Four University of Rhode Island unfunded student organizations, Bridge USA, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), College Democrats and College Republicans have formed a coalition to change the current bylaws within Student Senate and how they recognize organizations on campus. The coalition came together because of their collective disagreement over their individual groups funding status.

Funding organizations on campus is the joint responsibility of the Student Organization Advisory and Review Committee Chair (SOARC), which is currently held by Austin Cordova, as well as the rest of Student Senate. The SOARC Chair brings a bill to the floor and with the vote of the Senators, they either recognize a group as funded or unfunded. While the bill is being debated, Senate can move to change the funding status of the group. If this doesn’t happen, then Senators vote to either recognize the group with its current funding status or oppose the vote.

Each student organization in the coalition has been through this process and Senate has determined that the groups apart of the coalition are not to receive funding due to their alleged political affiliation. This is because of the Senate’s status as a tax-exempt non-profit entity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. In order for Senate to maintain this status, it must not directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign. For Senate, that means that it cannot fund student organizations that participate in political campaigns or activities.  Similarly, if Senate was to fund religiously-affiliated student organizations on campus, Section 501(c)(3) could jeopardize its tax-exempt status.

“No individual has the power to determine the funding status of organizations, nor should they be targeted for decisions made by the Senate,” Cardova said.

Sam Foer, a junior and a leading member the coalition of groups, says that Senate’s belief that its 501(c)(3) would be threatened if they were to fund political or religious groups is “not necessarily true.” According to Foer, “[Senate] has thrown an overly broad definition of what it means to be a political or religious organization and have applied it inconsistently.”

Foer pointed to the Hillel and the Muslim Student Association as examples of religious-affiliated student organizations that currently receive funding. Foer further claims that if those student organizations receive funding, then his organization, BridgeUSA, and other politically-active student organizations like it, should receive funding as well. However, contrary to Foer’s argument, Hillel does not, in fact, receive funding from the Student Senate. As for the Muslim Student Association, it is not, as Foer claims, a religious group. The Muslim Student Association focuses on Muslim as a culture and does not push religious beliefs onto others.

In Senate’s bylaws, it says that “Funded organizations may have a mission statement/organizational aims providing an indispensable service to the student body and/or student organizations at large, through government…” Foer made the claim that the words ‘through government,’ should protect groups like SSDP, who advocate for policy change, from the risk of being unfunded. Foer said, “they’re not even following their own bylaws.”

Samantha King, the current finance chair and a voting member of senate interprets ‘through government’ as a loose term. She feels that those words do not reference national or state governments, but a governmental body such as Senate, IFC or other student run governments on campus.

Foer started to become suspicious of Senate’s funding policies when his group was recognized as unfunded. When he went to represent his group at the Senate meeting, Women’s Republic was also there to get funding recognition. Unlike Foer’s group, Women’s Republic was recognized as a funded organization on campus. Foer then questioned this because he felt that Women’s Republic, a group that focuses on issues pertaining to women, is a political group. Although, women’s rights are not political, or partisan, which is why the group was funded. Bridge USA, however, outwardly said in a SOARC meeting that they would wish to support political candidates, which would make them an unfunded group.

Austin Cordova, the current SOARC Chair said that, “during the meeting with Bridge USA, it was expressed by the group the desire to promote candidates for political office. For this reason, the committee and then the Senate voted on the recommended funding status for BridgeUSA as unfunded.”

Foer says that King is largely to blame for the defunding of Bridge USA, SSDP and other organizations. Although King was the previous SOARC Chair, the current SOARC Chair Cordova had no blame placed on him.

“No individual has the power to determine the funding status of organizations, nor should they be targeted for decisions made by the Senate,” Cardova said.

As finance chair, King and her committee control financial accounts and oversee accounting procedures of student organizations. They also supervise items purchased with the Student Activity Tax funds. Along with other duties they hold, none include recognizing the funding status of organizations on campus.