By Caleb Bissinger
Almost a month has passed since Student Lectureships’ Tuskegee Airmen event, yet Student Council is still talking about it.
On Sunday, Student Council voted to evaluate all variable costs associated with the event beyond the $4,000 donation paid, in lieu of a speaking fee, to the Ohio Memorial Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Both the president of Student Council and the co-chairs of the Business and Finance Committee (BFC) said deliberations, which have been dogged by miscalculation and miscommunication, should conclude by semester’s end.
The outgoing leaders of Student Lectureships, Lydia Winkler ’13 and Ben Fritsch ’13, declined to be interviewed for this article, but the group issued a statement on Monday accusing Student Council of prejudice and harassment: “Kenyon Student Lectureships wonders why it has been repeatedly harassed over its sponsorship of the Tuskegee Airmen at Rosse Hall on March 27 and why this harassment specifically cited our collaboration with the Black Student Union [BSU] for this event and our use of funds donated by Kenyon alumnus Shaka Smart [’99]. It is ironic that an event meant to enlighten and illuminate students about race in America should be held up and castigated by Student Council in the same way these American heroes were prevented from getting the recognition they deserved in World War II.
“As this event was encouraged and endorsed by several members of the Kenyon faculty and completely packed Rosse Hall and was featured on the front page of the March 28 Mount Vernon News, one would hope the Student Council would cease and desist at this point.”
BFC Co-Chair Andie Asimes ’13 said, “Our only question about the BSU was that their role in co-sponsorship would be promotional and not monetary, as they had not requested funding for helping with the event. ﾅ We were excited to see the co-sponsorship and it is something that we encourage many student groups to try when they request funding.”
Still, the relationship between the BFC, Student Council and Student Lectureships has been strained.
Back in March, the BFC approached Council with the concern that the event was doubling as an American Studies senior exercise for moderator Winkler. According to Student Council President Faith McDuffie ’13, that claim was dismissed in a meeting with American Studies Chair Peter Rutkoff, Dean of Students Hank Toutain and Director of Student Activities Christina Mastrangelo Haas.
The BFC had other bones to pick. Based on a request for additional funding by Student Lectureships, “we were expecting to have seven Airmen at Kenyon,” BFC Co-Chair Sam Baker ’13 said. Only four speakers appeared on stage. Citing that discrepancy, the BFC sent an email to Student Lectureships over the weekend laying out its plan to recoup three-sevenths of the Tuskegee Airmen event’s $4,759 allocation by draining the group’s fundraising account, which contains the $2,000 honorarium Smart donated back to Student Lectureships after his speech here last spring. Student Council never approved the BFC’s letter or plan.
According to McDuffie, the Airmen’s honorarium was fixed regardless of the number of speakers. “To say that we overpaid in terms of that initial $4,000, I think, is faulty logic,” she said.
Toutain, Student Council’s advisor, declined to be interviewed, but at Sunday’s Student Council meeting he had this to say: “The three-sevenths idea just sort of ignores basic considerations of overhead. ﾅ I think the formula is shaky.”
Baker admitted that the BFC jumped the gun. “[Student Lectureships] received a letter that was in the drafting process, and a decision contained within the letter that was in the drafting process,” he said.
“Student Council comes out with a little egg on its face because of the letter, its tone, its substance.” Toutain said in Sunday’s Council meeting. “I think Lectureships doesn’t look too good either.” Student Lectureships’ new leaders were in attendance on Sunday, and they expressed their desire to have a positive relationship with Student Council going forward.
In turn, McDuffie has since drawn up a new message to Student Lectureships. In it, she said, “We apologize for any misgivings that the original letter suggested and [take] that first step toward reconciliation and making sure that the old leadership [of Student Lectureships] realizes that we erred on our side. They as a group seem as though they recognize their errors in this.”
In a sharp departure from the BFC’s proposal, Student Council this week voted against emptying Lectureships’ fundraising account, opting instead to examine the group’s books.
Toutain told Student Council that tactic was “the best way to see if additional costs can be identified to say, ﾑWe paid for more than we got.'”
The option to automatically recoup, via Student Lectureships’ fundraising account, the $759 allocated for the event’s variable costs is off the table. But if Student Council decides Lectureships overspent, the BFC says it will seek reimbursement one way or another. As per BFC bylaws, if overspending isn’t repaid from a group’s fundraising account or by individual contributions, “then we take that overspending out of their next budget,” Asimes said.
Student Lectureships’ statement questioned the transparency of Student Council’s approach: “The demand for expense receipts from Kenyon Student Lectureships by the Student Council can’t be considered anything but a ruse as the checks issued and cashed for honorariums to the speakers this year and the transportation fees required to bring speakers to Kenyon are instantly and permanently public and constitute the overwhelming portion of the budget of Kenyon Student Lectureships.
“What is even more unsettling is the demand by the Budget and Finance Committee to sequester the funds donated by Kenyon alumnus and Virginia Commonwealth University’s basketball coach Shaka Smart to Student Lectureships in the form of his honorarium. Coach Smart specifically requested that his honorarium be used to benefit Kenyon Student Lectureships. Finally, one has to wonder why there has been a pattern of harassment and abuse directed at Kenyon Student Lectureships after members of the Kenyon faculty encouraged, supported and vouchsafed the integrity of the Kenyon Student Lectureships program this year.”
Baker told the Collegian the BFC has only received the receipt from the Airmen’s honorarium. He told Student Council that if the other receipts aren’t in by week’s end, they should “consider the financial issues a moot point.”
Toutain was a vocal participant in Student Council’s deliberations, openly supporting a proposal to take no financial action against Student Lectureships. (That plan came up one vote short.) But Mastrangelo, who supervises the BFC, has kept away from negotiations. In declining to be interviewed for this article, she said, “I honestly haven’t been involved in all the conversations related to this issue. As far as I know, a decision hasn’t even been made at this point. This is a student government issue.”
Baker said the BFC “kept Christina [Mastrangelo] in the loop, but at this point in the year and our time at Kenyon, by and large she trusts us to go about our position as it’s charged to us by Student Council. And so, this has really been Andie and I working with our Committee for, I would say, 90 percent of the effort on this.”
The BFC exercised that autonomy from its advisor when it sanctioned Student Lectureships without Council’s approval. And when Baker suggested on Sunday that the BFC might issue its own statement on Student Lectureships, Toutain interjected, “I think it’d be really inappropriate for any committee ﾅ to go out there as a free agent or as an independent agent when they are a sub-committee of this group [Student Council].”
Now, the BFC plans to ratify new bylaws that will disallow funding for academic projects, codify the way the Committee responds to overspending, standardize the set of questions asked at allocation hearings and require that event contracts be submitted two weeks prior to the event.
“I know there won’t be hard feelings in the future between Student Lectureships or the BFC,” Asimes said. “I know that there will be new people in our position, there will be new people in their position and we want everyone to start off with a clean slate next semester.”