By: Joshua Ceballos/Investigative Editor
One body is in charge of governing the over 200 student organizations at FIU, but for the past year that office has been nearly nonexistent, leaving some student groups up in arms.
“The way things have been handled is just outrageous honestly. Especially since it’s our fees and our money, it shouldn’t be run in the way that it is right now,” said Amelia Leon, president of Simple Pleasures, a sex education club.
The Council for Student Organizations is a student-run group that registers clubs every year and allocates funds from student fees. Without CSO, student clubs wouldn’t get the money they need to fund events, activities and trips.
Their executive board has been nearly empty for the majority of 2019, leaving few people to manage 200 clubs and disburse $415,000 in funding from student fees.
Lynbea Toombs came to FIU in November 2018 to work as the assistant director for CSO. On her first day, one of four CSO executive board members quit the cabinet that was already running at half capacity. Over winter break that year, the president quit because she was “tired of doing everyone else’s job,” said Toombs.
Since then, CSO has run on a skeleton crew while fielding emails from almost every student group at the University. Only two e-board members remained in spring 2019 and they had to run the council with severely reduced office hours.
Now, the only member left is President Sandro Alvarez, a graduate student who doesn’t have the time in his schedule to man the CSO desk in GC 2300.
The office has been locked all semester, with only a pink post-it note saying “closed until further notice” posted on the door for several weeks.
Toombs and her graduate assistant now help Alvarez run CSO by answering emails from student group leaders about their club statuses and trainings, something an administrator didn’t have to do before.
Communicating with CSO is a must for clubs to register with the University and receive funding; some student organizations have expressed discontent because doing so this year has been more difficult than ever.
Leon said that in the past few months, dealing with CSO has been a hassle with communication being slow and confusions threatening her club’s funding.
Each student organization receives a base allocation of $500 in student Activity and Service fees from CSO to fund events and expenses for their club. They can also request additional money for expenses like field trips. If a club is frozen because they don’t meet CSO requirements—like going to trainings—they can’t use any of their funding.
“We couldn’t buy pizza for our first event, which was pizza themed, because they said my treasurer hadn’t gone to a training session that she did go to,” said Leon.
Emails received by PantherNOW show that Leon contacted Toombs between Sept. 11 and Sept. 16 trying to prove that her treasurer attended the Aug. 29 training, which Toombs said she had no record of. After several emails, Toombs said she was not copied on the original email to CSO and didn’t see the records originally, and she finally unfroze Simple Pleasures’ status after finding the records.
Also facing student clubs are new rules for registration without a simple way to keep track of them, said Jacob Porter, president of the Chemistry Graduate Student Organization.
New rules include an organization registration deadline in mid-September, different from last year’s rolling deadline that allowed groups to register at any time throughout the year. Also, clubs can now risk losing their funding if they don’t attend mandatory CSO meetings each month.
“There used to be a CSO manual that clubs could look at for all the rules, but there isn’t one right now with the new ones,” said Porter.
Toombs said that the new rules have been communicated with clubs through scores of emails. She added that when they receive funding, they get a letter which outlines their requirements. As for the manual, she’s still working on getting it together.
“It’s not accessible right now because it’s not done. I’m the only one that’s updating it because there’s no one else,” said Toombs. “I can’t give a good estimate right now of when it’ll be done.”
What led to this severe understaffing of CSO, a body so important to the University? Jose Toscano, director of Campus Life, said it’s just a natural drop in student involvement.
“Throughout my time here there have been ebbs and flows in engagement with all the leadership councils: CSO, student government and greek life,” said Toscano. “We’re just on a downhill slope right now.”
Toombs said that when she started there was a special election to fill up the empty spots on the e-board and no one applied, which led to the almost empty board we have today. This semester however, Toombs said they’ve received 10 applicants for CSO, and they’re looking to have the office up and running by the end of October.
Toscano was apologetic for the state that the office has been in, and hopes the new CSO board will pick up the work to help the student groups that have had issues.
“On behalf of Campus Life, we are sorry for any inconveniences student groups have had with registration process. We were trying our best to ensure that everybody’s issues were addressed,” said Toscano. “We hope to have office hours as stated and be able to respond more timely with email concerns.”
I can attest to the problems surrounding CSO. While re-registration and ensuring funding may be difficult for existing organizations, registration for new organizations is at a complete standstill. That means that student leaders like myself, who are attempting to start new student organizations, are left with our heads in the sand. It is a difficult situation for everyone involved, and hopefully CSO can get the executive board members they so desperately need!