40% Plan leaders navigate Duke Student Government opposition
40 Percent Plan supporters are frustrated with what they see as an unwillingness of DSG leaders to communicate with them about the policy.
DSG's Executive Board—a group of 10 elected vice presidents and other leaders who lead committees of senators—is united against the 40 Percent Plan, which would allow students to allocate a portion of their activities fees to the groups of their choosing. Supporters of the plan said they think this indicates that the board is out of touch with the student body, trying to stifle discussion and unwilling to deviate from the status quo.
Several DSG Exec members—primarily DSG President Stefani Jones, a senior, and Student Organization Finance Committee Chair Joyce Lau, a junior—have publicly fought against the 40 Percent Plan. In addition to hosting information sessions about SOFC, they have met with student leaders, written columns for The Chronicle and recently launched a Facebook campaign.
Senior Daniel Strunk, one of the two architects of the 40 Percent Plan, said Exec is advantaged in the race because they have more resources and institutional knowledge, as well as stature and experience as elected campus leaders. The pro-40 Percent Plan group—led by former DSG Judiciary chair Strunk and sitting senator, senior Ajeet Hansra, the plan's other author—have engaged in many of the same campaign tactics, but with a smaller core group of about 20 volunteers.
“It’s very difficult for us to counteract that as a grassroots organization,” Strunk said.
The proposal is the first student petition-driven referendum to go on a DSG ballot in recent memory. Voting will take place Tuesday.
Because SOFC funding is currently complicated, students are not able to make a fully informed decision about the 40 Percent Plan, let alone how to allocate their money if the plan passes, said juniors Ray Li, vice president for academic affairs, and Ellie Schaack, vice president for facilities and environment.
This is a sign that they do not trust students, Hansra said.
"It's not a matter of not trusting students," Jones said. "It’s a matter of making sure all groups are treated equally and fairly."
It is “telling, not upsetting” that the Exec is against the 40 Percent Plan because it shows that the experts in funding allocation do not have faith that it would work, Schaack said. She added that not all vice presidents are against any sort of student allocation, just this specific plan.
Lau said that because the people leading the opposition are members of the DSG Executive Board, it is easy for the 40 Percent Plan supporters to paint the debate as the Executive Board versus a grassroots organization.
Strunk and Hansra noted that they are frustrated because it seems that Jones and Lau came to a conclusion to be against the plan before having a formal meeting about it.
As a result, Hansra and Strunk have said this led Jones and Lau to disseminate misinformation in The Chronicle and among other student leaders. Additionally, Jones and Lau are not open to compromise, Strunk and Hansra said.
Jones and Lau—as well as several vice presidents—heard about the policy from Strunk in passing the previous semester and already had doubts when he first presented it to the Senate Jan. 15. They followed Strunk and Hansra’s presentation with their own immediately afterward, even though they had yet to approach the authors with any questions or concerns prior to the Senate meeting.
“DSG Exec laughed and thought it wasn’t worth considering,” Hansra said. “They didn’t take the time to sit down and figure out what we’re advocating for.”
Although both sides have further fleshed out their arguments since the policy was first proposed, Strunk and Hansra said they still have difficulties with scheduling a formal meeting with Exec.
In the same way Exec has been played up as unwilling to consider the 40 Percent Plan or a compromise, some Exec members see Strunk and Hansra as unwilling to consider an internal reform to SOFC. Lau said this would be more efficient and effective.
Hansra argued that SOFC has a history of not being able to reform themselves, despite years of issues concerning transparency and fair allocation. For this reason—after researching SOFC—they decided that going to the student body to enact reform is a better solution.
Strunk and Hansra argue that the number of people supporting this issue—1,100 signed the petition to put the plan on the ballot—should be enough to show DSG that it is a priority for the student body. Therefore it deserves a discussion.
This year, DSG has passed several bylaw reforms to SOFC, including making the chair an elected position.
Internally, the DSG Executive Board's united support has been described by some as having put undue pressure, directly and indirectly, on members of the Senate.
Sophomore Abhi Sanka, senator for residential life and candidate for executive vice president, said he felt pressure from members of the Executive Board, including being told that he was making a mistake by sharing an article from Strunk on Facebook.
Senators often put their trust in their committee’s vice president when it comes to issues outside of those directly under their purview, like the 40 Percent Plan, he said. They could also feel pressured to align with a certain side because they want members of the Executive Board to support them in an election.
“I don’t remember a single instance in which the Senate has voted on a piece of legislation that the Exec board is fully against, and it has passed,” Sanka said.
The Senate is, however, split on the 40 Percent Plan, and some publicly air their opinions.
Three people sent complaints about undue pressure from Exec to oppose the 40 Percent Plan to an anonymous online comment box earlier this year, Jones said. She responded by holding an emergency Exec meeting and sending out an email reminding senators that they should feel comfortable taking whichever side they choose.
Freshman Tara Bansal, senator for academic affairs, said the pro-40 Percent Plan leaders’ perception that there is undue pressure coming from Exec is “not true or representative.”
“I personally have never felt that a decision is being made for me,” she said.
An original version of this article referred to Abhi Sanka as a junior when he is actually a sophomore. The Chronicle regrets the error.