NSLS: The details behind deactivation

[row][column size=”1/2″] Dean of Students Dewain Lee recently made a decision recently regarding the deactivation of the National Society of Leadership and Success. While this decision was relayed to the parties involved, it has not yet been made public. The UAA Club Council Executive Board deactivated NSLS Aug. 29, following an investigation of perceived policy violations involved in organizing the 2014 NSLS Spring Gala. The club appealed the deactivation, but a Club Council vote Sept. 19 upheld the decision — 23 to 14, six abstained.

After Club Council upheld the deactivation, NSLS moved the decision to Lee, citing procedural errors, Club Council Executive Board member misconduct and issues with the Student Clubs and Greek Life office during the investigation and deactivation process.

NSLS leadership strongly denied the club committed any policy violations to The Northern Light staff, Club Council and the dean. However, as The Northern Light investigated this story, NSLS student leaders and the club’s faculty adviser, Edgar Blatchford, stopped responding to questions both via email and phone.

Club Council Executive Board laid out its investigation in a deactivation report presented to Club Council on Sept. 5. This report detailed four areas of concern involving perceived UAA policy violations during the planning and execution of the 2014 NSLS Spring Gala held on April 19. [/column][column size=”1/2″] This was the second year NSLS put on a spring gala, and it was the second year there were discrepancies in following policy, according to Assistant Director of Student Leadership Paula Fish.

Initial concerns arose when the Hilton Hotel, where the gala was held, sent UAA a bill amounting to $9,475.43.

“We received from accounts payable a bill from the Hilton Hotel — about $9,000 for the spring gala,” Fish said. “It was surprising for us at the time because they (NSLS) had not put in a purchase request, which is what we require the clubs to do.”

The Hilton later retracted the bill because a private donor paid it. However, the bill’s arrival set off a chain of investigations where Club Council Executive Board had four points of concern. Club Council Executive Board members repeatedly attempted to get answers to their questions from NSLS student leadership through emails and meetings throughout the summer. They ultimately made the decision to deactivate the club, effective Aug. 271, and Club Council voted to affirm this decision Sept. 19. During a club deactivation the club must cease to function for a semester, the following semester the club may resubmit paperwork to get reactivated.

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The four areas of concern from the Club Council Executive Board (henceforth referred to as the “Executive Board”) deactivation report and the rebuttal presented by NSLS are detailed as follows: [/column][/row]

Concern 1: Beer and wine permits

According to the Executive Board’s NSLS deactivation report, NSLS failed to give the Student Clubs and Greek Life Office a “Request for Serving Beer and Wine” and “1 through 7” document and supplemental information. Both are required documents for student clubs if they are going to have an event where alcohol is served. According to the deactivation report, NSLS, on several occasions misrepresented how the alcohol would be served at the event to individuals over the age of 212).

“At that point (the July 21 meeting between NSLS student leaders and the Executive Board), we realized that they had submitted beer and wine permit to the Dean of Students Office. However, by looking at it, what was stated in it did not account for the cash bar record (which was in the bill from the Hilton),” Fish said of the permit.

NSLS stated in rebuttal that Chancellor Tom Case signed the beer and wine request, and the SCGL Office lost the documents.

Paula Fish denies that the SCGL office lost any documents related to the beer and wine request.

“For the record, I would like to state that, no, we did not lose that packet (the beer and wine request and supplemental documents). That packet was not received,” Fish said. “Why I know that, because since March, and even before that, January, we have been communicating with the club. There are emails from Cathy Olsen, asking for the beer and wine permit, asking for what is going on with this. We kept asking for it and expecting it. Cathy and I told our student workers to keep an eye for this because we are waiting for it and want to get it moving. We want to make sure it gets done.”

The deactivation report also states that the beer and wine permit Case signed misrepresented what actually happened3. The permit stated, “Bottles of fancy wine will be included in some of the silent auction baskets/tables. (NSLS will not be serving/consuming/ handling any alcohol at this event!)4

NSLS student leader and President Marilyn Alverenga-Gaxiola submitted this permit Feb. 18, 2014. Case, Lee and Blatchford signed it.

The bill from the Hilton, however, included a $200 charge for bartender fees5. This caught the attention of the Executive Board as they realized alcohol was served at the gala.

