The five core leaders of student government’s executive branch have run a stealthy but vigorous publicity campaign since late last week.
Local TV stations and newspapers have been contacted, participation from fraternities and sororities has been encouraged, Facebook.com invitations have been dispersed and the support of SG senators has been solicited.
The delivery methods of the campaign varied, but the message was the same: Student Affairs needs to be reformed.
“There seems to be a culture within Student Affairs that we, as students, should answer to them,” student body Vice President Faran Abbasi. “Students’ money funds their department. It’s time they answered to us.”
At a press conference planned for 11 a.m. at MLK Plaza, Abbasi, student body President Garin Flowers and other members of SG’s executive branch expressed frustration with what they described as a “brush off” from President Judy Genshaft and other University administrators. They will call for the resignation of Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall and third-party scrutiny of a high-ranking administrator’s allegations that Meningall mishandled money and mistreated employees.
They plan to follow the press conference with a silent protest outside the Administration building.
They’ll also demand more funding for University Police, a division of Student Affairs whose budget is handled by Meningall and her staff.
And they want USF to rehire Associate VP of Student Affairs James Dragna, who sent out an e-mail Oct. 3 to 80 University officials – including Genshaft – that alleged Meningall had acted inappropriately and illegally.
Most of all, the SG members said, they want accountability.
“As student leaders, it’s our right and obligation to do what’s right for students and make administrators hold up their end of the bargain,” Hall said. “We’re asking them to hold themselves to the same ideals and standards they hold us to.”
Abbasi said they planned to protest silently outside the Administration building after the press conference, holding up signs and posters and distributing information packets detailing their concerns and demands.
Chief of Staff Justin Hall, who has spearheaded the protest with Flowers, Abbasi, Attorney General Stephen Kowski and Presidential Advisor Billy Schmidt, said FOX 13, Bay News 9 and local TV affiliates from NBC, CBS and ABC have confirmed they will attend.
Since Dragna sent out the e-mail, the Office of Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Carl Carlucci has conducted a preliminary review of the allegations and uncovered no evidence of financial misconduct.
The University Office of Audit and Compliance is now auditing the Student Affairs Department.
Meningall has welcomed both investigations and denied all the allegations in Dragna’s e-mail, which stated she had misallocated $1.3 million in funds, excessively hired outside consultants, exhibited hostile behavior toward employees, improperly hired former associates to positions within Student Affairs and demonstrated gender and racial bias.
Dragna, who was hired by the University less than a year ago, was told by Meningall in July that his contract would not be renewed. Dragna said the decision came after Meningall learned he had spoken with the Office of the President about the alleged misconduct. University officials have declined to comment on Dragna’s dismissal, citing privacy laws covering personnel decisions.
Abbasi said he and the other executive leaders had tried to handle their concerns about Meningall’s leadership without publicity, but met resistance from Student Affairs and finally balked when a face-to-face with Genshaft was granted only with the provision that University legal counsel be present.
“We tried to go the proper route,” Abbasi said. “But we’ve decided the only way we could enact change was to get the community and media involved.”
David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974-1888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.