USUAA donation sends message to Coalition of Student Leaders

In an attempt to bring attention to perceived problems within the University of Alaska’s Coalition of Student Leaders, the Legislative Affairs Committee of USUAA voted to replace its annual $5,000 donation with a $1 donation.

The Coalition of Student Leaders was created as a student advocacy group intended to provide a unified lobbying force to the Alaska Legislature, which represents the interests of all UA students.

John Wilcox, government relations director for USUAA, said the solidarity of the coalition makes it a powerful ally for UAA.

“If all the university campuses are gathering together saying ‘we want this’ in unison, well it’s stronger than just one person going in there,” Wilcox said.

The Committee of USUAA sets aside an annual $5,000 donation for the coalition that, until this year, was given to the coalition in good faith. The intention of the committee’s donation has been to assist in providing a strong legislative conference in Juneau.

Legislative affairs suspended its good faith donation when it was prompted to do so by USUAA vice president and representative to the coalition, Kortney Hintsala, who could not be reached for comment.

The decision was motivated by the coalition’s use of funds to pay the travel expenses for smaller Alaska Colleges. The smaller campuses in Alaska do not charge student government fees, making it difficult for them to send representatives to coalition functions, including the legislative conference in Juneau.

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“Their argument is that’s the only way they can afford it – If we didn’t have a student fee we couldn’t afford it either,” said Wilcox.

In fact, the coalition only provides funds to the campuses without student government fees, leaving UAA students with the bill to pay for other campuses travel to the conference in Juneau.

“All travel monies that pay for our representatives to go anywhere in the country come from our budget,” Wilcox said.

Last year, in a move to secure permanent annual funding, the coalition attempted to institute a statewide student fee, overstepping its authority.

“They were just going to go straight to the board of regents as if they were a governing body over our student government,” Wilcox said.

This move made USUAA president Anthony Rivas question the current makeup of the coalition.

“UAA has only one vote out of nine in the coalition – [meaning] a campus with 600 students has the same vote as UAA with 15,000 students,” Rivas said.

In addition, coalition funds have allegedly provided transportation to students of smaller campuses who have neglected to show up at legislative conference events, which USUAA said makes it look like they are treating the conference like a vacation.

These practices are not what the Committee of USUAA intends its donation for.

“We give them money because we have good faith in the organization, not because we want to subsidize their trips. We give them money because we want a good campaign,” Wilcox said.

Joe Blanchard, member of the Associated Students of UAF, thinks the Committee of USUAA acted prematurely.

“Don’t assume leaders will misuse the funds,” Blanchard said.

UAF also makes an annual $5,000 donation to the coalition, but the UAF donation is automatic and does not require approval by its student government.

Blanchard emphasized his trust in the coalition during a phone conversation, stressing that he felt the Committee of USUAA was judging the coalition prematurely.

He described the intention of the UAF contribution as a means to bring assistance to smaller campuses, and diversity to the legislative conference.

“We’re contributing to make sure we’re not the only ones at the conference,” Blanchard said.

He thinks the $1 donation by the Committee of USUAA is insulting, childish and would have preferred no donation at all.

Blanchard’s reaction is what the Committee of USUAA intended. The donation was made to bring attention and spark change, Wilcox said, not to provide funding for the coalition.

In order for the coalition to access the $1 donation, they must pay $60 in transfer fees.

However, the Committee of USUAA said it remains ultimately committed to the goal of assisting with funds for the legislative conference in Juneau.

In a memo to the Coalition of Student Leaders, Nov. 9, the government relations director pledged reconsideration of the $1 donation upon receipt of a working FY 06 coalition budget.

$4,999 remains earmarked in the Committee of USUAA’s budget, pending action by the coalition.