A University of New Mexico engineering club’s status, funding and future are up in the air — and all of it is being decided behind closed doors.
Members from the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico and the UNM chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) will meet privately in the ASUNM conference room on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Confusion over SAE follows their announcement to withdraw their club charter from ASUNM, not from the Student Activities Center (SAC). Club charters are handled through the SAC, not ASUNM. Once chartered, a student organization can request money and is officially recognized by the University.
ASUNM President Becka Myers, Vice President Emily Wilks and Director of Student Activities Ryan Lindquist will be present.
Representing SAE during Tuesday’s meeting will be SAE Program Manager Gabriel Brown, SAE Faculty Advisor Dr. John Russell and Deputy Program Manager Caleb White.
Wilks said she wants an outcome that helps both sides.
“My intention for the meeting is to go over their options and get more clarification about the intention of their statement,” Wilks said.
Wilks said there is a common sentiment among ASUNM senators to continue a relationship with SAE.
“It is my judgment of the current sitting Senate that they want to fund them for travel and more student (organization) oriented funds,” she said.
On Sept. 26, Brown, the Program Manager of SAE, announced that the group will “withdraw their charter from ASUNM,” during the public comment section of a Finance Committee meeting.
“While the organization of the SAE has remained consistent since our initial charter with ASUNM, it appears that our respective missions are no longer in agreement,” Brown read from a prepared statement.
Brown and six other members of SAE, including White, walked out of the Finance Committee meeting after reading their statement.
SAE’s walkout followed the announcement of an ASUNM investigation into the organization. Wilks said the investigation regarded the distinction of SAE being a club or class.
Brown has since declined to comment. A first meeting scheduled after the announcement of the investigation was canceled, according to Wilks.
Over the last 15 years, SAE has received over $200,000 from ASUNM — including a budget worth over $20,000 this year, according to the Student Government Accounting Office. SAE spent about half of the budget before the account was frozen, according to Wilks.
On Oct. 15, the Daily Lobo reported that ASUNM passed a law barring the Senate from funding “classroom components.”
The law codifies a ruling that defunded Scribendi, the Honors College literary magazine, in 2016. The ruling will go into effect at the start of the upcoming spring semester.
ASUNM will vote on a bill that defines “classroom component” on Oct. 24 in a full senate meeting as “activities within a chartered student organization that contributes to earning a class credit hour including assignments outlined in the syllabus or assigned by an instructor.”
Every year, students from SAE design, build and race a formula one racecar to compete in a worldwide competition in Lincoln, Neb.
Building and designing the car are a part of a ten credit, three semester program in the Mechanical Engineering Department. However, going to the competition is not a credit requirement, according to Russell.
Russell said the competition can provide great career opportunities for students, but if the withdrawal of their charter goes through, the program’s donors will bear more of the cost.
“I don’t know any other way to do it,” Russell said. “We may have to make some cuts and be a little more frugal in our spending.”
Russell said funding from ASUNM has gone toward purchasing high-grade parts for the car needed to compete against schools like the University of Kansas, and he added that the group has not received funding for the competition’s travel expenses.
“In terms of going forward with ASUNM, I don’t know what I can do with them,” Russell said. “They have refused to pay the straightforward things that we have asked them for that are obvious competition — I get 20-some people into competition, five-nights of hotel rooms, rent cars and trucks to pull the vehicle, they don’t pay for that, that doesn’t come under their rules.”
In March 2018, the Daily Lobo reported that the program received a $1.5 million gift from the Dana C. Wood estate to build a 7,000 square-foot space in the Farris Engineering Center.
Justin Garcia is a freelance news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers ASUNM. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @just516garc.
Anthony Jackson is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.