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Several Academic Affairs Commission members receive scholarship from own office

Staff at an undergraduate student government commission are set to receive scholarships from their own office.

By Liv Stokes

Dec. 6, 2020 12:23 p.m.

Several undergraduate student government staffers received money from a scholarship run by their own office, including staffers who helped decide who receives scholarship money.

At least 11 Undergraduate Students Association Council Academic Affairs Commission staffers received money from a textbook scholarship their office administers, Books for Bruins, said Commissioner of Academic Affairs Breeze Velazquez in an emailed statement.

The AAC draws its nearly $60,000 budget from student fees, part of which funds the Books for Bruins scholarship. The scholarship application stated the award was meant to make course materials more accessible to students.

[Related link: The Quad: Once USAC collects student fees, what does it do with them?]

The commission will distribute 515 Books for Bruins scholarships to students for fall quarter, ranging from $25 to $150 per student – $34,925 in total – according to data provided by Patricia Solomon, the Associated Students UCLA Student Union division manager. Fifteen of the 515 finalized recipients were AAC executive staffers, a majority of its executive staff.

However, four of the 15 staff members who were set to receive the scholarship declined to claim their awards as they were able to find copies of their textbooks online, Velazquez said in an email.

A task force made up of eight students from the AAC reviewed and selected the award amount given to each recipient, Velazquez said. The award was open to any undergraduate student who filled out the application, Velazquez added. The AAC does not prevent its staff or students on the selection task force from applying to or receiving Books for Bruins scholarships, Velazquez said.

This quarter, three AAC staff on the selection task force and eight other students in AAC received the scholarship, said Velazquez in an emailed statement.

The amount each applicant receives varies based on need, said Lysol Patino, an AAC staff member on the selection task force and recipient of a Books for Bruin scholarship. Students’ employment and living status could affect the amount of money they receive, Patino said.

While the average award amount is around $67, AAC staff received around $50 on average, Velazquez said.

The Books for Bruins selection task force members read the applications using a “blind read” method, meaning they did not view the name of the applicant, Velazquez said. After one read, another task force member looks over the first reader’s decision to make sure the award amounts are appropriate, she added.

Merzia Subhan, a fourth-year psychobiology student, said she believes scholarships should be reviewed and distributed by an impartial third-party.

“(The selection process) is 100% a conflict of interest,” Subhan said. “If they wanted to be eligible for those scholarships, they shouldn’t have signed up to be on the committee to distribute the scholarships.”

Before the pandemic, the AAC distributed the money by UCLA Textbook Store gift cards, said Vuong Tran, the Associated Students UCLA accounting manager, in an emailed statement. Funds from a UCLA Textbook Store gift card can only be spent at the UCLA Textbook Store.

Velazquez said the AAC decided to distribute the awards on mobile banking apps to get funding to students in need more quickly. The AAC did not require students to present receipts to prove they spent their Books for Bruins awards on course materials, she added.

To make the new system work, directors request a cash advance from ASUCLA to distribute the award, Tran said. AAC directors have to show the money they received from ASUCLA goes to recipients, or have to refund the remainder, he added.

Subhan said she was concerned about the AAC’s use of Venmo to distribute scholarships, adding the commission cannot verify how students spend the money on Venmo.

Velazquez said AAC will distribute the scholarship with UCLA Bookstore gift cards in the future to avoid distribution issues that came up this quarter.

Velazquez said she did not want to prevent any students from receiving the scholarship if they are in need.

“Just because students are in USAC doesn’t mean that they’re not students in need,” Velazquez said.

AAC staff should not decide whether their colleagues receive a student-funded scholarship, Subhan said.

“They’re evaluating themselves whether or not they’re worthy of receiving the scholarships,” Subhan said. “That’s pretty corrupt.”

Contributing reports by Marilyn Chavez-Martinez, Daily Bruin senior staff.

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