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The Green Initiative Referendum: Why You're Funding a Magazine That Doesn't Exist

Issue date: 4/14/10
Section: News

By Jesse Lent Hunter

College For more than 20 years, The Shield was Hunter College's only literary magazine focusing on minority issues. With a contributing writing staff that expanded well beyond the student body (and in 2003 even included journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murder in 1982), The Shield was a passionate voice within the academic community.

However, as is the fate of many college organizations, when its core members left the college back in 2007, there was no one to take up the reins. For most clubs that would have meant no one to apply for funding from the Hunter Media Board, no one to submit room key requests and the organization would basically disappear.

The exception is when a school group has what is known as an earmark. An earmark is a guarantee of funding for a club for as long as there is a Hunter College, regardless of whether not the club's members fill out the paperwork to be chartered, or if they even exist.

In the case of The Shield, this has meant that the school has continued to dole out funds for the last several years, even though the magazine hasn't published a single issue.

According to university finance records, the now defunct publication currently has $42,809 in its Student Activities Account. The students of the Hunter Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) are hoping to redirect these funds to their organization. During the week of April 19, Hunter College students will be able to vote for The Green Initiative to take over the earmark, or for their activity fees to continue to go to The Shield.

Created by the Hunter Solar Project and a coalition of other student organizations like Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and the Green Apple MultiMedia Association, the Green Initiative wants to use the money to award grants for projects that would help make Hunter more environmentally friendly. If they are successful in getting the resolution passed, they will take over The Shield's earmark permanently.

"Everyone knew there was this earmark and it wasn't being used," said Noah Ginsburg, president of The Hunter Solar Project and one of the core founders of TGIF. "A lot of other schools around the country have done this with a $5 per semester, per student fee increase. But we're thinking, 'This is Hunter and we're in a recession. Let's not go for a fee increase.' "

Ginsburg said The Solar Project wanted to use what they learned in their successful fight to bring solar energy to Hunter, to help other student organizations.

"Last year we built a successful coalition," he said. "We fund-raised and that project is actually happening. We want to make it easier for other groups to do the same thing."

On April 21, in room 610 of the Hunter west building, The Green Initiative will host an open forum to help students brainstorm grant proposals they could submit if the referendum passes.

There are currently five student organizations with funding earmarks: The Envoy, student-run radio station WHCS, the yearbook committee, the activist group NYPIRG and The Shield. All other student groups at Hunter must submit their funding requests every year to the media board for approval.

In order to receive an earmark, a student organization has to get 10% of the student body to sign a petition. There is then a referendum that is voted on in student elections. Every full-time student at Hunter College pays an $84.50 activity fee as part of their tuition (for part-time students it's $54.45). WHCS receives $1.95 out of every full-time student's fee. The Envoy receives $1.40. The Shield receives $2.00.

According to associate dean of students, Michael Escott, the reason that the publication you are currently reading receives less funding than one that is not in existence is because several years ago some students gained the signatures and votes to pass a referendum.

"The Shield and The Envoy both had $2 at one point," Escott said. "But a group of students who had some personal issues with The Envoy decided 'Let's take some money from The Envoy!' They had a referendum and that's what the students voted for."

This is similar to the funding redistribution The Green Initiative is trying to achieve, although The Envoy was an active paper at the time of the funding cuts.

For senior Lorenzo Van Ness, environmental organizations are just one piece of a national movement.

"I know a lot of people who are part of the Hunter Solar Project," he said. "I think we're becoming a society that thinks more about being sustainable."

According to Escott, the reason The Shield has accrued such a healthy sum is that a club with an earmark normally can keep up to half of the funds it doesn't spend at the end of a school year.

"If your allocation for the year is going to be $40,000, you could carry a surplus of $20,000," he said. "Same thing with The Shield. But when we noticed they weren't publishing, we didn't allow them to carry over any surplus and it went to a Student Activities Account."

The practice of using Student Activities Accounts was set up by Escott's office as a way to ensure that the unspent money that clubs accrue is used only for student activities. A board must approve all spending before the funds can be accessed.

USG finance director James Broughel thinks a similar practice should be applied here. "I would feel more comfortable if there was a body overseeing this," he said. "When students sign a petition, I don't think they know what $2 out of their Student Activities Fee means."

Although Broughel did not sign the petition to get The Green Initiative referendum on the ballot, he said he will vote for it in the upcoming election.

"I think it's good the funds go for something other than a defunct newspaper," he said.