ASMSU’s autonomy

By Sam Inglot
Michael Mozina of ASMSU addresses the MSU Board of Trustees and MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon Sam Inglot/City Pulse

Student government believes it’s under attack by the university. MSU officials say it’s a matter of financial accountability.

Friday, June 21 — In a move that the Associated Students of Michigan State University says will jeopardize its autonomy from the school, the MSU Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution today that forces ASMSU to keep its money in a university account.

The resolution says ASMSU must move all of its money into university accounts by July 1 or the administration will take away ASMSU’s control of the funds and “develop an alternate system for the collection and disbursement of a student fee to support undergraduate student programs and services.”

The crux of the resolution is based on “material weaknesses and deficiencies in internal controls” that were identified by an audit of ASMSU’s finances from 2007 to 2011, as stated in the resolution.

ASMSU has nearly $500,000 in off-campus accounts, which it uses to pay for things like student legal services, tutoring, newspapers, yearbooks and events. Roughly $1.5 million every year goes to ASMSU through an $18 per student tax each semester. Students vote every three years on whether to have the tax. The university, which acts as a tax collector for ASMSU, has been withholding that money since April because ASMSU has refused to move its money.

“By threatening to withhold our student-supported funding at each and every disagreement, we fear that the days of an independent student voice are numbered,” Michael Mozina, ASMSU’s vice president for student funding, told the board today.

ASMSU representatives said they would need to sit down with MSU officials before deciding whether to agree to the university’s demands. MSU cannot move the money by itself from the private accounts. MSU will continue to withhold the funding if ASMSU doesn’t agree by July 1.

Moving the money into on-campus accounts is not about taking a whack at ASMSU’s autonomy, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said — it’s about fiscal responsibility and transparency.

“It’s simply a matter of financial integrity. They have consistently tried to make it about something else,” she said. The resolution “doesn’t say what you spend your money for. It’s about how those dollars are accounted for and are transparent, not simply to me, but to the students.”

Mozina counters that ASMSU has a slew of financial safeguards in place. He also said, as a publicly elected body, all of ASMSU’s finances are public information.

“Because it’s not physically located in a university on-campus account doesn’t mean that we don’t have large lists of restraints and sign offs that need to happen before that money can be accessed,” he said. “It’s not like anybody can walk into the bank and remove all the money. It doesn’t work like that.”

The adopted resolution also states that ASMSU must revise its governing documents to align its practices with university policies and that ASMSU may not employ anyone outside of MSU’s employment system.

That would be a problem for Maryalice Chester, who is employed by ASMSU as its business office manager. At 66 years old, she uses a cane to get around. She said to lose a job at her age, along with her handicap, doesn’t make her other job prospects very promising.

“I work with these students — I am their employee. I would be disingenuous if I didn’t say I had something personal on the line because they want to replace me with an MSU employee, not an independent person,” she said. “And that’s shocking to me that a third party can come in and tell my employer to get rid of me.”

She also believes that the actions taken by the MSU board will lessen ASMSU’s independence from the university.

“I work with these students and I am so impressed by them. They genuinely, sincerely want to maintain that independent voice,” she said. “It amazes me that the university would trample such a core principal of American democracy — that independent voice.”

Mozina said ASMSU would try to work with the administration before the July 1 deadline.

“We will do the best we can to sit down and work with university officials,” he said. “Part of that means being taken seriously by the university, which we don’t think has always happened. But we’re ready to talk.”