Members 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
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
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
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
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