USG VP of Operations Triggers Budget Freeze, Sparks Internal Conflict



The United Student Government office in the garden level of the 140 W building during budget packet season.


For two days, the budget for Lincoln Center’s United Student Government (USG) was frozen due to missing documentation, according to USG Treasurer Robert Stryczek, Gabelli School of Business (GSB) ’21. Under the freeze, the organization was able to continue functioning but could not appeal for further funding. It was restored on Thursday, Nov. 15, due to the submission of that documentation.

The freeze occurred because Vice President of Operations Austin Tong, GSB ’21, of the USG executive board did not complete his club leader training in time, according to USG President Demetrios Stratis, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’19. The training, which used to require club leaders to attend an in-person session, was moved online at the beginning of this semester to make the process easier, a shift carried through by Stratis himself.

This fall, club leaders had until Oct. 11 to finish the training, more than a month after their inaugurations. However, according to Dr. Dorothy Wenzel, senior director at the Office of Student Involvement, the office failed to realize that Tong did not complete the training until the close of business on Tuesday, Nov. 13 and the budget froze as a result.

“We have generally about 250 club leaders,” Wenzel said of the oversight. “When people don’t meet the deadline, we give them three business days to finish it back in October. Somehow, one person wasn’t there. Certainly, we will reevaluate [the process].” She explained that, since this is the first time that the office is handling training online, there were some things that they failed to notice.

All USG officers are required to complete club leader training. Stryczek said that he himself has completed it and, to his knowledge, all but two officers, President Pro Tempore Steven Ochoa, FCLC ’20, and Tong had done so too. He also noted that because Ochoa was appointed after the training forms were sent out, his never appeared.

Tong said that “communication was limited with USG. I didn’t really know about [the forms] so I wasn’t able to fill it out on time. My part [in the events] was not the best. But right now it’s been solved and it’s a very positive result.”

Despite Tong’s claims that he did not know about the forms, a student worker at the Office of Student Involvement noted that he was clued-in multiple times. Like all club leaders, he was also sent an email reminding him to complete them. The message contained information about how clubs’ budgets would be frozen if club leaders did not complete their training.

According to a person familiar with USG’s schedule, Tong has attended fewer than three of the weekly e-board meetings since the beginning of the fall semester. During one of the recent meetings, the e-board checked off who had completed the training. They deduced that Tong, who was not present at the meeting, was also the officer whose form was missing.

Failing to attend four or more e-board meetings without “specific excuse” is grounds for impeachment according to the USG constitution. Vice President of Student Affairs Loreen Ruiz, FCLC ’21, said that members of USG have considered censuring Tong. “Something that is important to us as a student government is that there is due process so we don’t want to jump to impeachment as our first move, but it is a possibility if this performance continues.”

Given Tong’s position on USG, she said his behavior should be held to a certain standard. “I don’t think one can justifiably claim to ‘serve the people’ when their actions — such as causing the budget to be frozen — result in impeding USG’s ability to host events whose very purpose is to serve the people,” she said. “As elected officers, we should have accountability for our actions.”

One member of USG familiar with the situation admitted that the organization has acknowledged “a lot of extenuating circumstances” have impacted Tong’s performance. ”We’ve considered and we’ve tried to be kind to him,” they said. Despite Tong having broken the statutes in the USG constitution, no official corrective action has taken place. “If we’re all already elected officials by students on campus, we’re going to try and make sure that all of us work together and all of us remain in office,” the person said. “I don’t think our main intention is to try to impeach immediately.”

“We are following the constitution to the best of our ability,” they said.

On the morning of Nov. 15, members of the e-board met informally to discuss their issues regarding Tong, according to a person close to members of USG. “Austin doesn’t care if anybody’s events get canceled, only his,” they said, noting that it was the events of Vice President Katina Smith, FCLC ’19, that were endangered by the freeze. “It didn’t seem like he had any serious investment in those events and wouldn’t be broken up about it if it didn’t come to fruition.”

According to Ruiz, the USG e-board is planning to meet with Tong on Monday, Nov. 19. “We’re going to see if Austin will step down voluntarily,” she said. “If he doesn’t, things will probably develop more.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Smith’s year as FCLC ’20 when she is FCLC ’19. Also, the previous version made note of Stratis’ absence on the Nov. 15 meeting as “excluding” him. He was not present for the meeting, not excluded. The article has been updated to reflect this information.