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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

SGA at Odds Over Club Sports

Peter Dykeman-Bermingham ’18.5, the Student Government Association treasurer and finance committee chair, presented a bill to the SGA on Sunday that would establish a fund to cover the cost of food expenses on trips by student organizations for students on financial aid.

The bill’s formal introduction to the SGA followed the publication of Dykeman-Bermingham’s op-ed in last week’s issue of The Campus, in which he and several SGA signatories expressed a desire to repeal a club sports bill that passed on Feb. 18, given their concern that implementing both the financial aid and club sports bills is not financially feasible.

The club sports bill eliminated a rule that prevented the creation of club teams for already existing varsity sports. Now, teams like tennis or soccer can apply for “club” status and, upon approval of the SGA, can operate under a provisional status for two years, during which they will receive $200 in funding each year.

Dykeman-Bermingham estimated that the new bill would require an additional $20,000 in funding after the provisional period, assuming the creation of at least four new club teams that would then move beyond the provisional period at an estimated $5,000 cost per team per year. He estimated that his financial aid bill would cost about the same amount, providing a maximum cost estimate of $23,000.

Dykeman-Bermingham’s view is that the SGA can only implement one of the bills without straining the SGA’s reserve funds. He said that if the SGA were to successfully run both programs, they would be forced to recommend an increase to the student activities fee, which would constitute a tuition increase that would have to be approved by trustees.

“We recommend the student activities fee each year, which is a component of tuition,” Dykeman-Bermingham explained. “It would be a year or two down the road, because the club sports bill’s financial impact comes in two years. That is when they are no longer capped at $200. We are going to be hit.”

Feb senator Rae Aaron ’19.5, who co-sponsored the club sports bill and is the speaker of the SGA Senate, argued that the costs aren’t as clear cut, and disagreed with Dykeman-Bermingham’s view that the two programs cannot coexist.

“Rather than working constructively on both of these SGA accessibility goals together, Peter is approaching the situation with an either-or proposition, not recognizing the larger scenario or being willing to work on both together,” Aaron said.

“The (club sports) bill that we passed so far hasn’t cost us anything, possibly could cost us a lot,” she said. “Peter’s bill possibly could cost us a lot more than $20,000 and that’s kind of frightening. But I think it’s the SGA’s job to make decisions that benefit the student body, and if we need to revise them in the future we can do that.”

Dykeman-Bermingham acknowledged that his estimates are “crude,” given that he is multiplying the number of students on club rosters that travel by the percentage of students on financial aid. He said he is bound to this system of estimation by the bill’s commitment to confidentiality. Dykeman-Bermingham said he has no knowledge of which specific student members of clubs receive financial aid.

Community Council co-chair Tina Brook ’18, who said she supports the financial aid bill, also did not view the situation as an either-or, but believes the timing of the club sports bill’s passing will influence the debate over the financial aid bill.

“I think the timing of the financial aid bill and the club sports bill is pertinent to understanding why it seems to be an either-or situation,” Brook said. “Due to the fact that it has been introduced following a vote in favor of the club sports bill, which jeopardized the financial feasibility of the SGA moving forward, this new bill must be discussed under the shadow of the club sports bill.”

Aaron and Dykeman-Bermingham have both identified using the SGA reserve funds as another potential solution to the lack of sufficient funding. But both think that this option, along with the option of increasing the student activities fee, should be approached with caution.

Derek Doucet, dean for student activities, warned against both possibilities.

“I don’t see any way that the SGA can substantially expand its support for club sports, while funding the financial assistance bill, without accepting a large reduction in its reserves. That’s not something I’d recommend,” he said. “An increase in the comprehensive fee to pay for the associated costs is not a step to be taken lightly.”

The goal of the proposed food financial aid program is to make clubs and student organizations that participate in off-campus travel more accessible.

“A bunch of organizations have a component to some degree off-campus, and for full student involvement you need full student participation,” Dykeman-Bermingham explained while presenting the bill on Sunday. “The SGA currently only funds reimbursements for gas mileage and vehicle rental. . . . This would help to bridge that gap for students with lower means.”

Dykeman-Bermingham emphasized his desire for a repeal of the club sports bill in his presentation.

“My dream is that we repeal the club sports bill,” he said. “That’s a financial liability of around $20,000, which is four sports at our average club sport cost of $5,000. That’s not an unreasonable expectation. This in its full force is not sustainable alongside an unamended club sports bill without increasing our student activities fee which would increase the financial liability here.”

Aaron said she was surprised that no one had brought forth a repeal bill, given that Brook, SGA president Jin Sohn ’18 and senator Hannah Pustejovsky ’18 signed Dykeman-Bermingham’s op-ed.

“It was strange seeing the op-ed for me,” Aaron said. “I think they should absolutely put forth their opinions. However, the op-ed was calling for a repeal of this bill. And nobody brought forth a bill to repeal the bill.”

In response, Brook said that multiple SGA members were considering potential adjustments and compromises to the club sports issue, and that they believed a simple repeal was not the correct response.

