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ASM Passes Legal Workaround for COVID-19 Student Relief Fund

Posted: 2021-02-03 16:03:36   Expiration: 2050-02-11 02:03:36

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ASM Passes Legal Workaround for COVID-19 Student Relief Fund: 
Leadership is Prepared to Challenge Any Further Objections

MADISON, WI — Last night, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Student Council convened for a Special Session and unanimously passed legislation that provides a legal workaround to any issues with SAP 820 compliance.

After Chair Mitnick authorized the $2 million budget transfer to implement the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund last Thursday, Vice Chancellor for Finance & Administration Laurent Heller sent a letter blocking the fund, stating that the use of segregated university fees cannot be used for rent and utility support for individual students. As a result, Chair Mitnick, Representative Phillips, Representative Marshall, Representative Lampron, Chair Owino, Chair Jorudd, Representative Worms, Representative Rupnick, and Representative Li proposed new legislation.

On this, Representative Erin Marshall said “The UW administration, as a large institution, is risk-adverse and values compliance; we didn't expect them to allow something like this without a fight. The avenues to support students are thus fairly restrictive and often depend on outside donors; we wanted to do something more fluid. Students already contribute via segregated fees to services utilized by other students on campus; the unused seg-fee reserve offered the opportunity to extend this beyond just services but to mutual aid on a campus scale, which seemed like a moral imperative given ASM's mission.”

SAP 820 I.B.(3)d and SAP 820 I.B(2)e.5 provide an exception to Heller’s argument. It states that direct financial aid in the form of room & board can be disseminated to student government leaders. The legislation’s sponsors proposed and subsequently passed the creation of the Mask Ambassador Committee, with an indefinite number of Mask Ambassador at-large student positions open to all UW-Madison students. Selected recipients of the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund who are also selected to be Mask Ambassadors, a position of student government leadership, are excepted under the above SAP policies, and therefore eligible to receive any ASM disbursements, either directly or administered by a contracted organization, from allocable segregated university fees.

Dean of Students Christina Olstad was present in the meeting. When called on to answer questions, she stated opposition to the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund, but was unable to provide any legal justification as to how this new legislation would violate SAP 820 during the meeting.

Chair of the Nominations Board Lennox Owino responded, “In as much as I’m glad the legislation passed, it is disappointing to see that the school’s administration keeps looking for different ways to ensure the COVID-19 relief fund hits a brick wall. I and other council members who sponsor this bill, with the leadership of those who drafted it, will see it to the very end that the funds in discussion are put to the right use, and that is assisting our fellow students in need.”

Further, several members of the public spoke in support of the new legislation. City of Madison District 6 Alder-Elect and Success Coach for the UW-Madison Odyssey Project Brian Benford shared that many of the students he works with are ineligible to receive any aid from the Office of Financial Aid’s pre-existing funding sources.

Representative Jack Phillips, one of two new Graduate School Representatives, was frustrated with the response of UW Administration. “In my opinion, we provided sufficient legal justification in the original legislation, and Vice Chancellor Heller’s argument against it doesn’t hold water. But, unlike the Administration, our goal is to get relief to students who need it as soon as possible, and the most expedient way to do that was to directly address Heller’s criticism through the creation of Mask Ambassadors. It’s strange, then, that Dean Olstad took umbrage with that workaround. She was included in the email conversation where the UW General Counsel, Quinn Williams, proposed the student government leadership exception prior to the initial legislation, and was included in the conversation where Heller declared the initial legislation to be a form of financial aid, which may be granted to student government leaders. If Olstad truly ‘shares our goal,’ she should be fighting to find creative solutions to the problems that she and her fellow administrators have caused, rather than concern-trolling student government meetings. In truth, none of these need to be roadblocks; the University could easily use their legal team to support and implement this fund, but they’ve chosen instead to prevent us from helping students excluded by other existing options, leaving students at risk of eviction, in the middle of winter, during a pandemic.”

Chair Mitnick authorized the $2 million COVID-19 Student Relief Fund this morning. “If it is blocked, ASM is prepared to challenge the administration in court,” he shared.

The next Student Council meeting will be held via a Zoom meeting on February 9th, 2021.

-- Associated Students of Madison: Jacob Broehm