The management and allocation of student funds is the single most important task undertaken by the SBA. I recently emailed SBA President Nick Nikic with a request to view the SBA Executive Budget pursuant to a policy that permits disclosure, at his sole discretion, upon student request. Mr. Nikic asked that I make a more specific request and explain both my reasons for requesting it and how I intended to use the information. I responded that I could not be more specific without seeing the budget in the first place, and that I was seeking to determine for myself what, if anything, in the Executive Budget truly needed to be kept secret from the students that fund it. My request was ultimately denied, and the fact that I even had to take these steps is indicative of an important issue in the upcoming SBA elections: the disturbing lack of transparency and openness in the SBA.
Those who attended the SBA Town Hall last week, or watched it online, witnessed the stark contrast between the views of the SBA presidential candidates on the issue of student government transparency. While the candidates agreed, sensibly, that information which would implicate personal privacy concerns for individual students should be kept private, Sam Stone and Mike Lueptow outlined very different approaches with respect to SBA budget disclosure.
Mr. Lueptow expressed reservations about general disclosure or publication of the SBA budget, because it would be “hard for an executive of a student group to have to be challenged on every single spending decision.” Mr. Lueptow is likely correct that life on the SBA would be easier if such critical information was kept in secret, and therefore largely immune to student scrutiny. The problem, and the reason that I strongly disagree with Mr. Lueptow on this critical point, is that the goal of a democratically elected representative body, which the SBA purports to be, is not to ensure that those representatives are insulated from student concerns so that they might govern more efficiently. It strains credulity to imagine that the SBA can effectively respond to student concerns about the budget when it is kept under lock and key, disclosed only upon specific request which the SBA President can deny for any reason or no reason at all.
As surprising as it may be to most readers that two sides exist on the issue of transparency in student government, Sam Stone is squarely on the side of transparency. At the Town Hall, he advocated forcefully and passionately for the proposition that “students have the right to know where their money is being used.” Mr. Stone welcomed comment, critique, and debate on the funding decisions of the SBA. This is not mere rhetoric; as a 2L Day Senator, Mr. Stone authored and sponsored numerous legislative proposals to increase openness on the SBA. Those that complain that the Senate spent “too much time” considering legislation would do well to read the SBA website’s description of the duties of the legislative branch: “The Senate proposes, considers, and votes on legislation.”
When casting your vote this Wednesday, keep in mind that the candidates disagree on this fundamental issue of student government transparency. To be sure, there are other issues at stake, but none as important as this one. I believe, as Mr. Stone does, that students have a right to know precisely how their funds are being allocated to student groups and events. That is why I wholeheartedly endorse his candidacy, and urge you to Vote Sam Stone.