UPAC Votes to Keep Policy Voting Confidential
The University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC) met last night in the HUB to discuss and vote on two policy issues that would have increased transparency in how the organization operates.
That is, if both had passed.
Tempers flew at times as UPAC debated in front of UPUA’s brass, who had come to support the transparency initiatives.
That’s a lot of confusing 4-letter acronyms, so let’s get everything straight. UPUA is, of course, the undergraduate student government here at Penn State that we so-gleefully cover every Wednesday night (or when they buy iPads). UPAC is the organization that allocates most of the Student Activity Fee — $4 million worth of your money, to be exact. UPUA is a fairly mundane topic among the student body, but UPAC is even less known, despite its significant influence in its responsibility to allocate literally millions of student dollars to various clubs and requesters.
UPAC meets every Tuesday night, however, meetings are private unless policy changes are being discussed (as opposed to regular meetings when money is allocated). Such was the case last night as UPAC met to vote on two potential policy changes that would have increased transparency and increased accountability to the student body. But alas, it was not meant to be.
The first policy discussed implored UPAC to produce an annual report and disseminate it on its website detailing all the groups who received UPAC funding throughout the year and what the money allocated was used for. Essentially, UPAC was giving itself a yearly homework assignment to make it easier for students to access its records and figure out just where their student activity fee money is being spent. The policy was proposed by Onward State editor and UPAC member Kevin Horne (see — we’re just full of transparency today).
That policy would later pass unanimously.
The second policy did not have such luck. Also proposed by Horne, the change would allow policy meetings to be completely open to the public. As it stood, students not on the UPAC committee were permitted to attend the meeting up until recommendations (essentially, amendments) were made and the committee voted. Before the recommendation period begins, the gallery is kicked out so that no member of the public can see who is voting for what.
UPUA showed up in full force to support the open meeting policy, with President Katelyn Mullen, Chairman Anthony Panichelli, former Chairman Spencer Malloy, and former Chief of Staff and iPad zealot John Zang all speaking passionately about it during the public session. They believed that UPAC has a responsibility to the student body to vote intelligently and confidently, while also maintaining transparency. But it was no use.
Many members of the UPAC committee argued that by allowing the public to see which way they voted, it opened the committee up to outsiders influencing the vote. The majority of the dissenters on UPAC said they believed people on the committee weren’t confident enough to vote with other people in the room.
Yes — you read that right. This group of over 30 students controls how $4 million is spent, but admits that it isn’t confident enough to vote on UPAC policy that affects every student at University Park with fellow students in the room.
As the debate raged on, it was clear that the policy would be defeated. Dual UPUA/UPAC members Kevin Horne and Katia Esaray both argued vehemently against the notion that UPAC should compensate for weak-minded members, but the policy change received almost no support from anyone else in the discussion.
Instead, an amended policy was proposed by the UPAC leadership team that acted as a sort of compromise. Under the UPAC leadership proposal, policy meetings would be open for their entirety (aka no throwing the gallery out) but UPAC members would vote by secret ballot so they would not feel pressure from the gallery to vote one way or the other.
That policy revision received significantly more support from the committee during discussion.
After discussion ended, I was kicked out of the meeting (ironic, I know). The committee voted down the completely open meetings proposal, but passed the revised version that still keeps voting records a secret in a heavily contested 15-11 vote.
So, now you can watch UPAC members vote, but you can’t see which way they voted because they willingly admit they’re not confident enough to vote in front of anybody.
I’ll bring the popcorn.