The IUPUI Student Government’s lack of checks and balance have resulted in at least one potential case of nepotism, a Former Supreme Court Justice’s distrust of Supreme Court investigations, and questionable spending of student fees.
“The GPSG’s finances, there’s a whole article you could write on that.” -GPSG President Anthony Greco
I. Who controls the money?
Every year students have to pay a “General Fee” as part of the cost of attending IUPUI. This fee funds all sorts of organizations and activities across campus.
In order to receive any of these funds, organizations must present a funding request list to the General Fee Advisory Board, or GFAB. Both of IUPUI’s student body governments-the Undgraduate Student Governement (USG) and the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG)-submit funding requests to this board, a board they admit could be be stacked to vote in their favor.
“In theory, not that this has happened, but in theory if [USG President] Niki [DaSilva] really wanted something to get passed, could she load that board with four people who support it?”
“Yeah, I mean absolutely,” said GPSG President Anthony Greco.
The GFAB looks at all of the funding requests and then combines them into one master list that is ranked in order of importance. These funding requests are competing against each other for a finite amount of money. Some organization may be denied funding while others could have all of their requests fulfilled.
The last GFAB was seated by four undergraduate students selected by the Undergraduate Student Government (UGS) President, four graduate students selected by the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG), and four faculty members.
USG President Niki DaSilva and GPSG President Anthony Greco have both sat on the GFAB as voting members. In addition, Greco has confirmed he not only presents his own organization’s funding requests to the board, but he then votes in support of those requests.
And while GPSG President Greco says he has never voted for a GPSG funding request to be “number one, two, or three,” he does acknowledge the board’s current design permits the student government to load the board in its favor.
Dean of Students Jason Spratt is the advisor to the student government and also a voting member of the General Fee Advisory Board. When asked if he saw a potential conflict of interest for student government officials to be voting members on the GFAB, Spratt said, “Yes. I think that there is the ability for one. You expect that students are going to probably vote for their [own] proposals.”
“I mean, if you really eliminate all the bias, then you won’t have anyone on the board.”- GPSG President Anthony Greco
II. Where’s the money going?
In 2015, the GPSG’s funding from the GFAB tripled from $25,000 to $75,000. That funding, plus the $19,500 the GPSG had remaining from the prior year, gave the GPSG a budget of $94,550 to start the
2015 school year.
Eight members of the GPSG are scheduled to collect 46 percent of that funding ($35,000) in the form of stipends.
“[Greco’s] personal stipend increased 50 percent in one year, he added more positions and tripled, I think, some of the value of the other stipends,” said Dental School representative Jeff Valliere. “I think it is, like I said earlier, a big maldistribution of funds to the students when their stipends are that high.”
Valliere went on to say members of the executive board got raises to their stipends without approval from the legislative branch. “They had, supposedly, a meeting in the summer.”
“Do you know who was a part of this meeting?”
III. Minimal oversight, maximum gains
The GPSG allocated $23,300 for “Initiative and Events” for the 2015-2016 school year. Initiatives and events includes things like Town Halls, Elite 50, and a publication called The Graduate.
In the spring of 2015, the Graduate and Professional Student Government passed a motion that added a new duty to the GPSG’s elected secretary position. This duty required that the secretary “Maintain the GPSG Newsletter.” Maria Harlan is the GPSG Secretary.
“The paper, the name, didn’t even exist until late summer 2015. At that time Tony and I made a plan, and then I moved forward to find writers, to find people who—staff, if you want to call it that,” Harlan said when asked about the hiring process The Graduate went through. “We posted several times online that we were looking for individuals who were interested in writing or interested in editing, things like that. Sent it out in listserv emails—that was kind of the process we went through.”
After the Graduate’s first web developer resigned amicably, Harlan quickly reached out to her sister Sarah to fill the position. Sarah had no experience in web development but was hired immediately without allowing any other qualified student to apply for the position.
The GPSG has maintained that they posted help wanted ads via social media specifically for a web developer and social media person for The Graduate, but a search of the GPSG and The Graduate’s Facebook and Twitter feeds yielded no such posts. While the GPSG initially said they would produce evidence of these posts, they later said in an email, “Regarding social media, all posts there are public and are already accessible to the Citizen [sic].”
(If anyone stumbles across these posts, please feel free to drop them in the comments.)
After hiring her sister, Harlan came to an agreement with GPSG President Greco to “kind of test the waters to see if having additional paid positions for The Graduate was something that was worth it.” This agreement was put into effect when Harlan approached the Executive Board of the GPSG—a board on which she is a voting member—to request funding to turn her sister’s newly acquired position as web developer for The Graduate into a paid position with a $700/semester stipend provided by the GPSG.
When Harlan was asked if being a member of the executive board gave her some sway over where the money went, she said,“Yes and no. I mean, I’m only one vote, if that makes any sense?”
When asked about the hiring of Harlan’s sister, President Greco said, “Maria was responsible with seeking that out with, frankly, minimal oversight.”
Three members of The Graduate are set to make $2,650 in stipends this semester. That’s $650 more than the GPSG budgeted for scholarships.
