USA moves forward with griffin statue, students react with misguided outrage

By CJ Gates and Jesse PR Prieto
Editor-in-Chief and News Editor

Canisius has been ablaze this past week over the Undergraduate Student Association Senate’s decision to move forward with funding the griffin statue. After pushing back the vote that had been originally scheduled for 3 Nov., Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 19-1-4 to allocate $100,000 from this year’s contingency budget for a monument to the spirit of Canisius.

Examining the money that funded the griffin statue. Graphic by Annie Niland
Examining the money that funded the griffin statue. Graphic by Annie Niland

Despite the fact that The Griffin published an article on the statue on 16 Oct., USA has published the minutes for each of their Senate meetings, and peer-to-peer discussions have been ongoing over the course of the past two months, student apathy suddenly subsided only after the vote was cast Tuesday evening and was replaced with a sense of misguided outrage.

Social media was the primary stage for discussion with well known Canisius figures Vance Stinson ‘16 and Patrick Clancy ‘15 questioning the lack of effort to garner feedback from students. Replying to a lively debate sparked by his own Facebook status, Stinson noted that “If I can garner this much feedback with one post then I think USA can too. [This is] definitely a learning opportunity for everyone here.”

As for the price tag, some were discouraged by the fact that $100,000 is a sizable sum to spend on one project. However, that money only accounts for about 25 percent of the contingency fund and there have been rumblings of donations from alumni such as Mike Vavonese ‘80 and Mike Ervolina ‘79, two alumni that helped bring the idea forward, that would help to subsidize the cost. While the College is busy rustling up funds for Phase III of Science Hall, alumni interest has been constant and may significantly reduce the financial burden on student government.

Others students have questioned why Senate would choose to spend $100,000 on a statue, when other things on campus need addressing. Students were mainly clamoring for upgrades in the Wi-Fi, the completion of Science Hall, allocating the money to clubs, as well as bringing an eatery to the Koessler Athletic Center. However, those students were misinformed as to what can and cannot be purchased with funds that come from the USA Contingency Fund, as well as what tasks should be taken up by USA versus those that need to be undertaken by the administration.

Tasks like upgrading the Wi-Fi around campus and bringing a dining option to the KAC are responsibilities that fall on the College’s administration and are not tasks that USA should be getting involved in. The contingency also has to be spent on student-centered projects that do not have recurring costs.

As USA Vice President of Business and Finance Jessica Dieter explained, “The contingency has to be spent on things that are one-time, standalone projects because [the Contingency Fund] is not sustainable…”

The contingency is one of two budgets that USA has control over and is made up of the previous year’s general allocation pool surplus plus whatever was leftover in the contingency from year’s past. However, the ballooning of the account over the past few years has also come from money allocated to would-be-projects such as the Palisano Fitness Center, that had been slated to cost $188,000 and was later canceled. That money then slid back into the contingency, which grew to nearly a half million dollars.

The first withdrawal from that contingency was a separate $100,000 that were allocated to upgrading the fitness equipment in the Koessler Athletic Center. Matt Mulville, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life and a major proponent of the statue, cited the short term benefit to the student body that the fitness equipment provides, but cautioned against using contingency funds for similar projects in the future.

“Senate has got to stop allocating funds to buildings they don’t own,” Mulville said. “A classic example is the fitness center. And I tried to explain this to the senators. The [griffin statue] that you’re voting on will be here for at least 100 years. [Senate] allotted $100,000 last year to replace the fitness equipment in the main gym. It’s now November and you still don’t have the equipment and in five years, those machines are all going to be gone and that’s a real waste of money in my opinion.”

Though some critiqued Senate for not being open and transparent enough throughout the process, Beth Crvelin, Assistant Director for Student Life and USA advisor, explained that USA performed more than their due diligence. “Our expectation is that senators will go out and talk to people,” she noted, adding, “That’s what they were elected to do.”

The larger issue for leadership, both student and staff, was apathy. The fact that only two students out of an undergraduate population of 2,500 came to voice their opinion is a reflection of the larger issue of lack of student involvement across campus.

Undergraduate Student Association President Rich Kubiak noted that some students have enough on their plate between a job, focusing on academics, or enjoying the social end of the college experience. If they choose not to pay attention to the happenings of student government “then keep doing whatever is most comfortable for you.” He went on to say, “We’re elected to be student representatives so that your Canisius experience is the best that it can be.”

Mulville echoed a similar sentiment in regards to student apathy. His focus in Student Life as of late has been community morale, and he expressed his complete support for the new token to school spirit and tradition. The statue is something that will be here for multiple generations, he said emphasizing the need for these projects to look to the future and not just the present.  

Despite the focus on tradition, support from administration, and a vetting process that was completely transparent, if nothing else, students voiced concern that the money was being misused. The Executive Board of USA was kept busy throughout the latter half of this week, holding meetings, answering questions, and responding to comments. The response was wide-ranging with students voicing support, requesting more information, and in some cases the communication could be categorized as “hate mail.”

Kubiak weighed in saying that while these things happen, it has been important to start with the assumption that student concerns are valid and should be heard. His silver lining lay in the fact that the often-apathetic student body was interested and engaged. “The last few days have been a great way to hear what the student body wants,” noted Kubiak. “We don’t get [willing student input] a lot. We actually have the interest of the student body right now,” exclaimed Kubiak, excited at the fact that he could feel the student pulse for the first time under his administration.

With Senate having already passed the motion to purchase the statue this past Tuesday, Canisius College can look forward to a new beacon of tradition on campus. Having demonstrated a high level of transparency throughout the process, USA was faced with challenges to open up avenues for input. However with only two students appearing to voice concern at the weekly Senate meeting, and the vast majority of complaints appearing long after the votes had been counted, it is clear that apathy is the largest roadblock to progress.

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