CC clarifies issues surrounding funding transparency, petition for vote of no confidence in CC sees little support

This article was updated on Dec. 13 and Dec. 15 to reflect the events of the last week; updates are ongoing. 

In the wake of the hate crime and allegations about College Council (CC) funding transparency, students have released a petition, written by CC Treasurer Jack Noelke, calling for a vote of no confidence in CC. They have also said, based on information they say was provided by Noelke, that CC has kept $120,000 worth of Student Activities Tax (SAT) funds hidden from the College and the rest of campus. CC co-presidents Nick Fogel ’12 and Francesca Barrett ’12 said that the allegation is false.

“CC has been using its funds in a responsible manner as is expected from student leaders,” Barrett said.

Following the allegations, Barrett and Fogel emailed the student body early Thursday morning clarifying that there were no funds hidden from the controller. “Past treasurers have not disclosed to CC or the student body the value of Cumulative Rollover,” the email said. “The Controller’s Office has known about the Cumulative Rollover, and College Council is accountable for every dollar spent to the Controller’s Office.  While not reporting the rollover amount is regrettable, it was not done in an attempt to deceive the student body.”

CC Funding Allegations

The SAT fund comes from the $95 each student pays each semester to cover the CC General Fund, Co-Sponsorship Fund, CC Projects Fund, Benefit Fund and the Nationals Fund. In addition, there is also a Treasurer Discretionary Fund which contains money for emergencies that might arise during the year. In the past, student groups were allowed to keep the money that they requested from these SAT-driven CC funds from year to year; three years ago, CC changed its funding policy so that clubs did not get to keep this “rollover” money and had an incentive to spend all of their allotted money each year. CC now collects these leftover funds from clubs at the end of the academic year and retains the money over the summer before redistributing the money to the Great Ideas campaign, the Capital Investment Fund and the Benefits Fund when the next academic year begins. The rollover money does not exist in any separate account except over the summer, when it is placed in the Treasurer Discretionary Fund. The collective leftover amount that comes from these student groups fluctuates every year; Barrett originally estimated that this year, the rollover funds were between $80,000 and $90,000, but she later clarified after discussing it with the Controller that there were approximately $120,000.

“The SAT tax is being used exactly as anticipated to fund student activities,” Barrett said. “College council is continually looking for new ideas and projects to fund through the great idea campaigns, which is accessible to every students.”

Farhan Gilani ’12, who posted the petition to disband CC on Williams Students Online (WSO) and Darryl Brown ’13, who is a member of the Disciplinary Committee, have claimed that Barrett and Noelke have purposefully kept knowledge of roughly $120,000 from the rest of the CC Financial Committee, CC in general and the student body as a whole; they also said that Barrett and Noelke have been keeping two sets of accounting books to keep this fund hidden. Brown said that he heard the allegation from Gilani, who was informed about the hidden funding situation by Noelke. Noelke has explicitly denied that he had been involved in hiding any funds in this manner.

Brown sent an e-mail describing the allegation to President Falk, Dean Bolton and the Controller. Gilani said that he was discussing this claim publicly because he believes “students deserve to know.”

Barrett said that there are no separate sets of accounting books, and that the Controller’s Office has both full access and full oversight with regards to all CC funds. “I’ve seen the books since Thanksgiving and there’s no single fund that has $80,000,” Barrett said.

The Treasurer Discretionary Fund currently contains approximately $20,000. However, according to Barrett, the fund is no longer the sole holding place for roll-over money. CC is in the process of discussing a by-law to cap the amount in the Treasurer Discretionary fund at $3000, and is in the process of discussing the creation of an account for roll-over money over the summer, for which it will have restrictions on the usage.

Barrett, Fogel and the rest of College Council had been working toward creating by-laws on financial transparency prior to Gilani’s accusations. Fogel and Barrett said in the all-campus email explaining the events that one by-law, which passed on Dec. 7, will  “call for the treasurer to post the monetary amount for what fund every SAT tax and Rollover dollar goes to on the CC website.” The by-law concerning the limits on the Treasurer Discretionary fund has not yet passed.