IV. Newspaper, newsletter, or propaganda?
When GPSG President Greco was first asked what The Graduate was, he said, “The Graduate is a[n] in-print, on-campus, student-run newspaper geared toward graduate and professional students at IUPUI.”
While the label of “newspaper” may seem innocuous, Department of Journalism Chair Jonas Bjork said, “I think you expect certain things from a newspaper that [from] a newsletter you don’t.”
When asked if objectivity was one of the implications of labeling a publication a “newspaper,” Bjork said, “A newspaper, I think, is seen as a pure journalistic enterprise in that it is not supposed to be tied to any organization other than its publisher. A newsletter is a much wider definition. They are tied to organizations, they are tied to specific entities, in a way that newspapers are not.”
Across multiple interviews, President Greco stated The Graduate is objective in its reporting. When the articles he wrote about a health and wellness center (titled “The Pursuit of Health and Wellness Center at IUPUI” and “The Pursuit of a Health and Wellness Center Part II”) were brought to his attention as examples of bias, President Greco steadfastly denied the articles inThe Graduate were anything but objective.
“If it (this article) were a piece of advocay, it would say things like ‘we should have this’ and ‘we need this now,’” said GPSG President Anthony Greco.
An excerpt from Greco’s article at hand (emphasis added):
In light of all of this what has your student government done? For nearly a decade student government leaders have been advocating for the construction of a health and wellness center. In 2008, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) passed legislation in support of more health and psychological services. In the fall of 2011, USG passed around a petition that received 415 signatures in support of increasing student fees to build a Health and Wellness Center. In the Spring of 2013, USG passed legislation in support of a feasibility study for a Health and Wellness Center and even worked with the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) and the General Fee Advisory Board to start putting funds aside for the feasibility study.
We now make it to the current chapter of this initiative. In the Fall of 2014 USG and GPSG began putting together a Needs Analysis where they would poll students to get empirical data regarding the usage, needs, and willingness of students to support a Health and Wellness Center. This fall you will see members of USG and GPSG all over campus with 3,000 copies of this survey making this one of the largest, if not the largest, student government surveys in IUPUI history. The importance of this survey can’t be understated. The results of the survey will be given to the IU Board of Trustees and used as part of the USG and GPSG report in October when the board meets at IUPUI. Let’s take this opportunity to spread awareness of and engage in dialogue about such an important initiative.
If you have any questions about the history of the Health and Wellness Center Initiative, the Needs Analysis, or this article, or would like to help in some way, please contact GPSG President Tony Greco (me) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While those articles are clearly advocating for a political cause, one need look no further than The Graduate’s Dean Support Letter to see the facade of objectivity falling apart. The Dean Support Letter is a form soliciting sponsorships from the deans of different schools at IUPUI. There are five tiers of sponsorship with the fifth tier being the highest.
The fifth tier, or “The Dean Tier,” requires a $550-per-issue sponsorship. That may seem steep, but in exchange the dean gets “1 full page ad, 1 full page article to correlate with the ad.” To be clear, this is the GPSG and The Graduate offering to create“sponsored content” and present it as objective news to the student body.
This isn’t just evidence that The Graduate was selling articles as if they were ads. It is evidence that the GPSG and The Graduate’sstaff both knew there was greater value in paid advertisements that didn’t look like ads.
GPSG President Greco wants The Graduate to–at least in appearance–reflect journalism. Greco even went as far as to request the Department of Journalism provide an adviser and internship opportunities as recently as last December. Both requests were denied.
Whether by intentional design or through ignorant coincidence, the Graduate and Professional Student Government has effectively funded a department of propaganda under the pretense of it being an objective newspaper–a pretense that the GPSG president still maintains in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“Frankly, I’m the one who, if you will, thought up the process.”- GPSG President Anthony Greco on the process of getting a funding request passed through the GPSG General Assembly.
V. Who you gonna call?
Student Government at IUPUI has three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. The judicial branch is where the Supreme Court of Student Governance resides. The court is funded by the student government–the same people it’s supposed to investigate.
While Greco trusts the Supreme Court of Student Governance, the former Supreme Court Justice of Student Governance doesn’t share this confidence.
“I do trust the Supreme Court Justice that we have right now would go after them fairly…[but]if you’re paying someone to investigate you, what could they possibly give you that wouldn’t make you fire them, in principle?” said former Supreme Court Justice and potential Undergraduate Presidential candidate Mosopefoluwa “Sope” Ladapo.
‘“As a result of?”
“How the system works,” he concluded.
When asked if investigative reports generated by the Supreme Court of Student Governance should be immediately viewed as suspect, Sope said, “That’s a fear that I have.”
*Over the summer of 2015, the General Fee Advisory Board changed its composition to have four undergraduate students, two graduate students, one faculty member, and three administrators. The student presidents can still select themselves to this board.*
The Campus Citizen took the use of “propaganda” in this story very seriously. We didn’t decide to label The Graduate as propaganda until we discovered the Dean Support Letter which contains explicit language selling “articles” in tandem with ads. Sponsored content in no way represents objective reporting of a newspaper and should always be labeled and identified as such. All of the evidence coupled with GPSG President Anthony Greco’s resolve to maintain that The Graduate doesn’t have a political agenda makes it impossible for us to refer to it as anything other than propaganda.