During the course of the Executive Board investigation, NSLS leadership created a document that states, “Before the event took place, Student Clubs and Greek Life’s organization the National Society for Leadership and Success (NSLS) completed the application process required by the 2014 UAA Alcohol Policy and UAA procedures for serving beer/wine. UAA’s Dean of Student Affairs and UAA Chancellor Tom Case approved for NSLS’s Spring Gala 2014 to serve beer and wine.”

NSLS had the document signed by a Hilton senior sales manager at the Hilton and Celesta Richardson, as well as the executive and scheduling assistant from the Office of the Chancellor, Celesta Richardson. The purpose of this document was to prove that NSLS complied with the required procedures and they had Case’s permission to serve beer and wine at the gala. This document was turned into the Student Clubs and Greek Life Office on Aug. 15. However, on Aug. 18, Richardson rescinded her signature from the document in an email, stating that she did not have the authority to sign the document. This document was then presented as part of the NSLS Executive Summary on Sept. 19 during the appeals process for deactivation, without presenting the retraction that Richardson sent via email6.

CONCERN 2: Finances, external account

UAA policy requires all student clubs to maintain official accounts with the university. Clubs are prohibited from maintaining any private external accounts outside the university. During the 2014 NSLS Spring Gala, NSLS directed guests to send all checks and donations from the silent auction to an account called “Alaska NSLS” at a private residence address. Upon further investigation by The Northern Light, the address matches that of NSLS Treasurer John Sparks.

According to NSLS, the club raised about $36,000 through the course of the event. However, none of this money was put in the official account held between UAA and the club.

In its rebuttal, NSLS denies all claims of an external account. The rebuttal states, “No acting students maintained or managed an external account in regards to the society or the gala. Again, if the CC Board (Club Council Executive Board) can prove that students maintained an external account, via bank account numbers, etc., then the Society would gladly like to see that evidence that shows a student maintained an external account.”

Appendix 4 of Club Council’s deactivation report contains a letter from Blatchford, the NSLS faculty adviser. In this letter he states, “Regarding point 1, just like last year, the society utilized a private event planner to facilitate and coordinate part of the gala that dealt with those things. I, myself, was on an external account with JA (Junior Achievement).”

The Northern Light contacted Junior Achievement President Flora L. Teo, who said Junior Achievement had no external accounts with Blatchford.

“To my knowledge, there was never a joint account between Junior Achievement of Alaska and UAA NSLS that was opened that had anyone from either the JA staff or JA board as an authorized signer,” Teo said in an email to The Northern Light. “I did not go to the bank with any member from NSLS at any point during this fundraiser to open an account.”

The NSLS gala was thrown to raise awareness and money for Junior Achievement. Teo said the total funds sent to Junior Achievement were $1,250 from UAA Accounting Services and $600 in cash. She said that the profits of the event were to be split equally between ‘the two non-profits,’ NSLS and Junior Achievement.

The Executive Board met with NSLS student leadership during its investigation in July. During this meeting, the board asked the club where the money was. At the time of this meeting with Club Council, NSLS had not sent any money to Junior Achievement.

Fish also said she asked NSLS where the funds raised from the gala went. According to Fish, NSLS said it all went to Junior Achievement.

CONCERN 3: Student contracts with vendors

Student clubs are advised not to contract with external vendors or service providers without the aid and approval of the SCGL Office.

“Clubs are to provide those contracts (with external vendors or service providers) so that they can be reviewed by the university to make sure the students are not signing themselves out for something they can’t control,” Fish said.

In the deactivation report, the Executive Board said NSLS did not send any documents or contracts to the university for approval. NSLS utilized the services of a party planning company called Arts Services North. According to an expense spreadsheet NSLS provided The Northern Light, the bill from Arts Services North was $10,742.50, which was the highest expense on the spreadsheet.

In NSLS’s rebuttal, the club denies having contracted with the party planning company. They state: “The CC Board (Club Council Executive Board) also states that ‘in Professor Blatchford’s Aug. 12, 2014, response to our inquiries, he states that NSLS contracted with a party-planner for the event.’ This is blatantly false, as Professor Blatchford NEVER ONCE MENTIONS the word ‘contracts’ at all. He clearly states that ‘the society utilized a private event planner’ — this doesn’t mean in any way that it’s contractual. The CC Board generated a negative connotation about utilizing a party planner. There is nothing wrong with utilizing a party planner per any policy ever. There IS something wrong with contracting with one, AS a student. However, obviously NO INDIVIDUAL ACTING AS A STUDENT SIGNED ANY CONTRACTS.”

