Officials of the Triton College Student Association (TCSA) alleged recently that the school’s administration used coercion to get it to agree to approve the donation of $450,000 in TCSA reserve funds for the renovation of the Triton Welcome Center, then broke promises it believed the administration had made in order to foster their agreement.
At a meeting of the TCSA with Triton board Chairman Mark Stephens on April 27, numerous student representatives, angry at what they saw as a lack of respect and appreciation from the college’s leadership, charged that the funding process was a charade and that the money was granted by the TCSA under the threat that it would simply be taken if not offered.
“They played us like a pawn, like a game,” said Student Senator David Roundtree.
At issue is the authority of the TCSA to supervise the annual dispersal of over $600,000 in student fees to various student organizations, events and activities. The students say they were elected to oversee the use of money collected from a special $5 per credit hour fee for student activities.
The administration, backed by the college’s board of trustees, insists they have the ultimate say in any such expenditures. Many students said they felt like little more than props.
Stephens and Triton President Patricia Granados met with students April 27 in the Student Senate Chambers. Stephens demanded that the media leave before he would sit down with the student senate.
“This is a closed meeting,” he told a reporter there to cover the event. “I’m not going to talk with the press here.” Stephens didn’t talk afterwards, either.
“He said when he walked out, the press was outside, and that he was not going to comment to them,” said Ryan Kennedy, a student senator. True to his word, Stephens rushed past the reporter after the meeting without comment.
While the reporter and a photographer watched through the room’s glass doors, Stephens did most of the talking during the next hour and 45 minutes.
“Unlike the politicians who will tell you anything you want to hear, I’m not going to do that,” Stephens could be heard saying through the gap in the glass doors.
“I have to say ‘no’,” Stephens told the TCSA executive board and assembled senators.
His comments didn’t set well with his audience.
“We came for negotiations, but we didn’t get negotiations,” said Student Senator Maria Vasquez. “We were told, ‘This is how it’s going to happen.'”
“His mind was already made up before he got to the meeting,” said Lorenzo Webber. “The only thing he did was reiterate what he said [at a previous meeting last Tuesday].”
“Things were sugar-coated. No one told us the truth,” said Tianna Strong. “We’re here because it looks good, [like] the students are involved. They prostituted our authority, that’s the bottom line. I’m sorry how that sounds, but it’s the truth.”
Several students said they and the TCSA were coerced by senior administrators last fall. After the TCSA offered $275,000 of the TCSA’s $535,000 reserve in funds for the renovation project, one senior vice president came back and demanded $450,000.
“We were told by one of the administration, ‘If you don’t give us this money, we’re going to go over your heads,'” said Strong.
“We were pretty much backed into a corner,” she added, noting that TCSA officers feared losing the ability to allocate funds as they saw fit.
The TCSA said it capitulated to administration demands for $450,000 under the threat of having their oversight authority rescinded. In its stead, they said, they asked that the administration grant three stipulations, including a plaque honoring the student senators who worked on the funding project, more space for the TCSA and space for other Triton clubs, which they say currently have none set aside for their use.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the rehabbed building on April 18, Granados thanked several senior Triton administrators and four trustees, but did not mention the TCSA or its elected officials. Granados mentioned the Title III “strengthening institutions grant money”-approximately $120,000-but not the $450,000 from the TCSA.
The Triton website now notes in a 66-word statement that the center renovation was “funded in part by funds donated by the Triton College Student Association.”
And one of three photos presented shows Granados and several trustees posing with members of the TCSA executive board and TCSA senators.
That is far short of what students expected.
“Now, after working so hard and going over the stipulations, today we found out for sure we’re not getting anything,” said Vasquez.