By the time Undergraduate Student Government President Mark Maloof issued an executive order calling for the new financial bylaws to be placed under review, fifteen of Stony Brook’s clubs had been defunded, including the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
The clubs were defunded on January 16 after being found in violation of a section of the new bylaws that states that clubs that don’t use USG funding to host at least one event during the course of a semester will lose their funding pending a senate appeal.
Maloof, however, says that the idea of revising the financial bylaws had been in the works before then.
“I think when you have clubs being unhappy for an entire semester that’s unacceptable,” he said.
The current financial bylaws, a set of rules and regulations that dictates how Stony Brook’s more than 200 USG-recognized clubs can spend their money, were written over the summer by USG Treasurer Thomas Kirnbauer and former USG Vice President of Student Life Allen Abraham, who resigned last semester over a scandal involving assistant pay.
According to a number of sources in USG, the bylaws were shaped in large part by threats of a lawsuit from Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative organization whose chapter on campus would have otherwise failed to receive funding last year.
In an effort to promote a more “viewpoint neutral” method of funding clubs, Kirnbauer and Abraham created a number of per-year and per-event spending caps for specific items, but the caps have proven to be unpopular.
Laura Drapkin, a member of the LGBTA, a group that has regularly spoken out against Kirnbauer and the new bylaws, said that the wisdom of the caps has also been called into question by other members of USG.
“I don’t particularly understand [the caps], so that’s something I’m willing to look at,” Maloof said.
He said feels that the caps stifle creativity and encourage clubs to ask for the maximum allowable amount of money for items in their budget.
“It becomes a shopping list and we want clubs to think outside of the box,” he said.
While Maloof and Kirnbauer may disagree about what’s wrong with the financial bylaws, they do agree that changes need to be made. Both also explained that regulations are always unpopular, although some do indeed need to be lifted.
Maloof, for example, is focused on allowing clubs to be able to throw mid-sized events, which he described as costing between $5,000-15,000. Under the current bylaws, only the Student Activities Board would be able to put on such a large event.
Kirnbauer said he was unaware of Maloof’s idea. He did, however, say that there would not be a major overhaul of the bill, but that changes seemed appropriate.
“Everything could use a bit of tweaking,” Kirnbauer said.
He also said he was glad that Maloof has appointed him to be, according to the executive order, Chief Consultant to the Commission.
Maloof, however, pointed out that Kirnbauer was in an advisory role, even if it was the role of chief advisor, and that any final decisions would come from the office of the president. The commission of students charged with evaluating and recommending changes to the bylaws would only be giving him a list of suggestions. He said that making the changes could be a semester long process.
Kirnbauer said that the bylaws have proven to be flexible in the past. When Black Womyn’s Weekend and the Commuter Student Organization complained about the $5,000 dollar limit on fashion shows, Kirnbauer said he found a solution.
“The $5,000 cap won’t include USG expenses,” he recalled saying to them. USG expenses include ticket office and event planning fees. “If you don’t include that, they did stay within their limit.”
Maloof also trumpeted the fashion shows as an example of how making small changes to financial bylaws could allow them to function much better. He said in that case, club input had helped them adjust the bylaws.
As part of his executive order, Maloof has called for a number of town hall meetings, for which he is currently attempting to secure space. He says he hopes to hold the meetings soon.
“I want as many people to have input in this as possible,” Maloof said.
In the past, there have been communication difficulties between clubs and the USG.
Drapkin aid that her club’s attempts to object to the new law were both ignored by USG.
“We were actually allocated time to speak s[at the USG Senate meeting,] but the meeting was cancelled,” Drapkin said. She described another instance in which Kirnbauer failed to attend a meeting that members of the LGBTA scheduled with him.
Thursday night was an example of how slowly senate business can move. Of the ten club that filed appeals, only four got to speak before time ran out. All four won their appeals.
“With the rule that said we could remove clubs, we also made it so that the Senate could reinstate clubs,” Kirnbauer said, describing the process as fair. He said that since the law was new, some senators felt uncomfortable imposing any harsh penalties on the clubs.
Kirnbauer said that the ten clubs filed appeals for very different reasons, most stemming from confusion about the bylaws.
The Marine Sciences Club quickly acknowledged that they had made a mistake the previous semester.
“We were planning on joint-hosting an event with Sigma-Iota-Sigma last semester,” said Brian Gallagher, a junior and the club’s vice president, “but we had a miscommunication about which club was allocating for that.”
As a result, the event fell through.
Gallagher said that his club was unaware of how serious the penalties were for not hosting an event, and that he wasn’t clear about the new financial bylaws.
“We have a lot of events planned for this semester to compensate,” he said.
Animated Perspectives, another club that was found in violation of the bylaws, was more confused by Kirnbauer’s decision. They were able to provide proof that they held an event, a movie screening in the Student Activities Center.
The movie screening did not require any USG money, and Animated Perspectives did not spend money on food, in part because they were trying to save more of their already reduced budget.
Club members, some of whom had been playing Yu-Gi-Oh cards and others Super Smash Bros. Melee, left their games to search for a flier that promoted the movie screening and was approved by USG, which they allowed The Press to scan.
Michael LaBombard, a member of Animated Perspectives, said that he disagreed with the restrictive nature of the financial bylaws, pointing out that not all clubs were designed to host specific events.
“This club is an event every single day,” LaBombard said of Animated Perspectives. The club, which is set up in club alley in the Union basement, generally has a number of students using its televisions, tables or libraries at any time of the day. “If you don’t count that as an event,” he said, “then I really don’t think it’s quite fair.”
Kirnbauer acknowledged this, saying that he decided not to charge some clubs with violating the rules even though they hadn’t spent USG money. An example he used were dance clubs.
“I didn’t even include dance teams into this because all the dance troops perform a lot on campus.” He said that they will often perform at other people’s events. Clubs that regained funding in fall revisions were also exempt from the rule.
Both LaBombard and Gallagher said they were happy that Maloof decided to review the law.
President Maloof indicated that he would change the way he did business this semester and that this executive order would be a sign of things to come.
“I spent a lot of time my first semester trying not to step on people’s toes,” Maloof said. “Now, with a semester under my belt and with the work that I’ve done talking to club leaders, I think I’m in a better position to affect change.”