In the email, Barrett and Fogel further commented the issues that have arisen surrounding funding transparency. “The treasurers of College Council have been dedicated to stewarding all College Council Money, SAT Tax and Rollover Funds, in a responsible manner,” they said. “While this Cumulative Rollover exists as a single amount over the summer in Treasurer Discretionary, during the academic year, the rollover is distributed amongst active funds. There is no single fund with the Cumulative Rollover at present.”

Controller Sue Hogan confirmed that she knew about the roll-over money, but said that she was unaware that it had been unreported to the student body. “There was just some bad miscommunication,” Hogan said.

Petition to dispand CC

Noelke was also the writer of the petition to disband CC. He was involved in discussion with a group of students including Gilani, who ultimately released the petition, immediately following the CC meeting on Nov. 16, The Nov. 16 meeting was the meeting which had focused on the recent hate crime event and the movement that was forming to address it.

Noelke, who has served on CC for four semesters, said that he wrote the petition after informal discussion with some students to express his concerns about the way student government operates at the College; these concerns were most recently motivated by the perceived idea that CC members who opposed the way the movement in response to the hate crime was evolving did not have adequate space to express opposition.

“I drafted that list of grievances which on some level are all problematic things,” Noelke said. “I wanted to pose some challenge within my own circle of influence to a philosophic and administrative apparatus that I, on principle, saw as wrong at this time.” Noelke explained that he did not believe that that CC should be dissolved, but was aiming to jumpstart a campus discussion on structural changes that would improve student government on campus.

Noelke came out publicly against the petition in a WSO post following the post of the petition and has said that he never gave Gilani permission to release the document.

“I came out against it [because] I had drafted it late in an emotional state which I then gained further perspective on in a matter of hours, and thought that it was a bad idea,” Noelke said.

While the suppression of speech about the hate crime provided the base for the petition, it also cites other perceived problems with CC, including the fact that only 34 percent of students voted in the CC fall elections.

The petition also criticizes the structure of CC meetings insofar as CC members set the agenda of each meeting without open conversation among students, and also accuses CC of interference in the issues of leadership groups. According to the petition, “College Council has largely become a tool for the political gain of the individuals involved rather than an institution for the public good.”

Additionally, the petition critically points to the Gargoyle Society, a selective body of juniors and seniors leaders who examine student life at the College, as having an unfair influence on the selection of CC co-presidents. “It’s been common knowledge around the College for a long time that the vast majority of CC presidents have been Gargoyle members,” Noelke said, though he made clear he did not think the Gargoyle Society had ever tampered with student voting.

Noelke said that he has heard statements alleging that students have been chosen directly for Gargoyle because “they might have been running for CC president the next year, or somehow [the society] envisioned them as running for that role.”

Fogel denied that the Gargoyle Society plays such a role. “Any claim that the Gargoyle Society is responsible for the selection of College Council co-presidents is completely false,” Fogel said.

The petition also commented on the fact that a subgroup of just eight CC members – who make up the CC Campus body – have complete control over the weekly CC agenda. Noelke said he has perceived a divide between CC  as a whole and CC Campus, the subset of  CC that includes the co-presidents, treasurer, secretary, the four all-campus class representatives and the community and diversity representative. Noelke’s criticism stemmed from the fact that CC campus meets separately and decides the agenda for the weekly CC meetings without outside consultation.

Fogel offered an alternate point-of-view. “As the only yearlong representatives of College Council, CC Campus often is looked to for guidance, but never controls conversations or attempts to silence debate,” Fogel said. “In planning meetings, CC Campus is always open to agenda items from the student body and CC members alike.”

The petition would need at least 408 signatures in order to bring a majority vote for either the continuation or dissolution of CC to the student body. Reportedly, the petition has thus far received few votes.

Noelke is currently still serving as CC treasurer. “I’m doing my job [in CC] now. I had one night that I thought about something that ended up being a bad idea, but I still have concerns, and I intend to go about trying to do the right thing to address them,” he said.