UA Judicial Board calls Lil B expenditure 'constitutionally inappropriate'
UPDATE TO THIS ARTICLE: The Tech has published an updated version of this article at http://tech.mit.edu/V135/N9/lilb.html.
The Undergraduate Association Judicial Board issued a decision last week which found that UA President Shruti Sharma ’15 had authorized a “constitutionally inappropriate” transaction when she transferred $12,500 to fund Lil B’s November visit to MIT.
The rapper had given a 90-minute talk to a packed audience in 32-123, sharing his thoughts on everything from racism to photosynthesis.
UA Judicial Board chairman John W. Halloran ’15 emailed the decision to councillors on March 24 after treasurer Ryan A. McDermott ’15 had discussed the expenditure with Council as an emergency item at a March 18 meeting. Several councillors at the meeting had requested a constitutional ruling from the Judicial Board, and a straw poll indicated that Council was not comfortable adding a line item to cover the expense until checks on similar behavior were implemented.
McDermott said at the meeting that Sharma had signed off on the expense herself and that there had been no communication between himself and Sharma. He said in an email to The Tech that he did not know that the UA had funded rapper Lil B’s lecture until he ran a transaction report on the UA’s umbrella account in January.
Sharma had authorized the unbudgeted expenditure after a student falsely claiming to be a member of the Black Student Union (BSU) requested the funds from the UA. The student, in fact, had only signed up with the BSU at an activities midway.
Sharma was mostly quiet during Council’s discussion, but she did refer to the “time sensitivity” of the transaction and said “it was to be brought to council, but … we decided to go with our discretionary budget.”
Sharma has not responded to an email requesting further comment.
It is unclear whether MIT procurement had signed a contract with Lil B’s booking agent in response to the student’s request before Sharma had signed the authorization. There is no record of the exact date Sharma approved the transaction.
The Judicial Board, in its decision, found that the $12,500 expenditure exceeded the amount allocated to the Officer’s Discretionary Fund ($5,000 under the fall 2014 budget) and was thus “constitutionally inappropriate … regardless of [Sharma’s] financial signatory status or a need for executive expediency.”
Though the board acknowledged that there were “extenuating circumstances” surrounding the authorization, it said that the Constitution only permits UA officers to “act in lieu of Council” under certain conditions; in particular, decisions must be reached with “a majority of all officers voting in favor” and must be “subject to subsequent review by the Council at its next meeting.”
“First of all, it is unclear if the rest of the Officers were notified of the transfer,” the Judicial Board wrote in its decision. “Secondly ... the President should have notified the Council at the next meeting.”
“The President has a duty to ‘make a good faith effort to keep the Council informed of all pertinent matters,’” the Judicial Board wrote, citing the UA Constitution and writing that “a non-budgeted $12,500 expense should certainly be considered pertinent.”
“This failure to notify Council sooner was not in compliance with the listed duties of the UA President in the Constitution.”
According to the UA’s website, about a third of its funds are derived from a portion of the MIT student-life fee collected along with tuition from all MIT students, while most of the remaining two-thirds come out of the General Institute Budget.