The Northern Light contacted Michael Zoske of Arts Services North, who handled the 2014 NSLS Spring Gala. He confirmed that signing a contract would be part of the process to throw an event like the gala. When TNL requested a copy of the NSLS contract, Zoske said it was a private legal document, which requires permission to release.

CONCERN 4: Auction prize claim forms

UAA requires that auction prize claim forms be filled out during a silent auction, and that those forms are turned in for tax filing purposes. During the course of the investigation, Club Council requested the claim forms from Blatchford and NSLS student leadership. Blatchford stated that some may be lost and others may be in the possession of former club members. However, the Executive Board never received these forms. According UAA Budget Office, no auction request or tax status determination forms were completed or turned in for the gala7.

To refute this, NSLS stated that the club used Junior Achievement’s tax ID, because Junior Achievement would benefit from the gala and donations would go to them.

“No auction prize claim forms were submitted because you can’t fill out two auction claim forms. AND university policy does not say anything about their own tax ID trumping another partners’ non-profit’s tax ID. Obviously we filled out JA’s tax ID and not the university (sic) because the gala was benefiting JA, not the university,”8 NSLS stated in rebut.

Post-deactivation activities

NSLS student leadership was not dormant after the club was deactivated. The club issued a press release Sept. 23, in which NSLS leaders expressed dissatisfaction with the processes and procedures that lead to the club’s deactivation. They slammed the Club Council Executive Board members for the way they handled the deactivation.

“As of Aug. 29, the National Society of Leadership and Success of UAA was illegitimately deactivated based off of false and inaccurate information, knowingly utilized by UAA’s Club Council Executive Board,”9 the press release reads.

The NSLS press release expressed concern that the Club Council Executive Board did not establish quorum during both the investigation process and the deactivation vote due to a lack of minutes of the meetings.  NSLS said this proved that the deactivation process was illegitimate.

In their quest to find the minutes of the meeting, the NSLS student leaders secretly recorded a number of UAA administrators, including Annie Route, director of Student Life and Leadership, while discussing the meeting minutes. It is legal in the state of Alaska for one participant of a conversation to record another participant without prior notification.

“I don’t believe there are any (Executive Board meeting) minutes,” Route said in the recording. NSLS released this recording to its members with the press release.

Jonathon Taylor was chair of the Executive Board for the initial part of the investigation and continued as vice chair for the latter half of the process. He said, “NSLS is conflating some of the requirements that exist within Club Council bylaws and USUAA constitution bylaws that apply specifically to the bodies themselves … to apply specifically to the executive board.” He went on to add, “During the work sessions, minutes are not required. … Executive session minutes are not available to the public because they are executive sessions. It’s a commonly understood tenet of Robert’s Rules (of Order). The executive sessions exist to sort of allow members, the wider council or even the Executive Board to have discussions in private that might pertain to sensitive issues, without the individuals involved in that meeting feeling unable to speak freely about the issue.”

Less than 24 hours after the press release was sent to members, NSLS vice president Stuart Lamirand sent another email to club members, thanking them for multiple “emails of support and encouragement”10. However, not all NSLS members have been supportive of NSLS leadership’s push to be vindicated of the alleged policy violations. Audriana Pleas, a former student media leader and inactive member of NSLS, said, “Essentially, from what I am aware of, Club Council — when it comes to their findings and the documents that they had — they handled this procedure (the investigation and subsequent deactivation) the way that any other club meeting/board meeting would have, especially requiring the minutes of the executive session.”

References

1 Page 2, NSLS deactivation report by Club Council Executive Board
2 Page 4, NSLS deactivation report by Club Council Executive Board
3 Page 4, NSLS deactivation report by Club Council Executive Board
4 Beer and wine permit signed by chancellor
5 Bill from the Hilton Hotel
6 Page 17, NSLS Executive Summary
7 Page 7 and 8, NSLS deactivation report by Club Council Executive Board
8 Page 3, NSLS Executive Summary
9 NSLS Press Release, dated Sept. 23, 2014
10 NSLS Follow-Up email, dated Sept. 24, 2014