On one side, you have a group within the UPUA assembly arguing that the decision to purchase two iPads is a “direct violation” of the organization’s budgetary policy and an “improper act of leadership.” For one thing, they argue, the purchase order for the iPads shows a $1,057.88 total, including tax, but the assembly needs to approve executive purchases over $1,000.
On the other side, you have three UPUA leaders maintaining that the purchase will ultimately be tax-exempt, and the $499-apiece devices will fall $2 short of the threshold for approval. Plus, the devices are funded from two separate UPUA discretionary budgets.
UPUA’s money, including the discretionary funds used for the devices, comes from the Student Activity Fee and, therefore, out of students’ pockets. If you split up the cost of these two iPads among University Park’s undergraduates — the fall 2012 enrollment was 39,192, according to the Penn State Factbook — it only amounts to about two and a half cents per person.
The average student might not care about losing that much in loose change. The average student also might not care about the series of documents mired in jargon at the heart of the Dray Krishnan et. al v. John Zang et. al. iPad dispute. And whether the purchase violated UPUA standards is a matter for the Board of Arbitration to sort out.
Even if the purchase technically followed the rules, though, it seems tone deaf to not expect some to take issue.
Bottom line: The assembly should have been a part of the discussion before Treasurer Matthew Falcon and Chief of Staff John Zang signed off on the purchase order for the devices. If the goal of the iPads is, in fact, to aid the work of those within UPUA, wouldn’t it make sense to talk to the group as a whole to get a sense of whether they felt as strongly about the need for this investment?
And of course, there’s the obvious question at the center of this: Does UPUA really need two 16 GB iPads?
Zang has argued that a tablet would be helpful during meetings in order to access ANGEL, email or other resources — and that such access “is a more effective means for advocating for students.” In this and other examples, the iPads might be a convenience for the UPUA members using them. But spending about $1,000 on two tablets supposedly meant to streamline work in an organization of several dozen members seems more like an example of excess than necessity.
The money spent on these devices could probably be put to better use elsewhere, and so could the energy UPUA’s exerted in the process of arguing over this particular issue — but the infighting at the center of the iPad dispute only further distances the organization from its real purpose as advocates for the student body.
That said, a word of advice to the next UPUA official contemplating a move that falls just barely on the edge of the rulebook: Letting everyone else in on the discussion ahead of time is never a bad idea.