Students Confront Governing Board About Cesar Chavez Center Closure
Some question whether closure violated IRS regulations
May 5, 2006 3:00 PM
Several students accused the Cesar Chavez Student Center Governing Board of violating federal guidelines when they closed down the student center, wasting thousands of student dollars.
On May 1, the center was closed in recognition of the economic boycott in support of immigrant communities. The Student Center Governing Board released a resolution last month announcing their decision to close the student center in support of the protest. In addition, they waived the rent for the day and gave paid vacation to any employees who were scheduled to work that Monday.
“The consequences of these actions will be dire,” 20 year-old BECA major Leigh Wolf, who read from a prepared statement at the Governing Board’s meeting Thursday morning.
The group of concerned students is now demanding that Chairperson Liliana Cortez resign.
The statement outlined how the board violated many policies, including an federal regulation. Wolf said that according to IRS requirements, a non-profit organization, such as the student center, can not use any of its funds for any political reasons and that the closing of the center was clearly in support of a political cause.
Wolf then threatened to file a complaint with the IRS, alerting them of the situation, unless the board agreed to the demands of several concerned students.
“You will lose your tax exempt status. You will lose much money for the federal government paying taxes,” Wolf read. “And frankly, you have no one to blame but yourself.”
According to the IRS Web site, “a (tax exempt) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.”
“We’re upset…that was technically our money and we’re going to call them on it,” Wolf said before the meeting. He estimates a loss of $20,000 from the day of closure.
Wolf demanded that the board retract their resolution and make a public apology with in one week of the meeting date. He also called for the resignation of the board’s chair, Liliana Cortez, who he said further violated the federal tax policy by using her title as chair while promoting an on campus coalition that supports immigrant rights.
“We knew we wouldn’t have one hundred percent,” said Guy Dalpe, the managing director of the student center, regarding public support of the student center closure. He acknowledged that it was a public meeting and they allotted the time for public comment.
“We’re open to having a discussion, but the day is gone,” he said of May 1.
In response to Wolf’s accusation of using her status to implement the resolution, Cortez pointed out that she does not even vote at board meetings.
“I am professional before everything else,” she said. “I am chair, but I do have a personal life and I do have a right to my own beliefs.”
Cortez, a 21 year-old La Raza studies major said her and her staff has yet to discuss what action to take.
“I’m not threatened by anybody,” Cortez said. “Because I know what I believe in."
Wolf specifically pointed out that the coalition Cortez is a part of organized a rally at Malcolm X Plaza on May 1. Her signature tag at the end of each e-mail indicates the title as chair of the Governing Board.
Wolf had obtained a message posted on the coalition’s Yahoo! Group thread, sfsusisepuede. In this message, one of the organizers wrote that the rallies were being called education groups for policy reasons, which are not restricted by IRS regulations. But the group was instructed to ignore any counter-protesters, such as the College Republicans.
Judging from the reaction from the board, Wolf doesn’t expect to see an apology.
“I think they are so stubborn that they're letting the student center go down,” said Wolf, adding that the only choice left is to go to the IRS.
“We can’t let these people continue to waste our money,” he said, and added that he thinks he can get at least 125 students to send in complaints in protest of what the board did.
“If they want to do it on their own dime that’s fine, but she got paid that day,” said Rob Journey, 22, a criminal justice major.
Journey, along with two other students, business major Nhan Huynh, 20, and international relations major Michael Degroff, 22, attended the meeting with Wolf. Although Wolf, Journey, and Degroff are all officers of the College Republicans, they said they were not representing the organization.
Wolf, who considers himself a moderate, said the students he knows that are concerned over the issue land all across the political spectrum.
Adrian Covert, 22, a political science major who considers himself a moderate liberal, said that he was also upset over the closing of the student center.
“I support the plight of illegal immigrants…this has nothing to do with that,” he said. “I do not support the student center taking a position.”
“It affects thousands of students,” Covert said. “It’s a place where students eat, where they sleep, where they study.”
Covert is the president of the Political Science Student Associate, but he does not speak for the group because he knows there are different opinions on the issue with in the organization.
“If the case is in clear violation then (Cortez) should resign,” he said. “If the Student Governing Board isn’t competent enough then somebody needs to be held responsible.”
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