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  • ODU College RsMembers of the Old Dominion University College Conservatives were up in arms after half of their budget was taken after what the Student Government Association called "a misunderstanding."

    As Chairman of the Old Dominion College Conservatives, I fought to get our funds returned and was stonewalled.

    Last November 22, the ODU College conservative club made a request to have all of their their existing budget, about $1200 dollars, transferred from one line item to another.  This money, previously set aside for a campus speaker, would be transferred to instead fund the group's annual trip to the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, held yearly around the nation's Capital. The money was transferred on November 23rd with the express understanding that it would be used for CPAC. 

    On Wednesday, February 19, 2014, the college conservative club went to their club mailbox and found a letter from the Finance Director of the ODU Student Government Association saying that because the club did not submit an email by January 17, 2014 concerning the use of our budget allocation, that up to half would be taken away and put back into SGA's "collective pot."

    The letter even stated that our budget for next year could be affected, which because of tight funding, became a paramount concern.

    The club's budget, which previously held enough to pay for lodging and tickets for the ten students attending CPAC, over $1800, was slashed to a little over $1000. 

    The conservative club questioned the Student Government Finance Director Connor Norton who replied that his hands were tied by SGA bylaws and there was nothing he could do. He then pointed us in the direction of Coordinator for Student Organizations, Andrew Fortman, if we had further question or were unsatisfied with his answer, which we were.

    After being given the run around for some time, we finally were able to meet with the Coordinator, who informed the club that he had no power to return the money and that the Finance Director had sole authority and full discretion to reassign our funds and could do it right now if he wanted.

    When asked why the money was taken away, he replied that the email did not specifically say when CPAC was. (The Finance Director made no effort to find out the dates for a trip, which our club takes every year.) He also said that our request for transfer was sent before a message requiring an email to notify the SGA that the bulk of our budget would be used in the spring semester was sent out to every organization.  Upon further investigation, this was found to be false, due to the fact that the message requiring a separate email was sent out on November 20th, two days before the request was made, and three days before the transfer was conducted.

    In addition to the college conservative club, 33 other organizations had their funds taken away, whether do to a similar "misunderstanding" or due to their actual failure to send the afore mentioned email.  All total, over $7000 dollars was returned to SGA from the organizations budgets.

    While the conservative club and these other student organizations were getting their budgets slashed, the SGA decided that the bulk of its money would be well spent sponsoring a theatre troupe to perform at a gay rights festival in Ireland, instead of enriching the lives of all the students that attend the university.  This $5000 granted by SGA, without any caveats, was on top of $7000 raised by the group, which included grants they had already received from the University, to support their two week trip to the UK and Ireland. 

    The troupe is led by none other than Connor Norton, the Finance Director of the Student Government Association.

    The very same person in charge of taking funding from the conservative club-on the basis of a "a misunderstanding", would now benefit directly from the funds taken from these other groups. 

    The Finance Director is also the former head of the campus' main LGBTQ rights organization, is very active in the Hampton Roads LGBTQ community, and has the full backing of the administration in his endeavor to take his group to Ireland and the UK.

    If you sense a conflict of interest here, you aren't alone. The SGA made sure that Connor Norton had no voting or speaking rights while this funding bill was being presented and voted on.  The fact they went through this much effort to diminish the look of impropriety shows that in the back of their minds, the people involved say the potential for questions to be raised.   The conservative club, it feels as though the money we were counting on for our own trip has been appropriated by the Finance Director-and that money has been granted for a project in which he has a clear personal interest, and only affects seven of the 25000 students of Old Dominion University.

    After reaching a dead end, the college conservative club took it upon themselves to make their voices heard and to bring about the change that the desperately felt needed to occur.  Both the Chairman of the ODU College Conservatives and another member, Mike Sobey, wrote articles concerning the goings on at ODU which were both picked up by The College Fix.  From there, the story spread to GenFringe, Townhall.com, Chicks on the Right, Bearing Drift, and The National Review Online, among others.  What started as a small story about a College conservative group in Virginia soon began being shared thousands of times by concerned and angry Conservatives throughout the United States. 

    Throughout the weekend, the story spread through social media, and the SGA and ODU Senate dug in and stuck to their guns, denying our request for a hearing concerning the matter and denying that any conflict of interest existed.  During this time emails were being sent by readers to the President of the university, Dr. John Broderick, the President of the Student Government, Collin Hurst, and to the Finance Director in question, Connor Norton.  By Sunday night the University had enough of the bad press and asked for a meeting between the Chairman of the ODU College Conservatives and the President of the Student Government.

    The meeting was courteous and beneficial.  The SGA President apologized for our money being taken and described it as an unfortunate "misunderstanding" and a learning experience for all involved.  He also said that the stories circulating shed a bad light on the University and had shown that issues existed and needed to be fixed.  While he tried to brush over the conflict of interest, he did concede that from an outside viewer, it did appear that there a conflict of interest, if not collusion between the SGA and the theatre troupe led by Finance Director Connor Norton.  He also agreed with the Chairman of the ODU College Conservatives that this rule was unnecessary and that is was the SGA's job to fund organizations, not take that funding away due to technicalities.  He further agreed that better checks and balances and better oversight must be enacted to prevent a similar occurrence from ever happening again.

    Soon after the meeting ended, the SGA President sent a letter to the Student body informing them of the meeting that occurred earlier that day and that a motion to strike the controversial bylaw would be taken up and voted upon by the University Senate.  He also promised that the financial bylaws would be completely analyzed with the input of the SGA and all associated groups and that all 33 organizations that had money taken would have it returned to them.

    While the return of the money to all organizations including our own was a crucial victory, the most important fight is yet to come.  Our main battle concerns the need for budgetary reform for how money is allocated and controlled by and for the entire student body.  We, the ODU College Conservatives will continue this fight and will not stand down until a conclusion satisfactory to both sides is achieved.

    Written by Julius Lacano, Chairman, ODU College Conservatives

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