Sustainability, budget cuts and diversity discussions dominate SGA State of the QUnion

Cat Murphy and Jacklyn Pellegrino

The Quinnipiac University Student Government Association hosted its annual State of the QUnion event on Feb. 15 to enable students to engage directly with university administrators.

President Judy Olian, Provost Debra Liebowitz, Chief Experience Officer Tom Ellett and Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Leadership Development Don Sawyer III answered more than a dozen questions from students about several prominent campus issues.

Here are the key topics they discussed:

South Quad sustainability

Students at the State of the QUnion asked President Judy Olian about the university’s sustainability goals. (Peyton McKenzie)

The demolition of the Pine Grove forest between the Carl Hansen Student Center and the College of Arts and Sciences buildings has raised concerns among some students about the university’s prioritization of sustainability amid ongoing South Quad construction.

The first question, submitted via email prior to the event, asked Olian to detail the specifics of the university’s compensatory tree-planting initiative.

“In terms of what we’re doing to replace the trees, there is indeed going to be a one-to-one replacement on the Mount Carmel Campus of the trees,” Olian said. 

Bethany Zemba, vice president for strategy and community relations and Olian’s chief of staff, added that the university had undertaken several other biodiversity and long-term sustainability initiatives related to the Pine Grove.

“We have been thinking a lot about sustainability on campus,” Zemba said. “So, we do have a comprehensive strategic plan that is very focused on implementation related to sustainability.”

Student organization funding

Multiple students voiced frustration with the budget cuts affecting student organization funding during portions of the events.

SGA granted just 51.68% of all spring 2023 student organization funding requests, per a copy of the budget obtained by the Chronicle. Although the organization allocated approximately $281,000 in funding to student organizations, more than $270,000 of requests went unfunded due to budget cuts. 

Student organization funding has been a consistent point of contention for several years, and SGA previously created a new student organization finance committee in April 2022 after multiple organizations voiced dissatisfaction with significant budget cuts.

“A lot of areas were cut during the pandemic in academic and non-academic things,” Ellett said in response to a pre-submitted question about program funding. “I certainly will advocate and work with the management committee to look at where we can potentially find some funding.”

Paul Cappuzzo, a senior political science and economics double major and president of the Quinnipiac Democrats, raised the issue again during the live question portion of the event.

“I, and I imagine many other student organizations, find the response from Tom, the chief experience officer, about the lack of student work funding to be unsatisfactory,” Cappuzzo said. “Why is administration not taking individual responsibility for the lack of student funding available?”

Abdullah Farid, a senior biology major and president of the Muslim Student Association, also said MSA experienced difficulties buying halal food due to underfunding.

Chief Experience Officer Tom Ellett and other Quinnipiac administrators answered more than a dozen questions from students at the State of the QUnion on Feb. 15. (Peyton McKenzie)

Ellett said that he was “certainly open to hearing the conversation,” about funding but pointed to low enrollment figures as a driving factor behind budget cuts.

“We do have 1,400 less students today than we did when the funding was different, and so that has been spread across the whole institution, not just the student orgs,” Ellett said. 

Cappuzzo told the Chronicle he believed Ellett’s response was “the kind of response that they give year after year.”

“We need the administration to be able to notice that students are upset,” Cappuzzo said. “Student organizations aren’t receiving the proper funding that they should be.”

Chief Financial Officer Mark Varholak was notably absent from the panel. Although the CFO has attended past State of the QUnion events, an SGA member told the Chronicle on the condition of anonymity that Varholak declined multiple requests to attend or send a representative from his office.

John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations, declined to respond to the anonymous comment. However, Morgan wrote in an email statement to the Chronicle that Varholak was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.

Diversity and inclusion

Sawyer and Ellett fielded several inquiries about diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, including questions about underrepresentation, accessibility and Indigeneity.

Deja Banner, a senior behavioral neuroscience major and president of the Black Student Union, asked the panel about the lack of automatic door openers in residence halls and laundry rooms.

“We work with the Office of Student Accessibility for all placements of rooms, so I’m not aware of students who are having inaccessible living environments,” Ellett responded.

Although Sal Filardi, vice president for facilities and capital planning, has answered similar questions about campus facilities at previous State of the QUnion events, he was also absent from the panel.

Morgan told the Chronicle that Filardi could not attend because he was on vacation.

Amada Arroyo, vice president of the Indigenous Student Union and a member of the Higuayagua Taíno Tribe, pointed out that a portion of the university’s prospective student handbook states that “Quinnipiac was named for the early Indian settlers who made homes in and around the New Haven harbor area.”

“The term Indian is a derogatory word,” said Arroyo, a sophomore 3+1 cell and molecular biology and biochemistry double major. “What do you think your responsibility is towards Indigenous students and Indigenous culture, and making sure to not perpetuate harmful colonial narratives at a school named Quinnipiac?” 

Sawyer said he was not aware of the offensive language in the handbook but acknowledged that the Indigenous origin of Quinnipiac’s name presents the institution with a unique responsibility to “respect and honor” the native tribe that inhabited the lands.

“It’s one thing to be on (Indigenous) land; it’s another thing to take on the name of people,” Sawyer said. “I think that it gives us more responsibility.” 

UPDATE 3/23: Jacqueline Babyak, SGA’s vice president for public relations, wrote in an email to the Chronicle that Varholak was unable to attend the event due to an unavoidable scheduling conflict. Babyak also wrote that Varholak declined to send a representative from his office as they would not be able to answer questions on his behalf, but he was available via email to answer questions after the event.