“After discussions with other members of the senate, I recognize that repealing the bill is not the appropriate approach,” Brook said. “The op-ed called for a reverse on the decisions on club sports, that does not necessarily have to involve a repeal, but rather amending the bill.”

Brook and Dykeman-Bermingham both brought up the potential alternative of designating club sports as “social sports,” which they say would be less of a financial risk than the current plan.

“This suggestion is in its early stages of planning,” Brook said. “But I see it as a favorable compromise. This would involve reframing the ‘Club Sports Bill’ as a ‘Social Sports Bill.’ ‘Social Sports would be official student organizations with the capacity to reserve spaces, have an email list, and receive funding for on-campus events, but not (necessarily) off-campus events. These changes align with the original goals of the Club Tennis group when presenting the first bill,” she said, referring to the SGA’s Dec. 3, 2017, meeting.

Another point of contention surrounding the club sports bill was the amendment that Dykeman-Bermingham added to the bill before it was passed, which removed a $1,000 cap on club sports teams’ funding after the two-year provisional period. Aaron explained that she was uncomfortable with the bill’s final form due to the increased costs that teams could incur as a result of this amendment.

“I trust Peter a lot and his knowledge, so I voted for it and I feel really uncomfortable with what it ended up being,” Aaron said.

Dykeman-Bermingham explained that he added this amendment in order to enable the club sports funding process to provide realistic funds, which he said are consistently over $1,000 for current club sports.

“There is not a single club sport that is under $1,000,” he said. “In capping them at funding for $1,000 perpetually, we would inherently make a gap on average of $4,000 that students would have to pay in to run that organization. We would be institutionalizing inaccessibility.”

Aaron disagreed with this logic, arguing that students already pay additional fees, and that the keeping the cap is more responsible.

“Peter doesn’t acknowledge the fact that club sports participants currently pay dues directly to their teams, allowing them to function on more than the money we allocate them,” Aaron said. “There is no reason to assume that we need to fund all club sports in full, or that that is how it currently works. Many clubs also have gift accounts and endowments.”

Dissatisfaction on behalf of SGA members in the aftermath of the club sports bill’s passing also prompted Senator John Gosselin ’20 to propose a bill on Sunday that would change the SGA’s bylaws. The bill would make it so the Senate speaker, who typically chairs discussion at SGA meetings, would be temporarily removed from the position when the SGA discusses a bill sponsored by the Speaker. As speaker, Aaron moderated the deliberation of the club sports bill, which she also sponsored.

“People came to me with concerns that the vote on the (club sports) bill was off and could have been better, and I think part of that process should be preventing the speaker from being the speaker when we’re discussing a bill they sponsor,” Gosselin said.

Brook expressed frustration to The Campus that the vote on the club sports bill occurred despite the absences of several senators in opposition to the bill.

“I was not able to be present, nor was Senator Andrews, who expressed discontent,” Brook said. “Furthermore, Senator Koontz was also absent and we were unable to hear her opinions either.  The vote was very close, and our absence prevented it from being a more fair proceeding.”

Brook also felt that the college’s director of club sports Doug Connelly’s and Dykeman-Bermingham’s vocal opposition to the bill, and the nature of the debate in general, should have delayed a vote. Brook was aware of Connelly’s and Dykeman-Bermingham’s opposition to the bill, despite her own absence, by consulting the meeting’s minutes.

“Given that the vote was so contentious ([8–1–5]), and the discussions regarding this bill had been lively, it was the speaker’s responsibility to recognize the need for further deliberation, particularly with all Senators present and commentary from all stakeholders involved,” Brook said.

Aaron recognized the frustration that other senators may have felt during the discussion of the club sports bill given her position as speaker, her position on the club tennis team and her involvement in the bill. She said that she supports the idea behind Gosselin’s proposal because of the conflicting obligations she feels as speaker and senator.

“It always feels like the speaker has more power than you because they’re controlling the conversation and that’s always going to be frustrating,” Aaron said at the meeting. “I do like aspects of this bill. . . . It’s really hard to argue for my constituents when I’m also supposed to be moderating a conversation. So I can’t totally do my job as a senator when I’m supposed to be unbiased.”

“It definitely does look somehow like I was trying to do sketchy things, but I’m not a schemer,” Aaron told The Campus in an interview.

Though Gosselin’s original plan proposes that the president assume the role of speaker in these cases, the senators discussed various models used by other schools and legislative bodies, including not letting the speaker vote at all. The senators were in general agreement that the speaker should still be allowed to vote given their position as an elected official.

“I think you should have the free reign to vote and share your opinion,” Brook said. “I’m very in favor of this because you shouldn’t feel the need to moderate and also defend yourself, and that for anyone can be difficult to balance. So that’s not only for the proceedings but also for you as a speaker to have the right to speak and defend yourself and not have your comments misconstrued as you controlling the conversation.”

Gosselin made sure to clarify that the bill was not meant to criticize Aaron’s performance.

“This isn’t critical of the job you’ve been doing. I hope it’s implied that anyone in your position would have similar difficulties,” he said.

The bill was tabled for discussion next week.