Debate rages over DEB funding

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As student body voting opened for the Diversity and Equity Board Initiative (DEBI) March 30, senators and honor board jurors struggled over how to fund the initiative should it pass.

Eight Honor Board members, seven ASOC senators and approximately 50 students packed into the Studenmund Room March 25 to discuss DEBI’s funding, which Honor Board has voted down twice in the last two months. At the meeting, members of the Diversity and Equity Committee of Senate presented a third proposal for DEBI in hopes of motivating an Honor Board vote.

Honor Board Juror Malena Ernani (sophomore) attempted to clarify Honor Board’s intentions for the meeting with a preliminary statement.

“We are here so that we can find a way to not only make sure that the Diversity and Equity Board becomes a new part of the Occidental governance structure, but also so that we can reify procedural standards that will guarantee that any other student organization wishing to go through the same path will find the bureaucratic process to go over more smoothly,” Ernani said. “I have faith that we can work together to get DEB established in a logical, constitutional fashion.”

Because it is a constitutional amendment, establishing DEB requires three major votes: a Senate vote, an Honor Board vote on the student body fee increase and a student body vote on the rest of the initiative. The initiative unanimously passed Senate Nov. 17 and the student body vote began this Monday. Regardless of the student body vote outcome, however, student body fees cannot be raised to fund the initiative without the approval of Honor Board.

Following their previous two votes, Honor Board jurors suggested instituting a trial period for DEB, during which the board could establish concrete bylaws and membership before drawing funds from student body fees. They brought forward the Senate savings account as a possible source for this trial period funding.

“We’re not suggesting that DEB be funded by Senate for the rest of its existence,” Honor Board Juror Kara Alam (sophomore) said in a previous interview with The Weekly. “We’re suggesting that DEB be funded by Senate until DEB is established and then can ask for its own money.”

ASOC Chief of Staff Jarron Williams (first-year), however, testified that the details of the Senate savings account were still unclear, and suggested it be taken off the table as a funding option. Senior Class Senator Kerry Sakimoto agreed, saying that it was not Honor Board’s role to determine where DEB funding should originate.

“The savings account was not presented to you in the constitutional amendment. Senate as a whole did not approach you with that directly,” Sakimoto said. “To me this seems like an overstep of constitutional boundaries if you’re basically dictating what Senate can do with their money.”

The current DEB proposal, brought forward by the Diversity and Equity Committee at last Wednesday’s meeting, addresses Honor Board’s idea of a trial period by suggesting a two-pronged fee increase: fees would increase to $7 per student for the first two years of DEB’s existence, and would automatically increase to $10 per student after that. The committee believes that the two-year point would be a time for students to reflect on whether DEB had served its stated purpose. If community members believed DEB was not functioning properly, they could amend that portion of the Constitution through a student body vote.

Sophomore Senator Adrian Adams requested that Honor Board vote on the proposal within the coming week. According to Honor Board Chair Siri Guntupalli, Honor Board will vote on the proposal April 15. The vote will be closed but the minutes made public.

In an attempt to avoid the Honor Board vote, ASOC President Chris Weeks and Vice President of Financial Affairs Will Huang proposed an alternative funding scheme Monday, which would direct a portion of Senate’s currently unused funds to pay for DEB. Over the last two school years, Senate has averaged a yearly surplus of $47,000. Weeks and Huang proposed that the constitutional amendment be re-written to allocate $7 per student, or about $20,000, of that annual surplus to DEB. This would not require an increase in student body fees, meaning that the re-written DEBI amendment could pass without Honor Board approval.

Several senators were reticent, however, to dedicate that amount of Senate’s existing budget to funding DEB without a larger discussion on projected Senate spending as a whole.

“ASOC Senate is expanding its commitment to other things in general, which means we’re going to expand the financial commitments of that,” Sakimoto said. “And so I think right now, deciding to commit to decreasing our fund before we even review the budget of this year is a little premature.”

Senate did not vote on the new proposal, but members were invited to retain it in case there was interest in resurfacing it at a later date.