Tuesday, October 31, 2006

SA issues statement over check, shutdown

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Association issued the following statement campus-wide today.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Association has been thrown into disarray in the past two weeks by actions taken by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee administration.

The UWM Student Association would like to explain to the UWM community what has occurred.

The University administration began an investigation regarding a $10,000.00 check, written to a company named AcerPrudens, from the Sandburg Halls Administrative Council (SHAC), in early September. The University administration began an internal audit of the SHAC financial accounts to investigate this check. It is important for you to know that SHAC and the Student Association are two completely separate entities.

On October 9, 2006, Chancellor Carlos Santiago sent a letter to the Student Association (SA) President, Ms. Samantha Prahl, requesting that she turn over financial information regarding SA’s Segregated University Fees (SUF) account, as well as SA’s private account. The SA private account contains money that SA has fund-raised on its own and is not student money. This account is allowed under University policy and neither this account or any other SA account has ever been the subject of a previous audit.

The SA private account is not the account from which the $10,000.00 check to AcerPrudens was written, nor did any officer of SA write the check. The check was from a student organization that is independently operated and separate from SA. Although the University administration indicated to Ms. Prahl that they desired to audit SA’s private account information, no link between the check under investigation and SA has ever been made.

Upon receiving the letter from Chancellor Santiago, Ms. Prahl began continuous communications with Mr. Paul Rediski, the UWM Director of Internal Audits. Ms. Prahl indicated to Mr. Rediski, beginning on Tuesday, October 10, 2006, that SA was willing to turn over the SUF account to the University for auditing and would be more than willing to turn over the financial information for the private account as well, but since it was independent from University administration control, that SA desired an independent third party to conduct that audit. This request was promptly rejected by Mr. Rediski with no reasoning provided.

Ms. Prahl indicated on several different occasions that SA would be more than willing to turn over the private account information, but to an independent auditor, and Mr. Rediski continually refused requests without explanation.

After meeting with SA officers, Ms. Prahl communicated to Mr. Rediski on Wednesday, October 18, that SA desired to comply with the request for the private account information, but because it was a private account and not one administered by the University, that a private auditor was the most appropriate and desired person to release the information to.
Ms. Prahl then received a phone call from Mr. Rediski on Thursday, October 19 in response to her previous day’s communication. Mr. Rediski requested a meeting with Ms. Prahl, James Hill, Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, an a UW-System auditor on Friday, October 20. Ms. Prahl informed Mr. Rediski that she would not be available because Mr. Hill had arranged for her to attend a UW-System Student Government Presidents conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin that day.

Mr. Rediski scheduled the meeting for Monday, October 23, and indicated he hoped to resolve the matters regarding the audit at that time. While Ms. Prahl was enroute to the conference on Friday, October 20, she received a call that the SA office, located in the UWM Student Union, was locked, the locks changed, and a letter, written by Mr. Hill, on the door. The letter stated that since SA had not provided the University administration with access to the private account financial records, that Mr. Hill was suspending SA’s continued access to SUF support and use of University facilities, including the SA offices and computers. Upon hearing this news, Ms. Prahl immediately returned to the University.

This effective seizure of the SA offices and information was done without prior notice to Ms. Prahl or any member of SA and completely ceased any and all work being done on behalf of UWM students.

With the unprecedented shut down of SA on October 20, SA retained Attorney Teresa Rickert of the Brookfield law firm of Schmidt Rupke Tess-Mattner & Fox, S.C. on Monday, October 23 to intervene on its behalf. The law firm immediately began communication with the University administration to come to a resolution of the audit matters and reopen the SA offices and to allow SA to again operate. Through conversations between the University administration and SA’s attorneys, a solution to the issues regarding accessibility to SA’s private account information was presented to the University late in the morning of October 23. The University never responded to the options presented.

Instead, the University Police Department executed a search warrant on the SA offices during the evening of Monday, October 23. Although this search warrant had been issued on Sunday, October 22 and discussions were occurring on October 23 to resolve the private account audit matters, the University Police Department executed the warrant when fewer students were in the Union and while no SA members or their attorney’s were present.

In executing the search warrant, nearly every shred of paper was taken from the SA offices and every computer hard drive in the office was seized. The execution of the search warrant has now completely disabled SA. The execution of the search warrant, which was not limited to financial information, has made reentry into the offices just a frivolous exercise because SA is unable to function and aid students in any manner. Information completely unrelated to the search was taken, including documents used to fight against a UPASS rate hike, voter registration, neighborhood relations, Residential Preferred Parking (RPP) and even class notes were taken.

The actions taken by the University administration of requesting financial information from an account that was unrelated to the check at issue, to shutting down SA and then executing a search arrant on the SA office while discussions to resolve the dispute were occurring between the University and SA’s attorneys, are clear violations of student rights and a reprehensible attempt to exercise power by the University over an independent student government.

The Student Association will continue to do all that it can to keep working on the behalf of the students of UWM, despite having no resources that remain in its offices. We believe that the events of the past few days are seriously devastating to student rights, and will continue to work to uphold student rights and representation on campus.

We look forward to moving past the events of the recent weeks and to continuing our work on behalf of all students attending UWM, past, present, and future.


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