Financial Questions Stall Efforts to Fund Occupiers' Legal Fees
LSU meetings are facilitated by four students—Oscar Brett, Martha Puckett, Jazmin Soto, and Erin Strasen—who mainly perform administrative functions. The union is funded by Lang students' tuition, which is to be used for Lang student projects. Any Lang student can attend LSU meetings and vote on proposals before the union.
On February 11, unnamed students submitted an anonymous proposal to the LSU, requesting that $2,200 be given to fund outstanding legal fees for occupiers. LSU asked that a new, more formal draft be submitted at its next meeting.
On February 18, a new draft of the anonymous proposal was submitted, which stipulated that a $2,200 check be made out to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation, an activist legal organization that represented many of the occupiers. The funds would be used to cover outstanding legal fees incurred by three Lang students: Gerald Koch, Eric MacPhail, and Richard Thomas.
However, those closely involved in drafting and submitting the proposal said that the money would in fact not be used to cover the Lang students' debt, but be submitted into a "debt pool" for all occupiers, including those who do not attend Lang or The New School.
An invoice from Gideon Oliver, the three students' attorney, attached to the revised proposal stated that Koch owed $500, while Thomas and MacPhail each owed $1,200. The fees of all three students totaled
“Through donations from faculty, family members, and fundraiser parties close to $8,000 has been raised, but a debt of $2,200 remains,” the Feb. 18 proposal read.
But in a telephone interview on Feb, 19, MacPhail said that he had paid off his legal fees debt of $1,200, and that he was “pretty sure” Thomas and Koch had done so as well. Further, MacPhail was unaware of the proposal until a *New School Free Press* reporter told him about it. Thomas could not be reached by press time, while Koch declined to comment.
During the Feb. 18 meeting, the LSU amended its constitution to make it easier to pass proposals. Previously, the LSU required a consensus to pass a proposal, which meant that a single dissenting vote could derail the process.
Consensus is still required under the Feb. 18 amendment, but once a student dissents, a minimum of ten minutes of debate—five minutes for each side—begins, after which if neither side is swayed, the LSU proceeds to a 2/3 majority vote.
Casey Armstrong, a former LSU facilitator, said the amendment is likely to help the LSU. “If it makes the current Union’s business any faster or more efficient,” he wrote in a Feb. 23 e-mail, "it seems like a sound [amendment] to me.”
However, Dan Schulman, a former LSU facilitator and current Lang senator for the USS, said the amendment creates a loophole.
“They’ve done something very dangerous,” Schulman said. “Unless there’s a hot-button issue, no one attends LSU meetings, which means four to five facilitators basically control 40 grand.”
“Anyone with a posse can effectively get ten grand,” argued Schulman. “That’s not democracy. That’s a financial coup based on popularity.”
Soto countered that she wasn't worried about the possible loophole. It is the responsibility of LSU facilitators, she said, to ensure proposals are vetted. "If you don't have a rationale for why it's that expensive, you won't get all the money," Soto said.
Last week, the LSU planned to vote on the Feb. 18 proposal, but the meeting was canceled due to bad weather.