t with the intent of the resolution, but rather with the minor textual ambiguities. “Students don’t want promotional items that just say UPUA on them,” Terefenko said, in a stark reversal of her outspoken support of last week’s legislation which authorized the spending.
And although Zang ostensibly came out of Sunday’s proceedings on the short end of the stick, even he presented a unified front of UPUA. “My mindset going in was that I don’t care if this passes or if it fails, if I make a big enough stink about it, maybe we can get things to change,” he said.
But after meeting with the heads of the other five committees, as well as Chairwoman Terefenko, Zang had a change of heart. “I’m ready to go through committee to ensure that we do this the right way. I’ll take reform over time before the quick fix.”
But according to Terefenko, the process should be pretty straightforward from here: the amendment will go first to Internal Development, chaired by Nick Grassetti, then on Sunday to Steering, and by next Wednesday, it should hit the General Assembly of UPUA. Zang, Malloy, and Glazier–as well as the coalition they’ve built–need only wait one more week for their changes to become implemented. And barring some unexpected purchasing at this Wednesday’s meeting, all the unusual plays on both sides will have been for naught. The student voice will prevail.
“I expect this to go through with little to no issue,” Terefenko said.