The ASG 2022-23 cabinet is not the leadership students deserve

Eleven months ago, as the fires of the 2022-23 Allegheny Student Government Presidential Election settled, one thing became clear: The 2021-22 cabinet did not trust their successors. Almost a year later, and it’s abundantly clear that this cabinet has no respect for those whom they govern.

Week after week for the remainder of the semester, our ASG column — written exclusively about general assembly — told the tale of distrust in this handoff of power. The first two 2022-23 cabinet nominations came on May 3; neither was approved. “ASG appoints cabinet members at last General Assembly of the year,” was the headline of our final ASG column of the 2021-22 academic year. Of the nine candidates for cabinet positions put on the table during the meeting, only four passed. In two students’ shared bid for positions as co-directors of student affairs, the motion only passed when one of the students was dropped entirely.

President Veronica Green, ’23, and Vice President Rudra Schultz-Ray, ’23, had to wait until the second GA of the 2022-23 academic year to fill out their cabinet, and they did. With every candidate who was rejected the spring before.

In order to reappoint these members, which would not have been allowed under the constitution at the time, they had to add amendment 22-01, which “allows the Senate to re-try any failed motions made by previous iterations of ASG, though failed motions from the same academic year cannot be retried,” according to reporting by The Campus

Their appointments, of course, were nearly unanimously approved. Almost all of the people who would have voted against their appointments had since graduated.

Leaders of student organizations governed by ASG had every right to be dubious in the past — they are, after all, the entity who controls whether or not we get funding — but I’m afraid too many of us were skeptical of the old administration and now face the consequences of the new. It turns out that the light at the end of the tunnel was actually a dumpster fire.

During the past academic year, club leaders have languished under the out-of-touch governance of this administration. Club budgets were slashed — many by over 50% — until The Campus uncovered that ASG had miscalculated their budget, which was two times larger than they previously believed. A director of treasury had not been confirmed when this occurred, and treasury was instead being managed by executive power.

The Campus’ budget was cut by 60% at the start of the academic year because of this confusion. Within its initial club budget announcement on Aug. 15, ASG said it had cut budgets for organizations that received large swaths of funding for “T-shirts (should be a finance request),” “Collaborative events with other organizations (should be a finance requests once the parties decide on who is paying for what),” “Large events (several thousand dollars)” and “Conferences/Trips (finance requests to assess the nature of the trip and the overall level of participation in the trip needs to be reviewed by the Finance Committee).”

The Campus’ budget falls within none of these categories. We do not run events or attend conferences. We buy our apparel with ad revenue. We are exclusively a free public service for the Allegheny community, and we have been for 147 years. Yet, our budget was slashed and we were told without consideration, consultation or inquiry into how our newspaper operates that we’d be printing monthly instead of weekly from then on. This command came over a month after the paper’s yearly printing schedule had been confirmed with the Corry Journal, who prints our papers. 

At the beginning of this semester, I had a conversation with an ASG official in our newsroom. As he left, he brought up the state of our office chairs, telling me I should talk to ASG about buying new ones. It’s true, the chairs are falling apart — the arms are crumbling, half don’t lean back, and the other half are stuck leaning back — but this came after I fought tooth and nail for our organization to secure the funds for a weekly print with absolutely no wiggle room. I explained this situation to him, but my explanation fell on deaf ears. Our chairs are bad, he said, and we should talk to ASG. 

Consider this my formal request.

Even if I had spoken to Green or Director of Treasury Adriana Solis, ’23, I would have been directed toward the finance forms on ASG’s website — forms that have undergone, by my count, five overhauls since their administration began. With each new change, an email update is sent out to all clubs, their presidents and treasurers. 

“Wake up babe, new ASG finance procedure just dropped,” read a message in our newspaper staff group chat on Monday after the third iteration of the form this semester alone was sent to club leadership.

ASG’s financial procedures are comical at this point. At the Feb. 3 GA, Solis announced that she had reorganized the club budget forms for the first time this semester, saying that the change will, in part, “keep clubs from complaining.” To make the subtext explicit, ASG seems to believe that clubs are the party to blame here. In reality, clubs complain when things out of their control don’t work for them. And when the organization responsible doesn’t do its job, nothing happens.

These individuals don’t seem to care about the work we do as organization leaders on campus. They care that we follow their rules to a T — even the ones they make up along the way.

Yet most of the time, we can’t even do that if we try. Though the ASG Financial Guidelines say they are updated for the 2022-23 academic year, there’s an empty space next to the title “Director of the Treasury” and the adviser listed on the page is Jennifer Foxman, ’89. The “Club Finance Presentation” listed on ASG’s website, which is meant to teach club presidents and treasurers how to use their budgets, was last modified in November 2021 and has the information of a previous director of the treasury.

Beyond the financial struggle of operating a club, ASG has recently found itself in the habit of restricting public information.

In the Feb. 15 emergency GA, Green moved the assembly, which was convened to discuss alleged remarks by Director of the IDEAS Center Lisa Nicole Smith into a private session so that guests and cabinet members “do not fear some sort of retaliation or any sort of journalistic writing from The Campus.” No matter how many ways Green will try to spin this meeting to look constitutional, there is no precedent — outside of ASG discussing the membership status of a current official or cabinet member, or discussing the reallocation of ASG funds — for a session closed to the public and press. 

When a government restricts the press, they look like they have something to hide. Green took her approved guest list of individuals into a meeting to discuss concerns that have the potential to affect the entire student body, not just those invited.

Ignoring the constitutionality, Green’s idea was well-intentioned. She wanted to protect those who brought concerns before ASG from any potential backlash by removing public access to the meeting. What this means, though, is that Green is ignoring the code of ethics we follow as journalists. Had she approached the newspaper and explained that she wanted to protect her constituents from any sort of retaliation by college staff, we would have taken this into account in our reporting. It isn’t the role of the press to expose those who suffer, it is to call attention to those causing suffering.

If ASG’s goal is to expose the truth, then hiding it behind closed doors is not a good way to start.

As I sat waiting for GA to start on Feb. 21, the feeling that ASG officials knew they had potentially set a precedent for removing the press from their events was palpable — at least, that’s how it felt to me. Director of Community Relations William Lowthert, ’24, standing behind the ASG table runner, said aloud to the room that they could just kick me out. I told him that is most definitely not allowed. He said they could take my notebook, at least. The way to protect one group of students is not to demonize another.

Challenges with financial systems and baseline respect undermine a club’s ability to simply exist. Part of ASG’s mission statement is “to organize and coordinate programs of co-curricular and extra-curricular nature.” Over the course of this year, they’ve failed to achieve this mission.

Yes, I am an editor of our student newspaper. Yes, I am a journalist. Simultaneously, though, I am just as much a constituent of this student government as anyone else. So is my co-editor Sami Mirza, so is the rest of the newspaper staff, and so is every student at this institution. 

The true role of an editor is to watch and understand the community they serve, then report their observations to the community who reads their work. This is where the word “editorial” comes from. To hear government individuals claim that the press shouldn’t be allowed to observe or report at all is, frankly, more troubling than having to report on a college president leaving midweek.

Journalistic integrity involves two primary responsibilities. The first is reporting as objectively as we can, with the knowledge that nothing will ever be perfectly objective. The second is calling attention to a clear power imbalance through our platform, a platform which has its best interest in speaking truth to the community it serves. The Campus’ role is to report on and, when appropriate, question the decisions of those in power in our community. If members of ASG feel as though we question them too often, perhaps they should stop and take time to examine their own decisions.