ASMSU: How far does its autonomy extend?

This is the second article in a three-part series looking into the role of the Leadership Institute at MSU. See last week’s article for background information.

When the ASMSU Senate was budgeting for the 2013-2014 academic year, miscommunication surrounding the Leadership Institute led to the breaking of ASMSU’s constitution and an undermining of student government autonomy.

Complications arose last spring while the ASMSU senate was finalizing the Leadership Institute’s budget for the 2014-2015 academic year. Being an ASMSU program, the Leadership Institute is funded entirely by student fees. As the director of both the Leadership Institute and the provost’s Leadership Fellows Program, Carmen McSpadden’s contract put her at a 0.5 full time equivalent (FTE) for both programs before budgeting last year. (A 0.5 FTE corresponds to a half-time position.) In response to the Leadership Institute’s recent growth, ASMSU decided to increase the director’s position to full-time. This change initially passed through the Senate but was later reevaluated as the Leadership Institute did not feel that ASMSU had adequately honored its budget proposal.

The Leadership Institute requested that the director’s FTE remain at 0.5 and that an administrative assistant be added. Associate Provost David Singel thought it would be wise to keep the FTE at 0.5 for another year as ASMSU and MSU administration developed a plan to expand the Leadership Institute. “There was a hope to resolve this in such a way that did not jeopardize the continued growth of the programs and avoided vulnerability in this molting stage,” he said.

The Leadership Institute additionally argued that changing the director position to full-time would not allow McSpadden to continue as the director of both the Leadership Institute and the Leadership Fellows Program. In response, the ASMSU Senate compromised and changed the Leadership Institute director position to a 0.75 FTE after discussing the matter in executive session. “We simply wanted to give the director more time,” said Kate Lamm, former ASMSU Senator and former Leadership Institute employee.

However, when reviewing the budget shortly before the end of fall semester, Brandi Higgins, former ASMSU operations manager, discovered that McSpadden was still working at a 0.5 FTE with each program. The additional money that ASMSU had allocated for her salary remained unused. Higgins immediately informed Student Body President Lindsay Murdock, who was unaware of the situation.

During the summer, Murdock had discussed McSpadden’s FTE with Singel. “We decided, well for the duration of the year, let’s keep it here,” said Murdock. Murdock understood the conversation to mean that the Leadership Institute director’s FTE would remain at 0.75, as the ASMSU Senate had budgeted. Singel understood that to mean McSpadden’s position would remain at 0.5 FTE as it had been in the past. Both Murdock and Singel acknowledged this miscommunication.

Until this year’s budgeting began right before winter break, the only people who knew that McSpadden was working at a 0.5 FTE with the Leadership Institute were McSpadden, Singel and Phyllis Bock, ASMSU attorney and director of staff. No students were informed of the change.

When the Leadership Institute presented its 2014-2015 budget request calling for the director to remain at a 0.5 FTE, the senate was upset to discover last year’s budget had been disregarded. The senate felt that this administrative override of its decision was a violation of its autonomy. Although unintentional, it was a breach of ASMSU’s constitution.

According to Higgins, ASMSU does not have a clear system in place to handle constitutional violations. “We’re adjusting our bylaws, we’re addressing how to handle this if it happens in the future, but really the only thing we can do now is budgeting this season,” ASMSU Senator Hannah Mains said.

Lamm pointed out that by going against the senate’s budget, the MSU administration was “disregarding the voices of 15,000 students.”

“It’s been really good for us to shed light on the importance of the students having the final say in the budget and the students having the final say in the direction of the programming because that is very central to our mission as student government,” Murdock said. ASMSU and the provost’s office are working together to ensure that similar issues do not arise in the future. “From here all we can do is move forward,” Mains said.

Pick up a copy of the March 20 Exponent to read about the future of the Leadership Institute in the third article of this series.