Duke Student Government approved funding for Common Ground with less than a month remaining before the retreat.
Common Ground co-director Colleen O’Connor, a junior, asked DSG for $2,254 to fund a budget shortfall, which arose out of a miscommunication with the Center for Multicultural Affairs following a change in Common Ground leadership. O’Connor and former Common Ground co-director Kevin Hedrick, a senior, announced at Wednesday’s Senate meeting that the money to cover the shortfall was needed to finalize arrangements for the retreat and that Common Ground would be an incomplete experience without the funding.
The Common Ground retreat occurs once per semester and accommodates 75 participants selected through an application process. Between 250 and 300 people typically apply, Hedrick said.
There were passionate opinions within the senate, both for and against the allocation of money.
“I went to Common Ground, and it really did profoundly change my life in many ways,” said Executive Vice President Patrick Oathout, a junior. “This program gives a lot of value to the University and is full of Duke history.”
Opposition came from senators concerned with using the Senate’s Legislative Discretionary fund to cover the shortfall. The fund contains $5,000.
Vice President for Academic Affairs Nikolai Doytchinov, a sophomore, said that he questioned the logic behind spending “50 percent of the remaining budget on less than 2 percent of the student body.”
Junior Stefani Jones, vice president for equity and outreach, said the benefits of Common Ground outweighed the financial burden.
“We shouldn’t put this off any longer,” she said. “This is important. They need the money now.”
Junior Marcus Benning, senator for Durham and regional affairs, said the Legislative Discretionary fund was not the proper source for the money. He noted that, traditionally, funding requests of this nature would be fulfilled using the surplus fund. Although the surplus fund has about $70,000, it would take at least a week to process a request to take money out of that account, Oathout said. He added that the retreat was too soon to “waste” more time.
Benning said that it was not the responsibility of DSG to compromise their practices in order to fit another group’s timeline.
“An emergency on their part doesn’t have to create an emergency for us,” he said.
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Vice President for Residential Life Jacob Zionce, a sophomore, said he had a different view on the role of DSG.
“An emergency for the student body is an emergency for us, their representatives,” he said.
Oathout said that approving the funding would not only permit the finalization of plans for the retreat, but it would also give a “DSG stamp of approval on a program that brings so much to the student body.”
The motion passed, depleting the Legislative Discretionary fund by half.
Benning said that because a large part of the Legislative Discretionary fund has been used—in his opinion—improperly, other projects that need to draw from the account cannot be funded.
He introduced legislation to allocate funds for a staff appreciation event. The event would require about $1,600 from the Legislative Discretionary fund.
During the debate on this funding, Senator for Social Culture Fedner Lauture, a sophomore, announced that passing the staff appreciation legislation would not leave enough money in the fund to pay for his current senate project.
Lauture is planning a spirit week for the Duke vs. the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill basketball game. He said plans include free food in Krzyzewskiville and a raffle.
The staff appreciation funding was tabled, and Oathout said that he promised to have legislation to transfer money from the surplus fund into the Legislative Discretionary fund within the week to fund both projects.
Oathout responded to tensions within the senate regarding the use of funds.
“It has been very difficult dealing with the Senate tonight,” he said.
In other business:
President Alex Swain, a senior, said that talks with administration regarding the alcohol policy continued this week, but there is “nothing new with that.”
She responded to an article published Wednesday in The Chronicle that examined conflicts of interest among the Young Trustee Nominating Committee. She said that although no rules were broken in the YTNC, she is “looking forward to an in-depth discussion” about the practices of the committee.
Oathout said that there needs to be a dialogue about the ethics of YTNC members endorsing candidates after the finalists are announced.
Senator for Services Lavanya Sunder, a freshman, said that Fix My Campus is “doing really well,” adding that she formed a new committee to help sort through the messages they receive because there are too many each week for one person to manage.