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NWC Student Senate stirs debate, anger with veteran funding decision

Emotions calmer this week

An email firestorm swirled through the Northwest College campus last week after the NWC Student Senate voted not to waive a service requirement for a funding request by the NWC Veterans Group.

The group requested $400 from the Senate on Tuesday, Dec. 6 to pay for lunches during the group’s weekly meetings. The request also stated, “We respectfully ask for an exception to doing a community service because we have done our ‘community service’ in the military.”

All NWC clubs are allowed to apply for money from the Senate for their organizations, but the Senate’s constitution requires that clubs approved for funding provide community service in return.

The Senate had a week to consider the request, and it came up during a meeting between the Senate and the NWC President’s Advisory Council (PAC).

“Because the Veterans Group was concerned about getting their community service waived, we thought that it would be an appropriate subject to ask PAC about,” Senate President Dillon Deffinbaugh said in an email Monday. “They were very supportive of whatever the result the Senate decided on, and still are.”

Ultimately, the Senate voted unanimously not to waive the service requirement. Deffinbaugh said the Senate didn’t want to set a precedent of allowing groups to cite past community service in order to get money for their clubs.

After some discussion, Michael Fjell, a student senator and a member of the Veterans Group, agreed to perform that service by helping another Student Senate member with a project benefiting local veterans organizations.

“When I learned that they went to PAC and talked about this, I was very impressed,” Fjell said Monday. “The veterans understand and support their decision, and the Student Senate hold veterans in high respect.”

So it was a shock to many of them to learn a day later that an email to faculty about the meeting had raised the ire of some faculty members.

Among them was J.L. “Woody” Wooden, who said he didn’t want to see “veterans’ service treated so lightly.”

Wooden, who served as a Navy Corpsman during the Vietnam War, suffers disabilities because of his service.

“When they say, ‘We’ll give you the money if you do community service,’ it seems to me that they have done their community service a long time ago,” he said in an Associated Press story last week. “I mean, how much do you pay back a veteran?”

Cynthia Garhart, who serves as adviser for the Veterans Group, said she made the request on behalf of the group because group members “are really busy people. Many of them have families, and they’re all very serious about their academics ... They just want to get together once a week and have a sandwich with each other.”

But she said the group accepted the Senate’s decision and thought that was that.

While she’s pleased with the support people have shown veterans, “I wish people were not so angry about it, and I’m sorry people are being mistreated about it.”

NWC President Paul Prestwich voiced his support for the Senate’s decision Monday.

“The service requirement is in the Student Senate’s constitution,” he said. “I think it’s important to fulfill requirements in their constitution. Not only were they able to stand by their constitution, but they also worked out a solution where a student would fill the requirement by doing something for veterans service groups.”

Wooden said Monday that emotions on campus have calmed down since last week.

“I think things have cooled down a lot,” he said. “It’s such an emotional issue, that when it came out, it raised people’s blood pressure. I know that my blood pressure raised about 20 points. I think there was a lot of oversensitivity.”

It’s an especially sensitive issue for Vietnam vets, who have had to fight for the benefits they are entitled to, he said.

In the long run, though, “I believe it all worked out even better for the veterans,” he said. Faculty members and others raised money for the Veterans Group, and that money will be given without strings attached.

“It surpassed the money that was asked for,” Wooden said. “Lord knows they deserve it.”

Wooden said he understands the Senate’s decision wasn’t made maliciously.

“They’re so young; they take everything literally,” he said. “A lot of our society is built on literal laws that are flexible, too.”

Deffinbaugh said people are beginning to realize that the Senate was not at fault in the situation.

“We were elected to represent the students, and must uphold the constitution that they have voted to approve,” he said. “All concerns regarding the policy on this issue will be addressed properly, as they should have been to begin with.”

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1 comment

  • posted by Don Reel

    December 21, 2011 8:32 pm

    As a former graduate of NWC (and a veteran) I support the decision by the NWC Student Senate to not waive the service requirement for the veterans group.
    Just because we enlist and/or are drafted into the U.S. military does excuse us from community service the rest of our lives.
    When we ALL work together to serve the needs of our communities, America benefits.

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