Monday mornings bring CCSC swarming—over issues of transparency, accountability, and passionate quotes. CCSC Bureau Chief Nadra Rahman reports.
In last night’s meeting of the Columbia College Student Council (CCSC): deliberations over Joint Council Co-Sponsorships and Grant Opportunities (JCCC) funding, spontaneous and spirited debates over transparency, and the unyielding force of VP Finance Anuj Sharma.
To Close Or Not To Close? That Is The Question
Last night’s meeting would have been relatively brief, if not for an unanticipated furor over the motion to close the meeting for the final discussion and vote over JCCC grants. On one side: defenders of transparency and accountability. On the other: people who value consistency and space for honesty.
At the start of the meeting, VP Finance Anuj Sharma announced that he would motion to close the meeting after the first JCCC presentation. When a hapless reporter asked why, when these discussions had previously been open, the room erupted into discussion, with USenator Sean Ryan leading the charge for open meetings. He was concerned about the constitutionality of the action and the sudden shift in rules, stating they should “always err on the side of keeping our meetings open.” Sharma countered by saying it had been a mistake to not close meetings earlier, especially since this would be in keeping with JCCC meeting procedure. He stressed the importance of being able to speak honestly and candidly about funding decisions, which would be difficult in front of an audience and furthermore, dismissed any constitutional issues. After this first round of debate, members still voted to close the meeting; the vote was close.
The issue arose again after Sharma motioned to close the meeting again, after the second presentation. Ryan began by urging VP Communications Josh Sudman to record the votes of those voting for and against closed meetings, but it was Pre-Professional Rep David Mendelson who drew the most cheers when he said: “If we can’t publically deliberate something without fear of our constituents, that is a sign of poor governance.” It got heated. Other great lines: “As someone who pays the student life fee, I would be interested in knowing how you spend my money,” “I’m not going to name names” (Sharma), “terrible, disgraceful.” Sharma stuck to his points and reiterated the importance of not mismanaging funds; in an ideal world, the closed meetings wouldn’t be necessary, but they are. When members voted again, the results were much closer—resulting in a tie. A recount made it clear: the meeting would remain open.
At this, Sharma scoffed and announced, “I honestly expect people to say things the press is going to cover critically.” Someone else whispered “This is a win for free speech.” From another quarter, “Jesus.”
As for the JCCC presentations themselves, first up was the Columbia Debate Union, which requested funds for their participation in the Pi Kappa Delta debate tournament, to be held at Boise State University in Idaho, a “nowhere place,” according to one of the presenters, offending some Midwestern Council members. The presenters conceived of JCCC funding as “seed funding” that would help the Columbia team establish enough credibility to then host their own tournaments and generate their own revenue. They fielded questions about the difference between public forum and parliamentary debate and clarified their ideas about hosting a tournament, eventually leaving the room for the closed deliberation. The Council agreed to fund $1800 towards their trip.
Next up was Hillel’s Habitat for Humanity trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, which led to a lot of discussion and ended in the most anticlimactic fashion possible. The presenter requested funds for travel, lodgings, and other costs associated with the trip, which was meant to help college students engage more deeply with their surroundings. In response to questions, he said the group had not tried fundraising, had not been able to get grants from the Alternative Break Program (ABP), and could not get funding from Hillel. This was when the second round of debates over closing the meeting erupted, so since the meeting remained open, we saw the discussion take place.
Sharma decided to take his commitment to honesty to heart, bluntly saying “I don’t think we should fund this.” 2017 President Jordana Narin concurred, saying that ABP had been designed to serve such needs, and if the group had missed the deadline, “I don’t think we should be obligated to cover that for them.” Members were confused by the funding relationship between Hillel and the Habitat for Humanity project and questioned whether there were really no other avenues available for funding. Mendelson, a proponent, questioned why this request was so different from the debate team’s, adding that the bonding opportunity was important because “Jewish students face a lot of anti-Semitism on campus.” 2019 Rep Ricardo Jaramillo thought that voting wasn’t even possible, regardless of the request’s merits, because the number of CC students going on the trip was unclear. Thus came the swift denouement: The presenter announced only 9 CC students (out of 24 total students) were going, Sharma realized this brought the request down to under $1000, and the discussion was tabled—since the JCCC could make the decision by themselves in that case.
The discussion seemed frank and open, so maybe the advocates for a closed meeting were misguided in their thinking. On the other hand, some of it may have been fueled by the adrenaline of the recent decision, and the shift towards not funding the trip may have been either genuine or borne of an urge to prove that transparency did not lead to mollifying everyone. We’re not sure if Sharma’s fears came to life, in any case.
FLIP & Meal Share
VP Policy Abby Porter briefly brought up a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) over a potential partnership with FLIP, other student councils, and Meal Share, a replacement for the defunct meal-sharing app Swipes. She and other Council members voiced their concerns over pricing, since the cost for each survey pushed to a user would be $2, a possibly exorbitant cost in total. After further review, the vote on the MOU will take place next week.
Update, 2/20, 9:25 pm: A quote previously misattributed to Sean Ryan has now been corrected and has no attribution. VP Communications Josh Sudman has replaced VP Campus Life Nathan Rosin in one instance.
Closed Vote via Bwog Staff