Monday, February 18, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 95


 
 









 

'Conflict of interest' causes controversy

By Ray Hafner
Daily Cougar Staff

The Student Fees Advisory Committee hearings got underway Friday, bringing to light many of the issues the committee will face.

A major issue of contention is a possible conflict of interest posed by having Student Government Association senators serve on SFAC.

Also included in this year's deliberations will be the effects of Tropical Storm Allison on many campus groups and the decision not to raise student fees.

Of the nine voting members of SFAC, SGA President James Robertson Jr. appoints five. This year he chose to appoint five 

senators.

"It's almost a total conflict of interest because the committee votes on SGA's funding," said Keith Cox, a faculty advisor from the Bauer School of Business. SFAC is SGA's only
source of funding.

Cox is a second-year member of the committee and said he believes the controversy, which he called "totally politicized," is not in the students' best interest.

Ed Tulin, one of the four presidential appointees, called it an "obvious conflict of interest."

Frank Luu, the committee's chairman, and John Quintanilla, the vice-chairman, are both SGA senators who said they believe there will be no conflict of interest.

"No one should go in there with the thought that they are going to support a certain group," Quintanilla said. "We all have to make sure our biases are in check."

Both Luu and Quintanilla said they would have no problem voting objectively on SGA's budget.

"I feel confident that I'd do the right thing," Luu said.

Other committee members, including Cox, said they are worried that the five-member majority could push any sort of vote it 

wanted.

Before the committee met to vote on a chairman, the five senators got together and decided who they would elect, Luu said. It was at this meeting that they decided Luu should
be chairman.

At issue is whether SGA senators are considered officers. SFAC's bylaws state that no paid member or officer of an organization funded by student fees can be a member of the
committee. SGA's interpretation of the constitution this year is that senators are not officers.

Assistant Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students William Munson serves on the committee as a non-voting member and is what he calls the "institutional
memory" of SFAC. Munson, who has been a committee member since 1988, said past SGA senators decided either not to serve on SFAC or to step aside from their SGA roles.

Tropical Storm Allison reared her head again, with many groups reporting lost equipment and income because of the storm. For example, the Child Care Center was shut down
for seven weeks in the summer. Because of the damage, the center has been operating at a deficit.

"We've already made the hard decision not to raise the fee," Cox said, but he acknowledged it would be hard to stick to that pledge when they come up short on money.

"Our pockets are kind of thin this year," Quintanilla said.

Fees were raised by $10 last year. Despite the greater demands for money in Allison's aftermath, Luu said they decided to go against the larger trend of raising fees found at
other universities.

If fees are not raised , next year's students who take 12 or more credit hours will pay $142 in student fees.

Luu said he would like to carefully look at the organizations that receive the most money to make sure all of it is properly accounted for. Last year, Athletics received nearly $3
million in student fees. Other large groups were the Health Center and the University Center, with each receiving more than $1 million.

SFAC will hear proposals from dozens of groups before beginning deliberations. Once those are finished, it will submit its recommendations to UH President Arthur K. Smith and
Vice President for Student Affairs Elwyn Lee.

The hearings will continue today, Tuesday and Friday in the Bayou City Room in the UC. All proposals are open to the public with times available for public comment.
 
 
 

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