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The Carletonian

Vote “No” on MPIRG

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By Lindsey Shaughnessy, Caitlin Fleming,
and Pablo Kenney

With CSA elections in sight, it is time for MPIRG to prove to the Carleton student body that the organization deserves its yearly revenue of nearly $13,000. This money is taken directly from Carleton students through a yearly $7.50 refusable/refundable fee (RRF), and put into the coffers of MPIRG’s state-wide office. We are asking the student body to vote “NO” on the MPIRG referendum question in two weeks, in order to inspire MPIRG to greater effectiveness, productivity, and accountability at Carleton.

The nearly four years that we have been students here, MPIRG has won the referendum question on the RRF based on student apathy and ignorance. Their efforts at publicizing the “refusable/refundable” characteristic of the fee, through mailbox stuffing, have largely been ignored. While we count members of Carleton’s MPIRG chapter among the school’s most dedicated to activism, and acknowledge the organization’s accomplishments (like getting fair trade coffee on campus and organizing the original Dorm Wars), we also posit that the funds collected here every year by MPIRG are grossly misappropriated.

Last year, according to MPIRG state directors, 84% of Carleton students paid MPIRG’s $7.50 RRF, thus providing MPIRG with revenue close to $13,000. This year, MPIRG’s budget projection allocated $22,619.82 “directly to Carleton,” claiming larger campuses like the University of Minnesota were actually subsidizing the cost of MPIRG’s work on our campus. MPIRG’s breakdown, however, of its expenses (again, valued at $22,619) is alarming. It categorizes its expenditure into the following categories: salaried personnel and benefits ($21,289.19 toward a campus organizer who also works on other campuses); contracted services (including consultants, telephone canvassing fees, legal fees, payroll processing, and accounting and bookkeeping); operating expenses (including automobile maintenance and facility rental); facility and utility expenses (including rent, telephone, internet, and office supplies and equipment); postage, shipping, delivery, printing, and copying expenses; travel and transportation (including meals, mileage, and parking); meetings and trainings (including staff development and conferences); and administrative expenses (including bank fees and liability insurance).

This year, MPIRG will allocate $21,289.19 toward personnel salary and benefits, the entirety of which goes to an organizer who works at Carleton, but also on other campuses. This occurs despite the presence of very capable student leaders in Carleton’s chapter of MPIRG. The rest of the money, $1,330.63, trickles out toward a variety of administrative fees and overhead costs—which Carleton students barely see. For example, $105 goes toward “payroll processing,” $207.23 goes toward “accounting and bookkeeping,” and $105.59 goes toward “telephone and internet services.”

Few of these expenses are permissible under the Budget Committee’s bylaws and guidelines for organizational spending financed by the Student Activity Fee. Why, then, is MPIRG allowed to collect money from Carleton students and spend it on legal fees, meals, and personnel salaries? Because MPIRG has a special contract with the College, MPIRG is able to bypass the regulations set up by the Budget Committee and Senate that otherwise prevent wasteful or misdirected spending by all other campus organizations. Every year, this contract is renewed when a majority of students don’t vote no on the MPIRG referendum question, and every year MPIRG continues to take $12-13,000 from Carleton students.

We would like the student body to consider, for a moment, the way other CSA organizations receive funding. Carleton’s 200+ student orgs operate on small budgets and pride themselves on being effectively run—by students. We believe, in all sincerity and based on several years of experience, that MPIRG can be as effective as these organizations are, but without taking extra money away from Carleton students and directing it toward the budgetary expenses of a state-wide organization. Every year during Spring Allocations, each organization submits a thorough application to the Budget Committee in order to receive an operating budget for the following year. Highly visible organizations like SOPE, STAND, and AHA! receive annual operating budgets of just $75. When organizations wish to host events or require additional funding, their requests must go through Budget Committee as well as through Senate, and are subject to a bevy of restrictions and requirements. All Budget Committee requests are open to Carleton for viewing online at . The process is transparent and streamlined. However, the revenue generated for MPIRG by the RRF is not monitored by anyone on our campus. If the referendum fails to pass this year, MPIRG could still apply to receive funding for its yearly operating budget from the Budget Committee, as well as for individual events through Special Allocations, Honoraria, Treasurer’s funds, and various academic departments and funds on campus. MPIRG would not receive revenue previously generated by the RRF, though.

MPIRG leaders, including its state director, recently visited the Senate to discuss the wording of the referendum question. They promised that, if the referendum were to fail in two weeks, they would “remain a presence” on campus. The Senate also charged students in MPIRG with producing a wide and effective campaign in defense of their right to remain on campus and to maintain the RRF. We hope that this will inspire a healthy and productive debate with the dedicated students who have long worked to promote MPIRG’s stated goals. We also hope this campaign might inspire increased student voter turnout, as the Senate will need to fill 15 open positions this term. CSA elections will be held eighth week.

Vote for improved accountability. Vote for increased fairness. Vote for inspired activism. Vote “no” on the MPIRG fee.

-Lindsey Shaughnessy is a fourth-year student, and a current CSA senator, current Co-Chair of the Committee on Student Life, and a former MPIRG task force leader.

-Caitlin Fleming is a fourth-year student and the former CSA President.

-Pablo Kenney is a fourth-year student and the former CSA Vice President.

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