Mar 082011
 
Authors: Jordyn Dahl

CSU student government cabinet members were told they would be fired if they spoke out against controversial initiatives presented by the president and vice president, according to cabinet minutes provided to the Collegian. President Cooper Anderson defended his statements by saying most organizations and companies are run using a similar policy.

“You chose to came (sic) to work here, and if you can’t you can leave and that’s fine,” Anderson said in a Sept. 22 meeting, according to the minutes. “But taking the disagreements out of the office is a problem … If any of you take this out of the office and try to undermine this office, I will ask you to leave. … So, if you have those disagreements, take it straight to (the person). And if you cannot tell them, then you should just swallow it.”

Anderson responded to Collegian inquiries about the minutes by saying he would take each situation on a case-by-case basis and take into consideration what was said and if the relationship was still mutually beneficial for the cabinet member and student government.

“I would never fire someone solely on expressing an opinion,” he said, later saying that if the member spoke negatively of the office, he would ask him or her to leave.

But in recent months, high-ranking officials have feared they would lose their jobs if they spoke out against a proposed sexual assault fee increase. The Interpersonal Violence Response and Safety Fee would cost students $3 and would go to the Office of Women’s Program and Studies.

The Associated Students of CSU executives have said the fee proposal is student-initiated. Three officials, who spoke to the Collegian on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, say this is not the case and that the fee is in place to fulfill Anderson’s and Vice President Jennifer Babos’ campaign promise to enhance sexual assault education.

One official, though, said the reason they decided to work with the duo in the first place was because Anderson and Babos said they were against raising student fees.

“It (the fee)’s something we all have to answer for and not something that I want to,” one official said.

Anderson said students knew the fee was his and Babos’ way of fulfilling their campaign promise, adding that it was on the duo’s campaign flyer and discussed during the campaign debates.

But in a Collegian article published on April 20, Anderson and Babos vowed not to raise student fees during their campaign. Their campaign flyer read, “Support an office to address sexual assault on campus” and did not mention a fee increase.

The Rams Against Interpersonal Violence Department was created by Anderson and Babos’ administration to fulfill their sexual assault campaign promise by raising awareness about the interpersonal violence resources currently available to students. The money allocated to RAIV thus far, including for salaries, is approximately $11,000.

RAIV hosted RAINN Day to raise awareness of resources and is currently exhibiting “Walk Along With Me,” which showcases real-life stories of interpersonal violence. RAIV is not involved with the fee initiative.

According to cabinet minutes, the proposed fee was first introduced on Oct. 25 to the Student Fee Review Board, which acts as the liaison between the CSU System Board of Governors and students for the approval of student fee increases.

Officials say this was around the same time they found out about the proposal, even though Anderson said discussions surrounding the fee started over the summer.

Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes said Anderson and Babos approached her after their election and have since had multiple conversations with her concerning the fee.

“Being an administrative unit overseeing the fee, we had lots of conversations,” Hughes said. “As administrators, we feel that this is a student-driven process, and if students feel this is a fee they want to support, then we want to support them.”

The anonymous officials say it is unclear how much of the process was student-driven. Last year, the Interpersonal Violence Task Force –– created by Babos and student Joe Howard last year –– surveyed 465 students on their opinion of the fee through a Student Voice Survey.

Officials said they thought the survey was conducted through Facebook but that they could find no record of its existence. Anderson and Babos did not provide copies of the survey but assured the Collegian that the survey was legitimate and not conducted through the social media site.

Babos is involved in the Office of Women’s Program and Studies through her liberal arts major and chairs SFRB, which will ultimately make a recommendation to the BOG for or against the fee increase. Babos’ brother, Alex Babos, currently sits on the board.

One official was concerned there is a conflict of interest with Babos’ brother sitting on the board and Babos being involved in the same program that would receive the fee money. They said Anderson defended the fee as a campaign promise that needed to be fulfilled.

Anderson said some cabinet members have expressed concern about the fee but said he hasn’t heard outright opposition. When asked if he thought that was because members were afraid they would be fired as a result, he said, “I think that people feel fine coming to talk to me, and I have expressed to everyone that I will take it into consideration.”

The officials disagree, calling the situation a conundrum in which they vehemently oppose the fee but where their “hands are tied” in saying anything without losing their jobs.

If passed, the fee would raise $142,200 if the increase is $3 per student. Of that, $109,073 would go toward salaries, including hiring 20 peer-educators who would work six hours a week to conduct outreach to the residence halls, according to the student fee request presented to SFRB.

Offices across campus are not asking for fee increases. Despite the current budget crisis, the administration has pressured departments to not CSU student government cabinet members were told they would be fired if they spoke out against controversial initiatives presented by the president and vice president, according to cabinet minutes provided to the Collegian. President Cooper Anderson defended his statements by saying most organizations and companies are run using a similar policy.

“Basically, we’ve asked everyone to really look at their current budgets and ask ‘Can you continue to provide quality service?’” Hughes said. “All the offices thought they could do that this year. We (the administration) felt that this (the fee) was one we could not stand in the way of.”

Anderson does not believe the fee increase will have much impact on students because “this is a very small fee. It’s $3.”

Officials, however, see this fee as more than a monetary figure. One said this increase is “opening Pandora’s box.”

The official said this increase sets an irreversible precedent –– that ASCSU administrators can pick up the banner for any activist cause they support.

If SFRB supports the fee, legislation will then move on to the ASCSU Senate that will vote on whether the body supports the fee or not. Officials believe that Anderson will take the fee to the BOG at the end of the year to pass regardless of the Senate’s vote.

Anderson said he is not set on what he will do once Senate votes on the fee.

“I’m respectful of Senate, but at the end of the day, I have to take into account the process,” he said, referencing to the process the fee has gone through to get presented to Senate.

News Editor Jordyn Dahl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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