'Conflict of interest'
By Ray Hafner
Daily Cougar Staff
The Student Fees Advisory Committee hearings
got underway Friday, bringing to light many of the issues the committee
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
"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
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
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,"
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
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
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.