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SOOC challenges Rose’s account of mutual aid fund shutdown, accuses administration of taking unilateral steps against BLA

May 1, 2020

Members of the Student Organization Oversight Committee (SOOC) are charging that College administrators took unilateral action against the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA) for hosting a mutual aid fund on its website, pushing back against administrators’ account of the committee’s role in persuading organizers to shut down the fund.

The fund, which had raised over $15,000 to support Bowdoin students and community members affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) related expenses, went offline on April 21 after organizers learned that it violated both College and SOOC policies prohibiting independent fundraising by student groups.

In a virtual town hall on Wednesday evening President Clayton Rose said it was “simply not true” that the College had shut down the fund and suggested that Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), of which SOOC is a part, had played a more significant role in forcing organizers to take the fund offline.

“[Rose’s] remark that ‘the BSG took its own decisions based on its own set of rules’ is untrue and completely overplayed the role of the SOOC in this matter,” wrote SOOC Chair Sonia Shah ’22 in an email to the Orient. “This was not a matter of students enforcing student policy. The administration played a role as well, [a] much larger role than the one [Rose] made it out to be in the town hall.”

In his comments during the town hall, Rose said that the College had not requested that the BLA shut down the mutual aid fund, only that organizers dissociate the fund from the College and the BLA by removing the College’s name from the fund and any associated promotion material, in accordance with the College’s policy that prohibits independent fundraising by chartered student groups. Rose suggested that administrators’ involvement ended once the group clarified the fund’s independence from the College.

On April 7, after Senior Vice President and Dean for Student Affairs Janet Lohmann initially contacted BLA, organizers changed the name of the fund to exclude Bowdoin’s name and posted a statement on the fund’s webpage clarifying the fund’s independence both from the College and the BLA. According to organizers, they continued to host the fund on the BLA’s website for technical reasons.

“They complied with [our request], which was great,” Rose said.

Later in his comments, Rose suggested that the SOOC subsequently enforced its own fundraising policies after it learned that organizers had failed to remove the fund from the BLA website, and that this is what led to the fund’s eventual shutdown.

“The BSG took its own decisions based on its own set of rules, and I think there’s been some confusion and some conflation between … what the BLA did with respect to that longstanding [College] rule about fundraising and whatever it is that the BSG did with relation to the BLA,” said Rose.

Rose declined to comment further on his statement made during the town hall.

Members of the SOOC have contested Rose’s comments, however, claiming that administrators took independent actions to sanction the BLA even before the SOOC had asked the organizers to remove the fund from the BLA’s website.

According to a number of students who participated in a video call with Director of Student Activities Nate Hintze on April 16, Hintze informed SOOC  members that the College had ceased to recognize the BLA as a student organization “in good standing” at the direction of Lohmann, because the organizers had failed to remove the fund from the BLA website. The students said that Hintze explained that this decision allowed the College to revoke a number of the privileges that the BLA was granted by virtue of its SOOC charter.

“My committee and I were told [by Hintze] that anything that required the Student Activities office would not be processed. For example, the club would be able to request SAFC fundings but the SAFC allocations would not be processed by Student Activities nor would clubs receive any reimbursements,” Shah wrote. “They also would not have access to resources like reserving rooms or a Blink Page.”

Hintze did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Shah emailed the organizers of the BLA on April 17 to ask them to remove the fund from the BLA website, in compliance with SOOC policy. But by this time, the group existed as a chartered organization “only in name,” Shah said.

In a phone call with the Orient, Shah said she was not aware of any past instances in which the College had exercised its authority to take away the privileges clubs retained by virtue of their SOOC charter or to limit a chartered club’s access to College resources.

“To my knowledge, I’ve never seen a decision made like this by the College to ‘un-recognize’ a student group. It was hard for everyone to understand what the meaning behind it was and what the consequences of it were,” she said.

Neither the SOOC guidelines nor the Student Activities Club Leader Manual outline the College’s authority to recognize or un-recognize a student group.

Shah added that the timing of Student Activities’ communication with SOOC—after the College had already revoked the BLA’s privileges—made it seem as though “they [were] pushing the consequences of their decision onto a student-led committee.”

“My committee has tried its best to work out the best possible solution in these circumstances, especially when they felt pressure from the administration to take a certain stance,” wrote Shah. “I think the SOOC is also disappointed in the way the administration has responded and misrepresented our work during these times. The administrators were clearly involved and it’s sad to see them hiding their involvement and decisions in the matter.”

After student organizers shut down the mutual aid fund on April 21, the SOOC voted to retain BLA’s charter, prompting the College to re-recognize the club in good standing and restore its privileges.

Meanwhile, the fund’s organizers had not been informed about the temporary loss of the BLA’s privileges. The only communication BLA had received was on April 15, when Lohmann informed the fund’s organizers that she did not support the group’s standing as a recognized student group, but she did not specify the implications of that statement.

But Ben Ray ’20, an organizer of the fund and member of the BLA, was not surprised to learn that the College had taken drastic steps to limit the BLA’s activity and access to resources.

“It’s no coincidence that they are invoking authority over student organizations to suppress activities of a group that has historically pressed them to do better,” he said.

Ray added that while the group did not want to lose its SOOC charter, pressure from administrators played a significant role in the group’s decision to close down the fund.

“Our choice to shut down the fund was a result of pressure from multiple fronts, one of those being our limitations as a student group [as specified by the SOOC] … the other being pressure from the administration,” said Ray. “There were no concrete threats of disciplinary action, but from continued correspondence [with administrators] it was clear that they didn’t support what we were doing. It sent a message.”

