Students continue to pay fees for services no longer provided by the college
“There is no practice of refunding fees when students only partially or do not utilize services.” — Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jason Cifra
(Editor’s note: Stephanie Shor is the news editor for Ke Kalahea, the University of Hawaii student newspaper, and an intern with Big Island Chronicle. A version of this article will appear in the next edition of Ke Kalahea.)
By Stephanie Shor
Three Student Council members at the Hawai’i Community College (HCC) have been removed from their positions after they say they were repeatedly denied requests for financial records of expenditures over the course of more than two years.
Along with missing receipts and fiscal documentation of money spent by the administration, questions had also been raised in regard to tuition fees collected for services no longer available to HCC students after the 2013 separation from UH Hilo, and never available to students at the Hawai’i Community College’s West Hawai’i Campus.
At an emergency meeting called on March 14, HCC Student Activities Vice-Chair Brian Kelii made motions to remove Student Government President Eric Aranug and Student Activities Treasurer Marieta Carino “based on misconduct and violations as outlined in the Hawai’i Community College Student Council Bylaws,” according to agenda records.
After several fruitless attempts to obtain records from Advisor Larissa Leslie on the spending of budget funds and the location of rollover money from previous semesters, Aranug and Carino say they unsuccessfully appealed to Interim Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jan Javinar for assistance. Because of this, Aranug says he was informed he and Carino had failed to approach the council with their concerns before consulting an outside authority, and were therefore removed from their positions.
Carino provided this reporter with multiple letters and emails exchanged with Leslie, attempting to procure financial reports for her records on the council, however, neither receipts from expenditures over the last five years nor documentation of the approximately $282,082 balance from the Fall 2013 budget have been accounted for to date.
The particular bylaws that Aranug and Carino allegedly violated emphasizes the importance of the Student Council engaging in “collaborative performances, assessments, and communications with the Advisor” and other members of the Student Council in representation of the concerns and interests of the student body, according to the Student Council Bylaws handbook.
The bylaws were recently overhauled and re-written after the Student Council was disbanded for a year in 2012 in order to form a Task Force specifically designed to improve the structure and integrity of student government proceedings. Once finalized, the student body was asked to either approve or deny the new handbook through election proceedings held on campus.
Former Student Government Treasurer David Canning participated in the Task Force that created a new set of strict rules and regulations, including an Article IX Finances section which states that “mandatory student fees are expended and accounted for properly within the Student Government,” and that “the Student Government will be responsible for maintaining the organization’s fiscal records.”
Canning alleged that the proposed bylaws were altered during the voting period by a “Student Board” under Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs (VCSA) Jason Cifra. Within the new bylaws which were subsequently approved when the voting period was extended through September, sections detailing election regulations as well as advisor duties were edited without the consent of the original Task Force.
The council was reformed the next year and a Finance Committee Meeting was held on February 12, 2013. Canning questioned Leslie on her ongoing self-approved allocations within her Support Operations Budget, which employs her student assistants at Kau Wa’a. Among the undocumented expenditures of Leslie’s $65,000 budget, $5,000 was allocated for the purchase of a new sofa and other furniture that Leslie claimed Kau Wa’a Center may need in the future.
Canning voiced concern that these expenditures were not presented to the Student Council for approval before disbursement to which Leslie responded that, “she would be in charge of those funds and that no further approvals would be required or allowed by the Student Council or Student Government/Activities Board members,” according to meeting minutes.
It was brought to the council’s attention that Canning had requested proper financial documentation more than seven times since he had taken office in December of the previous year. Although fiscal records were promised by VCSA Cifra once the Student Council was formally organized again, Canning never received these documents.
At the end of the February 2013 finance meeting, Advisor Leslie eventually admitted that all of the expenditures that she had made were “without the authorization of Student Council; but in her defense, she stated they were spent in the best interest of the student body,” according to meeting minutes.
Approximately $30,000 was also requested by Leslie for her staff in the Support Operations Budget, although former SA Treasurer Carino claimed that the staff was to be funded by federal grant money and Bridge to Hope. Leslie at press time had not responded to requests for comment.
In the spring of 2013, Canning took his concerns to the Board of Regents, Chancellor and Accreditation Board, asking for a full audit of the council’s finances. His requests were unheeded and he was then notified that the council was calling a special meeting to remove him from his position.
It has been a year since Treasurer Canning was removed from office and UH Hilo officially separated from HCC. According to meeting records, another concern in Advisor Leslie’s undocumented spending was her apparent duplicate request for a $12,000 allocation of funds for 2013 student planners, which had already been expended.
These student planners are supposedly acting as the HCC student publication according to statements from VCSA Cifra, as part of the $31 tuition fee still collected each semester from students for “Publications, Campus Center, etc.” Publication and Campus Center fees were previously used for UH funding towards Ke Kalahea and the Student Life Center, so that HCC students could also enjoy these services. Since the split of the two schools in 2013, however, HCC students no longer have access to these programs.
Former Treasurer Carino recently questioned VCSA Cifra before her removal as to the legality of charging students for something that the school is not providing. He allegedly responded that he did not consider this to be an illegal act because the accumulated money is being kept in a bank account, which he plans to utilize when a news publication for HCC is implemented.
Cifra declined to comment on when these services may be implemented for future students. As for students who will graduate before seeing the benefit of the organizations, Cifra stated in an email that, “Regarding refunds, student fees are not user fees. There is no practice of refunding fees when students only partially or do not utilize services.”
According to the Hawai’i System Financial Aid Services, Federal Pell Grants and Stafford Loans awarded to deserving students are utilized first to pay for tuition and fees, before any other aid is used. The student population at HCC is about 3,000 and each registered full-time student is charged $31 per semester for Student Publication and Campus Center fees.
This means that since the split from UH in spring 2013, the monetary accumulation has reached as much as $372,000. In the 2010-2011 academic year alone, approximately 77 percent of students in the entire nation received Federal Financial Aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education.