At the Jan. 25 meeting of the Student Finance Board (SFB), a motion was unanimously passed to give the College Union Board (CUB) full funding of $1,059.40 to bring its advisor, Tim Asher, to a campus activities conference.
This transaction might seem like a normal issue on the docket of an SFB meeting. But because Asher is also the advisor of SFB, it raised some eyebrows.
Is there a conflict of interest when the advisor of the club that receives the most money of any organization from the Student Activities Fund also advises the group that allocates the money?
According to Asher and representatives from CUB and SFB, the answer is an absolute no.
“There is no hidden agenda on my part,” Asher said.
“This is not some conspiracy,” Caitlin Gaughan, director of CUB, said.
“There is nothing improper going on,” Julia Pratt, executive director of SFB, said.
Asher, Gaughan and Pratt emphasized that Asher, who also serves as associate director of Campus Activities and interim advisor of the Leadership Development Program, only advises CUB out of necessity.
“No one in their sane mind would choose to advise two organizations like this,” Gaughan said.
Asher had previously served as director of Campus Programs, and with that came the job of CUB advisor. But when he was promoted to associate director of Campus Activities, he left his post as CUB advisor and became the advisor of SFB.
Kevin Maldonado took the job of director of Campus Programs and CUB advisor. However, he resigned last summer and CUB was left without an advisor.
With CUB desperately seeking an advisor, Asher stepped in because of his past experience and knowledge needed for the job. Pratt pointed out that the CUB advisor must have knowledge of laws and insurance for dealing with big contracts and performers.
Asher, Gaughan and Pratt also stressed that Asher works extremely hard and would have no time to push his own agenda even if he wanted to.
“No one has enough hours in the day to advise all the clubs that he does,” Gaughan said. She noted that Asher sometimes comes back to the College from his house at night if there is an urgent CUB matter.
Asher said that he does realize that his involvement in both CUB and SFB could be construed as a conflict of interest, which played a major role in his last-minute decision not to attend the campus activities conference in Boston on Feb. 18.
Asher said that it is SFB policy that if members of an organization invite their advisor to a conference and he accepts, SFB will fund the advisor.
According to Pratt, when CUB asked SFB to fund Asher’s expenses for the conference, SFB board members asked Asher to leave during the deliberations and vote so as to not cause any possible bias.
SFB unanimously approved funding and Asher was all set to go.
However, three days before the conference, Asher picked up the Feb. 15 issue of The Signal and saw a letter to the editor questioning the ethics of Asher going to a CUB conference funded by SFB.
In the letter, Thomas Simons, treasurer of the Bowling Club, criticized SFB for using more than $1,000 in students’ money to send a College employee to a conference. “How is it justifiable . to send an employee to a conference while so many student organizations struggle to get any cent they can out of the same fund?” he wrote.
Asher said that the letter made him second-guess his decision to attend the conference. “I thought (Simons) had a good point,” he said. “I had not considered it from that point of view.”
Asher ultimately decided not to go to the conference. “As SFB advisor, I should set a higher standard for myself,” he said, although he noted that he had followed all the rules in obtaining funding.
It was too late to recover his registration fee, so Asher absorbed the $275 fee himself. “I didn’t spend any student money,” Asher said.
Pratt and Gaughan said that CUB does get a lot of money from SFB, but that is because of the popularity of its events.
Pratt said that while most clubs are reaching out to a relatively small audience, “CUB is reaching out to 2,000 students at a time.” CUB brings in a major comedian and concert each year, she said, which benefits all students at the College.
SFB approved CUB’s $29,280 proposal on Sept. 14 to bring singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw to the College, forked over $28,580 for filmmaker Kevin Smith on Oct. 19 and supported CUB’s bid on Feb. 1 for the College to host comedian Pablo Francisco.