Posting ASG fiscal info may be illegal

Michelle Ma

Some Associated Student Government representatives are questioning the legality of a referendum already posted online that calls for the group to publish more financial information.

The referendum asks for monthly online postings of all ASG financial transactions. But releasing university financial documents with information identifying students would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, said Helen Wood, associate director for the Center for Student Involvement.

The ASG parliamentary body — composed of three ASG Executive Board members — already ruled that the proposed referendum was constitutionally sound, said Senate Speaker Matt Hall, a Communication senior.

However, some argue the problem is not with ASG rules but with federal law. The federal act in question states that any university record containing information identifying a student cannot be disclosed without the consent of that student, Wood explained.

Wood contacted Northwestern’s Office of General Counsel last week to ask whether the referendum would lead to an infringement on students’ privacy rights. According to Wood, an NU attorney said there would be a legal violation if the referendum is enacted without any changes.

“The concern is whether or not releasing this information is in violation of the spirit of this act,” Wood said.

The proposed referendum calls for all ASG financial documents — including monthly Student Organization Finance Office printouts — to be posted online. Because disclosing student information would be illegal, a student’s name on a reimbursement form would have to be removed before the document would be acceptable for public viewing, Wood said.

After hearing some student concerns about the legality of the referendum, ASG Treasurer John J. Hughes III, a former Daily forum editor, said he contacted Wood.

ASG representatives might work with the attorney to determine what information must be removed from financial documents to post them legally, Wood said.

But the legality of it won’t matter if the referendum is never enacted.

“I think the referendum will pass,” said ASG Secretary Zachary Benjamin, a Communication senior. “Whether or not it will be enacted is really up for discussion.”

Compiling the required information might be too much work for the treasurer, he said.

If the referendum passes, the task of determining how to carry it out probably will be transferred to the next ASG treasurer, since the current term expires in three weeks, Benjamin said.

“The referendum is something (Hughes) will leave for his successor for further actions,” Benjamin said.

Referendum author Phi Mu Alpha-Sigma Alpha Iota Sen. Gabe Matlin, a McCormick senior, said he received an e-mail from Hughes raising another possible challenge to the proposal. Matlin said Hughes wanted him to remove the word “transparency” from the referendum’s title. According to Matlin, Hughes threatened to go to the ASG Judicial Board, which is composed of seven students unaffiliated with ASG who only meet when a student files a petition to be heard.

“To me to say ‘transparency’ is misleading,” said Hughes, a Weinberg senior. He declined to comment on his other conversations with Matlin.

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected].