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Uncertainty, investigation delayed revealing DSG surplus

During Tuesday night's Duke Student Government meeting, Trinity junior Husein Cumber, chair of the Student Organizations Finance Committee, revealed to the legislature that due to two years of overbilling on the student activities fee, DSG currently holds a budgetary surplus of about $150,000-and that Cumber and two others have known about it since last October.

Cumber said that he and two other members of DSG decided not to make the surplus public until they could be sure of its source and decide what they were going to do about it.

"When we first saw the numbers, obviously we did not initially think there was a problem," Cumber said in an interview Tuesday night after the DSG meeting. "Once we started looking into it, it was something that we felt we needed to fully understand before going in front of the legislature and inform them of opinions we may have or to state unsubstantiated claims that we could not verify." Cumber added that he wanted to wait until he could make a "coherent and effective" presentation to members of the legislature before going ahead and telling them about the excess.

Trinity senior Peggy Cross, DSG president, and Trinity junior Peter Tolsma, DSG treasurer, also knew about the surplus in October, and echoed Cumber's opinions about revealing it before it had been thoroughly investigated.

"It was never a secret... The people who found it brought it to us and we discussed it," Cross said, adding that she did not believe that this year's SOFC chair and DSG treasurer should be held accountable for what last year's SOFC chair and DSG treasurer did not catch.

Tolsma said that when the money was first discovered, no one really knew why it was there or if it was even supposed to be spent. It was not until this semester, he said, that those who knew about the surplus fully understood where it came from and began to consider seriously what they would do about it.

Sue Coon, associate dean of University Life, has been involved with the audit since last semester and characterized the overbilling as an "honest mistake."

"Here was a mistake that was made in all innocence and needed to be corrected. I think what Husein's proposed is the right thing to do," Coon said in reference to Cumber's proposal to give the extra money back to the students. That measure, which would require approval by two-thirds of the legislature, is scheduled to be voted on at the Feb. 28 DSG meeting.

Because students were charged an additional $7.19 per semester for the last two years, members of the class of 1999 would receive a refund of $14.38. Members of the classes of 1996, 1997 and 1998 would receive a refund of $28.76.

It is still unclear exactly how the mistake started, why it went unrecognized for so long and whether the fault lies with the bursar's office, DSG, the SOFC or all of the above.

Cumber said that in addition to checking the budgetary paperwork carefully, he intends to speak with past SOFC chairs and DSG treasurers to find out what, if anything, they knew about the surplus.

"Over the course of the next three months, we are obviously going to sit down and discuss if there are any other preventative measures we can devise to make sure that this does not happen again," he said.

Misty Allen contributed to this story.


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