Student Fee Board Facing Discrepancies Between Handbook, Operating Guidelines
In its cycle to determine the 2018-2019 student fee level, the Student Fee Board chose to close its deliberation meetings from the public, and therefore from all those who will pay the fee — Penn State students. Student Fee Board Chair and Student Body President Katie Jordan says the intention was not to keep things hidden and emphasized members weren’t voting at these meetings.
“It wasn’t meant to hide transparency or anything like that at all,” Jordan said. “It was more just for logistics and making it more smooth for when we did vote. It wasn’t like there was any votes taken, it was more of the recommendations that were provided and presented on [Wednesday].”
Intentions aside, holding closed meetings is a direct violation of the Student Fee Board Handbook. However, it’s permissible under the University Park Student Fee Board Operating Guidelines, which the board adopted on October 13.
“The reason why we [created the Operating Guidelines] was just because there wasn’t really anything in the handbook that talked about procedural things, so like what a quorum was, what would happen if the chair was absent, how a chair is elected, if there’s a secretary,” Jordan said. “Things like that weren’t necessarily explicitly stated, and we wanted to make sure that those were there for the future just to guide them for guiding principles.”
The Operating Guidelines of the University Park Student Fee Board outline procedures for meetings and hearings:
Article XIII: The Chair of the Fee Board shall be able to determine the meeting schedule and be able to add or remove meetings as needed, based on new business or the hearing schedule. The Chair shall also be able to call closed meetings of the Board for deliberation as well as personal matters. Each unit that presents shall have approximately 20 minutes to present and 20 minutes for questions.
The Student Fee Board Handbook includes the following:
Section 1.1: The use of this fee should be public knowledge and actively reported to students. Meetings and official business of the Student Fee Board shall be open to the student body.
Section 1.5: All meetings of the three bodies of the SFB are open to the public with all times and locations communicated to the student body.
Section 3: All hearings/meetings will be public, including deliberation and voting, and advertised to student media.
It’s not rocket science to see the discrepancy between the Board’s documents.
“The handbook obviously was what the Student Fee Board was founded on, but there was a lot of things that weren’t necessarily clear, so I think that, although it states that the voting is public – voting was public – deliberations for the most part were,” Jordan said. “But the ability to call closed meetings, like it’s stated in the operating procedures, for personnel matters or if I feel the need to do that. They kind of work together and I would say that since the operating procedures were adopted most recently, that’s what we were following.”
Section 1.7 of the handbook states, “Any proposal that alters, replaces, or changes existing guidelines and/or policies as written in the SFB Handbook must be submitted to each of the fee boards and the Steering Committee in its final form at least ten (10) academic days prior to voting on said proposal. Changes approved by the SFB become effective on the first day of the following Maymester.”
Notably, the Operating Guidelines passed in October only apply to the University Park Student Fee Board, so it’s not entirely clear how such a policy addition fits into this guideline. At any rate, the Operating Guidelines were deemed effective immediately rather than on the first day of the following Maymester.
“For the future, I would recommend future boards make it more consistent, or they can have that conversation when they want, but for this year, we decided to do that just because it was…kind of disorganized in a sense of not knowing what was happening in those meetings [last year] where the deliberation was occurring with figuring out logistics of the fee that no one really knew besides the people on the board what was going on anyway,” Jordan said. “So it’s not like we were breaking the handbook, but just in addition to, maybe adding like an additional clause. The operating procedures are more for like ‘what to do’ scenarios. The handbook is more guiding, if that makes sense, and why it was founded and what the makeup is.”
Though the Student Fee Board Handbook is far from a notarized legal document, it serves as a de facto contract between the board and the student body. And the board hasn’t held up its end of the bargain.