For UPUA, It’s Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Wednesday night’s meeting of the University Park Undergraduate Association was, perhaps, a microcosm of sorts for the Sixth Assembly, a snapshot of the first two months of T.J. Bard’s presidency. Unfortunately, the Assembly failed to capture the momentum provided by last week’s wholly successful meeting, instead falling back on its own reliable trope of creating disagreement where unity ought to be fostered.

That’s not, of course, to say that it was an unmitigated disaster; it most certainly was not. However, what could have been a landmark occasion in the UPUA annals was instead made a General Assembly runaround meeting like any other.

Last week, news broke of impending legislation that would amend the UPUA’s budgetary policy–and although it was introduced on somewhat contentious grounds, all indications were that it had the full backing of the student government’s higher-ups. Indeed, just last week, Chairwoman Kelly Terefenko told Onward State that she expected the amendment to “go through with little to no issue.”

But predicting beforehand what will happen once a piece of legislation hits the floor is a dangerous proposition, and despite the best efforts of Agricultural Sciences Representative Spencer Malloy, Academic Affairs Chair John Zang, and Off-Campus Representative Eli Glazier, the bill’s co-sponsors, the “Ray-Ban Ban” failed to be voted into effect.

Malloy described the legislation as a “clarification” on what UPUA’s near-$140,000 budget can be spent on, and the text made that clear. It would have made explicitly impermissible “funding made for the sole purpose of promoting the UPUA,” with a few exceptions, namely those for “direct promotion of services and events,” “open positions,” “information for the benefit of the students,” and “other circumstances explicitly addressed elsewhere within this document or UPUA policy.”

Predictably leading the charge against its passage was Kyle Lorenz, the Programming Chair who championed the spending of $3,000 on promotional items two weeks ago, which spurred the debate.

“I think that in order to move forward after the promotional campaign legislation, we need to define what’s kosher and what’s not,” Lorenz said, before adding that he had “some very fundamental issues with this.”

For one, the legislation would require the purchase of promotional items to be tied to specific events–for instance, cups or sunglasses could be purchased to give out at, say, the UPUA Safety Social–but not bought in bulk for future usage. And it was with that detail that Lorenz took greatest offense.

“By and large, if we want to be the most efficient and fiscally responsible student government that we can, I think this goes directly against that,” he said.

Malloy addressed Lorenz’s concern, stating that bulk purchasing would force promotional items to be “so generic that we’re simply placing the UPUA logo because we have to generalize for events two years down the road.” Instead, he argued that the items should be related and convey the message of the related event or service.

Glazier chimed in with his own interpretation of the legislation he helped to pen. “Kyle said it would be pigeonholing and contraining. Is that not the point of the amendment?” he asked, saying that the legislation was designed to restrict UPUA from making poor decisions with its finances, with student money.

However, it was Governmental Affairs Chair Adam Boyer who best summed up the controversy: “Apparently, this wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it was,” he said. Indeed, these lingering questions, as well as one repeatedly posed by Mallory Reed regarding the purchase of a UPUA banner, were enough to send the legislation back to the Internal Development committee, through which it passed unanimously before reaching the Assembly.

While the kinks were left to be ironed out on that Amendment, another one related to the ill-fated Steering debacle of two Sunday’s past drew few questions, passing unanimously. The “Louis Brandeis Sunshine Amendment,” named after the Supreme Court Justice who famously declared that “sunshine is the best disinfectant” clarified the circumstances on which a meeting could be closed to the public, after Chairwoman Terefenko closed that Steering meeting citing concerns about the media’s ability to accurately report on its proceedings.

Sponsored again by Malloy and Glazier, this time joined by Mallory Reed, the legislation laid out specific requirements for closing a meeting. First, it would require a two-thirds majority, but only under certain circumstances, including during privileged or confidential discussions on finances or other such information, or during interviews. Like the amendment before it, this was indeed a reaction to a specific event, one Glazier intimated could never happen again.

“If this had been passed before the incident had occurred, the incident would not have been allowed to occur,” he said.

The final piece of new legislation, yet again sponsored by Spencer Malloy, addressed numerous textbook-related manners, including the creation of a Textbook Advisory Group, which would work to promote student interests as they pertain to textbook costs–including pushing for the inclusion of textbook-related questions on SRTE forms. It also created a “Student-Friendly Textbook Award,” to be granted to faculty members that have worked to “provide rewarding education to students while also respecting the rising cost of textbooks.” Malloy said that the winning professor could be awarded a plaque, and that it would work to create “positive press.”

“I know it’s a lot,” Malloy said, “but rather than pass four or five small pieces, let’s tackle this issue of textbooks head on and get started today.”

The response was unanimously positive. Glazier said he wished something like this had been created earlier in his Penn State career, lamenting that it wouldn’t take effect until midway through his senior year. Bard specifically thanked Malloy for his work on the issue, saying “I really appreciate this legislation.” And putting aside their past differences, even Lorenz lavished praise on Malloy, saying the legislation was “one of the best that has come through this Assembly this semester, and I think everyone feels that way.”

Committee reports didn’t reveal any new developments, except for one from Boyer’s Governmental Affairs committee. Boyer said that the Voter ID bill was making its way back to the Pennsylvania State Senate, and that Senator McIllhinney is mulling a proposal which would include, among other forms of identification, student ID cards. He urged everyone, especially his fellow UPUA members, to get in contact with their representatives to support that amendment, regardless of their overall stance on the  issue.

So no, Wednesday night’s meeting wasn’t all bad, not by any stretch of the imagination. But in the wake of last week’s hugely successful meeting, and given the agenda before it, Penn State’s student government could have made even more significant strides.

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About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.

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