Committee to preserve fee money for students

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Dr. Robert Vela, vice president of student affairs and interim vice president of academic affairs, says every penny should be traced back to students using the fee money.  Photo by Jennifer Luna

Dr. Robert Vela, vice president of student affairs and interim vice president of academic affairs, says every penny should be traced back to students using the fee money. Photo by Jennifer Luna

By JENNIFER LUNA

sac-ranger@alamo.edu 

After two cancellations, the Student Activity Fee Committee managed to meet Tuesday afternoon.

It was the committee’s first meeting since the director of student life resigned as chair this summer.

“We just wanted to meet to reboot and regroup and give you our ideas of a go-forward direction,” Dr. Robert Zeigler, college president, said in opening the meeting in the president’s conference room in Fletcher Administration Center.

Cancellations were caused by a lack of a quorum for the committee of four employees and five students.

Zeigler introduced the new chair of the committee, Emma Mendiola, dean of student affairs. She replaces student life Director Jorge Posadas.

“I’ve asked Ms. Mendiola to be the chair, and we’ve all talked, and she’ll do a bang-up job. She’s in a line of improvement to the director, I mean, because she’s the dean of student affairs.”

Zeigler continued, “What we decided to do was to make a change in the committee’s leadership, restart and appoint a new chair and start thinking in terms with the committee to work with Ms. Mendiola, but in general, parameters that we are interested in, is trying to approve proposals that will have the most bang for the buck — in terms of having a broad student impact.”

An example of a proposal that was rejected for not fitting that description was installing a Steinbach piano in Loftin, which Zeigler said would cost roughly $70,000-$80,000.

The committee decided that a piano for Loftin would be nice, but the percentage of students who know how to play were substantially lower than students who did not, thus the proposal was denied.

“I want more conversation than decisions,” Zeigler said about the proposal.

Since committee meetings were opened to the public in November, little discussion preceded votes.

Zeigler explained how the committee is empowered to make recommendations and to have those recommendations seriously considered. If the committee recommends something and the president rejects the committee’s recommendation, the committee has the right to appeal it with the board.

“I’m also interested in trying to preserve as much money as we can for student activities and not spend as much as we’ve been spending on personnel … ” Zeigler said. “I think we are spending about $100,000 on personnel.”

The April 16 issue of The Ranger reported that the budget fiscal year 2012 included $100,000 for two assistant coordinators.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 added an additional $110,000 for those two assistant coordinators and two associate directors for student life.

That budget was based on a request to double the student activity fee to $2 per semester hour. There was no increase because all five colleges could not agree on the increase to propose it to district trustees.

Tuesday, Zeigler continued, “We no longer are able to do construction with the fee money. I don’t know if we’ve ever been legally able, but we’ve done it, but now we can’t, so those expenditures can no longer occur, but we can spend money on equipment.”

In fall 2006, Posadas engaged an architecture class here to remodel Loftin Student Center with a budget of $170,000 from the student activity fee fund.

That fall was Posada’s first semester as director and the first semester the college collected the student activity fee.

The first year’s fund was estimated to reach $472,000. Committee members seemed to nod in agreement with preserving more money for students.

The meeting continued with Dr. Robert Vela, vice president of student affairs and interim vice president of academic affairs, reinforcing that all funds need to be used for students.

Mendiola requested everyone introduce themselves, then jumped into business.

“I think it’s a really important committee, and I think it’s one of those things that gives us an opportunity to do some neat stuff that we might not otherwise, are not able to do with our students, and I think that’s really critical and special,” she said.

Theater Instructor Charles Falcon offered Mendiola copies of the state law pertaining to the committee, past proposals, decision-making and planning, and committee files to assist her in getting familiar with the committee’s work.

Mendiola asked if the committee networks with other colleges statewide. Jacob Wong psychology sophomore and president of Student Government Association, said, “I sometimes look and see what’s going on at other colleges campuses … The state law says that we can spend the money on ourselves. Whatever that may be for, we’re allowed to do it.”

Wong said the committee members at another of the Alamo Colleges funds trips for the committee out of the fee account.

Falcon said, “The way we conduct our business here at SAC, in this committee, is totally different from other committees.”

In November 2010, Posadas suggested buying iPads for committee members.

Though the meetings were closed to the public at that time, a student member of the committee who opposed the idea told The Ranger Falcon made the motion and five members of the committee approved it.

Three other members, including Wong, were absent from that meeting. The next day Falcon claimed he could not talk about committee discussions and that he hadn’t heard about iPads.

Another faculty member on the committee told a reporter he would not accept an iPad even though the student member named him as voting in favor of the purchase. The third faculty member said the idea was still “up in the air.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Falcon complained the idea had been leaked to The Ranger and that ended it.

Falcon asked if the student activity fee had been increased as the committee at this college proposed last spring. Wong said there would be no increase if the district did not agree.

Falcon asked if the clubs and organizations would still contact student life for the proposals to be submitted to the committee.

Mendiola initially stated that she wanted to keep a relationship between student life, the clubs and organizations; however, Falcon suggested the committee would be better off without any contact with Posadas.

The committee meetings had been closed to the public, including members of organizations seeking funds, since it was formed in 2006.

Zeigler and Vela ordered the committee to open the meetings to the public Nov. 16, 2011, in an effort to provide transparency. The Ranger had editorialized for five years in favor of opening the meetings to the public.

The committee decided to train to analyze the proposals from noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 14, but the committee couldn’t decide on a location.

Falcon volunteered that Posadas conducted catered committee meetings in his home.

For more information, call Mendiola at 210-486-0939.

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