USG addresses changes to Topping Fund, passes resolution

On Tuesday night, the Undergraduate Student Government Senate voted unanimously in favor of a resolution requesting that Provost Michael Quick respect the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund’s individual autonomy.

Sabrina Enriquez, a senior studying mathematics, urged the USG Senate to take quick action and vote on her resolution immediately rather than agreeing to wait a week before voting, as is most common. Photo by Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

The resolution was presented by senior mathematics major Sabrina Enriquez, a Topping scholar who recently penned a letter to Quick opposing the changes to Topping.

The USG senate suspended Robert’s rules, allowing it to deviate from standard parliamentary procedures. They used this suspension in order to pass this resolution the same day it was introduced. This is the first time the Senate has done this in the 2017-2018 academic year.

The resolution asked that Quick reverse the dismissal of the Topping Fund’s director Christina Yokoyama. It also asked that Quick respect the fund’s guidelines and consult the Topping Fund’s governing board before making any decisions regarding the spending of the fund.

Quick announced on Friday that structural modifications were going to be made to the Topping Fund in order to expand the number of students the scholarship program can serve.

However, the change resulted in the removal of the program director position, held by Yokoyama for the past 11 years. This decision was received with criticism from many Topping scholars, alumni and the governing board.

Enriquez voiced indignation regarding the recent moves by the administration at the USG meeting and said scholars were neither involved in nor notified of this decision process.

She said scholars were unclear on what Quick’s views on the changes were since decisions were made “behind closed doors.”

“No students or representatives of the program were consulted or warned that the director of the program would be eliminated,” Enriquez wrote in the resolution.

Senator Preston Fregia said that he feared passing the resolution might only be symbolic and lack tangible results.

While supporting the resolution, he said that he thinks the administration will pursue its goals, irrespective of what USG says.

“This University does not have the greatest track record with doing anything for minority students or respecting their board of governors or their scholarships at all,” Fregia said. “They make unilateral decisions all the time and they’ll find another convenient excuse like they always do.”

Enriquez acknowledged these concerns, saying that the resolution may have little concrete impact. 

However, she argued that it is a step toward greater administrative transparency and accountability.

“All this resolution says is to please respect our guidelines that have always been there and have always been respected,” Enriquez said. “In a sense, this resolution is symbolic. In another sense, when it passes, we expect the provost to respond.”

The USG resolution took place following a meeting held Tuesday morning in which several Topping scholars, alumni and faculty members voiced their opposition to the restructuring of the scholarship fund to Andrea Hodge, the vice provost of undergraduate programs.

Enriquez said Hodge made it evident in the meeting that the changes — including the elimination of Yokoyama’s position — are rooted in an attempt to expand the number of Topping scholarships available.

Following the meeting, Hodge penned a letter to Topping scholars calling the meeting “productive and informative,” and further explained the Provost’s Office decision. Hodge’s letter to scholars was acquired by the Daily Trojan.

I want to reiterate that we need and welcome the help and support of the board – and current students – to move forward,” she wrote. “In restructuring, we are seeking to ensure that Topping will always be more than a scholarship. I hope that you will join with me in building on the legacy of the Topping Scholarship vision and creating a more accessible program for our students.”

In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Hodge explained that she had consulted with the USC Office of Admission and the USC Financial Aid Office.

She also said that the Graduate Student Government and USG were consulted. However, USG President Austin Dunn refuted this in an email sent to the Daily Trojan, stating that neither USG nor GSG collaborated with administration in the decision process.

“I cannot speak on behalf of any Topping scholars as I, myself, am not part of the program,” Dunn said in the email. “Therefore, USG has never and will never speak on behalf of the Topping scholars without meeting with them first.”

On Tuesday night, the Topping Fund hosted a “Call to Action” meeting at the USC Radisson Ballroom to further discuss the changes to the program. More than 50 people attended the meeting in an effort to show their support for the Topping Fund.

Topping Governing Board Chair Sierra Williams addressed the support Yokoyama has received after the recent announcement.

“The response of love and support from you all has been overwhelming and invigorating,” Williams said. “We are grateful that the rain didn’t stop you all from being here.”

Enriquez joined Williams on stage, detailing the meeting she had with Hodge earlier that day, expressing her disappointment with Hodge’s strong stance on the decision. Yokoyama and other faculty members also spoke at the meeting.

Members of the Topping Fund said they are working on holding  a rally and an online petition. The rally’s date has yet to be determined.

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that Enriquez met with Michael Quick. Enriquez met with Andrea Hodge. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.