In last week’s edition of the Record, a member of the Williams Sailing Club, Jamie Vaccaro ’21, wrote an op-ed taking issue with College Council’s (CC) decision to censure the organization (“Censuring the censure: calling on CC to reconsider sanctions against sailing,” Feb. 28, 2018). As a member of CC’s Student Organizations Sanctions Committee (SOSC) at the time of the censure, I, along with other members of our committee, helped formulate our sanction recommendation and defended it before the full council. In an attempt to uphold transparency and remain responsive to the student body, I believe an explanation is owed regarding the recommendation and decision to sanction Sailing.
Our SOSC investigation was initiated after Sailing requested $4150 in retroactive funding for critical club expenses. These included the coach’s salary as well as required organizational fees and regatta entrance fees. We recommended a censure in response to Sailing’s infractions of CC’s bylaws. I’ll start with Vaccaro’s suggestion that CC punishes individuals. Article VI. §3(d)(iv) requires that all groups receiving CC funding designate a treasurer as their representative; this treasurer is also responsible for the group’s overdrafts. Though Vaccaro suggests that this holds treasurers personally responsible for club financial issues, this is incorrect. CC is not in the business of punishing individual students – that job is left to the dean’s office. Moreover, CC does not dictate the membership or composition of Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) – even under sanction – per our bylaws.
I, for one, was taken aback by what appeared to be a concerted effort to blame a single former member of the club – echoes of which appeared in last week’s op-ed. But I saw a pattern that did not match this narrative. Sailing’s mismanagement of funds is longstanding; some unpaid fees, for example, were from the 2015-2016 year. The club’s difficulties then carried over into last academic year and through to this one. The actions of the current organization contributed to our recommendation to intervene. Not only was Sailing’s current leadership subscribed to the Office of Student Life’s organizational emails during the annual RSO re-registration process, but the club continued its activities in the fall (incurring expenses and coaching fees) despite receiving a subgroup allocation of $0.
I can also personally attest to the hard work and long deliberation put into tailoring the censure during the SOSC process. Sailing cannot receive a full yearly budget during the annual subgroup process; instead, it must request funding a maximum of one month in advance. None of this precludes the club from building the institutional capacity to develop budgets, but the club’s finances are subject to continual review from CC. Moreover, Sailing will have to document its expenses every year to comply with the annual audit.
I appreciate Sailing’s substantial community outreach, investments and history. However, these assets don’t minimize Sailing’s responsibility to follow the rules and maintain good relationships with third-party actors – they strengthen it. For CC to ignore Sailing’s infractions would be an injustice to all student organizations that receive funding in compliance with the bylaws. Worse still, expenditures resulting in retroactive funding requests undermine the prerogative of the student body’s elected representatives over the expenditure of the Student Activities Tax funds. The only ethical action for CC is the careful, conscious and lawful distribution of student money. I’m satisfied that’s what was achieved in the spirit and execution of this censure. If the Sailing Club wishes to appeal – through the process we’ve communicated to them – I invite them to do so.
SOSC’s written opinion detailing Sailing’s sanction recommendations is attached to CC’s Feb. 6 meeting minutes, available on our website.
Abel Romero ’19 is from Belen, N.M. He is an American studies and political science double major.