USG debate over funding leads to conflict among Senators and Speaker

Debate over a decision to provide additional funding for a University of Connecticut men’s Crew trip resulted in a crackdown on personal behavior violations by the Speaker of the Senate, causing several members to rebuke the speaker’s conduct as unprofessional.

Speaker of the Senate Kevin Alvarez opened the meeting by giving Michael Daniels, the Undergraduate Representative for the UConn Board of Trustees, the floor to deliver a report on the state of UConn, which focused on the recent cuts proposed by Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy to the state legislature.

“We’re in pretty bad shape, budget-wise, as we saw in the report by the governor. If we get a little of that money back, as soon as the current tuition plan is over, after this year we’d be looking at significant increases to tuition and significant cuts, including layoffs,” said Michael Daniels, the Undergraduate representative on the Board of Trustees. “The next generation plan would still be in place, but we wouldn’t be hiring the faculty anymore, or maintain the student to teacher ratio.”

Daniels warned of dire consequences if Governor Malloy’s budget is passed with the cuts in place, and emphasized the risks to staff, UConn’s ability to educate students and the university’s national academic reputation.

“The best thing we can do is to contact people in the state legislature, and tell them there’s a direct cost to the students and hurts the economy as a whole,” Daniels said. “There’s never been a worse day than today in terms of what we have to talk about in terms of the future, but that’s not to say that this university hasn’t made a lot of progress, or that we aren’t one of the top universities in the nation, but we have to keep it that way.”

Legislation that would fund a trip for the UConn Men’s Crew team was proposed by Senators George Wang and Venkatram Gopal. As several members pointed out, this is the third consecutive week in which legislation to override funding board policy has been proposed, after the Senate voted last week to approve funding for the UConn College Republicans trip to CPAC.

“This is the third week in a row where we have debated these things, where we’re breaking funding board policies,” Senator Daniel Byrd said. “I’m going to stand firm in my belief that there are very few circumstances in which we should be breaking funding board policies.”

Speaker Alvarez stepped down from his chair in order to vigorously defend the legislation, arguing that the legislation was crucial for the team to practice their sport.

“This is a group that needs this to function. There are very few groups that need to go over the twelve thousand dollar cap. The idea that we’re going to open the floodgates is ridiculous,” Alvarez said. “When other areas of campus are failing the student body, we need to pick up the slack.”

That legislation failed after multiple votes, prompting Alvarez to announce he would strictly enforce USG policies on personal conduct during Senate meetings, including banning eating and the use of cell phones or computers.

“Given that the majority of the Senate seems to want me to enforce all policies to a ‘t,’ if I see you eating in here, I will give you one warning and then you will be removed. If I see you on your phone or computer, I will give you one warning and then you will be removed,” Alvarez said.

Several Senators protested the speaker’s behavior, including Senator Stephanie Sponzo, whom Alvarez called out for using her cell phone, despite Sponzo’s claims that she was using it to prepare for a presentation to the Senate.

“I’m preparing a presentation that I will give in a few minutes, and I do not like to be chastised for doing my job. I was using technology in an appropriate manor,” Sponzo said.

Funding Board Chair Rishita Jani also questioned whether Alvarez’s behavior was due to losing the vote minutes earlier, and questioned whether he really believed that eating during meetings disrupted Senate behavior.

“Are you not acting out of spite after the decision that was just made?” Jani said.

Alvarez emphasized that he believed the stricter enforcement was both in the best interest of and the will of the Senate, though he admitted that his point about enforcing every one of USG’s policies did not draw the reaction he expected.

“I genuinely don’t have a problem with eating. My point is, if we’re going to try to stick so closely to our policies, then we should stick to all of our policies, a point that fell very, very flat,” Alvarez said.

In addition, funding for the UConn Dressage team to pay for a mandatory EMT and legislation aimed at increasing the transparency of USG were both passed with large margins. Finally, legislation to cover the UConn International Relations Association team registration fees was also approved.

USG also debated whether to support affirmative consent legislation for the state of Connecticut. While UConn has such a policy, the state uses a different policy, “no means no,” resulting in several strong statements of support from various Senators.

“I spoke to the President of USG from 1964, and in the civil rights era, this is what they discussed, and people asked if they should pursue this. USG should absolutely be part of this movement,” Conboy said.

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