“It was very clear that right off the bat the administration wanted this shut down,” said Diego Grossmann ’20, another of the fund’s organizers and member of BLA.

In an email to the Orient, Lohmann said she did not threaten the fund’s leaders with disciplinary action, but otherwise declined to comment on her involvement. She did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.

On April 24, the day the Orient published a story about the closing of the fund, the College updated its COVID-19 FAQ page to include information about the College’s pre-existing emergency relief fund, administered by the Office of the Dean of Students.

On Thursday evening, the BSG executive council announced in a school-wide email that it had offered $20,000 of the BSG’s surplus budget to supplement the College’s existing emergency funds.

“After communicating with the Dean’s office we have decided to trust that they are the best individuals to be making these decisions,” the executive council wrote.


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  1. Club Leader, Class of 2020 says:

    Are we surprised that there continue to be gross oversights coming out of a bureaucratic arm of the BSG which has “oversight” in its title? As many club leaders on campus know, the SOOC is used by the administration to make its decisions appear legitimated by the Bowdoin student body. A great punitive power is exercised between them, but its delegation is intentionally left hazy so interested parties can deflect, corral, and bully student groups. The system of clubs at Bowdoin already functioned well before the SOOC was created, and I am not sure why it exists except to harass clubs, perform virtue-signaling, and to service more would-be social climbers in student government.

    If a group of Bowdoin students chooses to freely associate, as a college committed to liberal education should promote, why are they required to “charter” anyway? The College could easily adjudicate room and funding requests, and even punishments for social violations on an individual basis. The status of “chartered clubs” exists only to help the College exact punitive measures, as well as monitor and strong arm student associations who might have a legitimate intellectual disagreement with its present positions.

    • Alum '11 says:

      @Club Leader, it sounds like you’ve had some bad and/or overly-bureaucratic experiences with the SOOC, which is unfortunate, but your critiques aren’t particularly convincing.

      The SOOC, or its equivalent, has existed far longer than anyone on campus has been alive (circa 1908 as Student Council)–indeed, regulating student organizations is the only way in which Bowdoin Student Government is really a “government” at all–most of its other functions are that of an advocacy organization or student union. If you have a problem with the SOOC or its rules, you can vote for candidates who advocate reforming it (or better yet, run yourself).

      In addition to aligning with the general idea that students are adults who *should* govern themselves, student control is also important precisely because the college should not be in the position of choosing which interest groups, political causes, religious groups, etc. deserve a share of limited resources–that’s best left to the student body and its representatives.

      You criticize the College for being the real power and using the SOOC to legitimize its decisions–if that’s true, as it seems to be here, shame on the College. But your solution, with the College directly controlling resources, would only make things worse.

    • Class of 2019 club leader says:

      Don’t confuse SOOC with SAFC (though the mistake can be forgiven). The SAFC has been around for a while; it administers the student club fund to the student groups. The SOOC is another beast. It has “oversight” over student clubs, which means it issues regulations (of its own creation) to student groups and threatens de-charter if clubs don’t comply. As we’ve learned here, that threat is shallow, and the SOOC can be resisted. Reform will likely not occur at the student level because 95% of students don’t interact with the SOOC. It’s the club leaders that occasionally must fend off demands to provide information to the SOOC, use their proprietary software for organizing, attend useless “leadership training,” and needlessly change meeting locations.

      This episode is embarrassing for Bowdoin, because we have the central admin (President and Deans) and lower admin/student govt pointing fingers at each other. Just get the lower admin out of the business of regulating student clubs beyond violations of the social code (which is a Dean job anyway). If a club like BLA exposes the College to liability, then the Dean should say so and the club should adjust. No need for the SOOC here.

  2. Confused Student says:

    Can you give some examples to how the SOOC has been used by administration in the past?

  3. A would-be club leader '21 says:

    Unfortunately, there seems to be a pattern here in the administration’s behavior. I was part of an effort to charter a club last year, and our application seemed to be going well until SOOC informed us that they could not offer us a charter as members of the administration were discussing if our club could be supported. After meeting initially with Student Activities about this, we were told there would be a second meeting with all parties involved. Unfortunately, this never happened – our request was denied by the administrators we had hoped to talk to before we had a chance to make our case. When we protested that we had not been heard, we were told we were being “disrespectful”.

    Actions like these are dictatorial and show that student organizations and the BSG have no real autonomy from the administration. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t resist. Keep it up, BLA.

    • Other Confused Student says:

      Did the administration give any reason for why they couldn’t “support” the club? Do clubs normally need to undergo approval from deans? Was their reason serious enough for them to step in if not? I’m sorry to hear about your club though.

    • A would-be club leader '21 says:

      To quote the emails I received, discussions surrounding the club (which would have been a club sport team like cycling) were part of a “larger conversation” between Student Activities, the BOC, and Athletics. I think there was some fear that our club would conflict with athletic/BOC programming, though we specifically outlined how a separate club would have been distinct from these. There was also a question about purchasing equipment, even though we had addressed this in our budget. Thankfully, the issue has been resolved and we’re now happily a part of the BOC. But I’m still disappointed at the lack of transparency in the decision-making process and the disregard for our work as students to organize everything up to that point. Certain administrators whom we dealt with (one of whom is named in the article) were extremely unprofessional in their handling of the matter.

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