Topping Fund ratifies Charter of 2019

The Norman Topping Student Aid Fund Governing Board officially ratified its Charter of 2019, a legally binding constitutional document that establishes the legitimacy of the Fund into USC bylaws, Monday.

The ratification of the charter, a 20-page document that details the relationship between the Fund and the University, marks the end of the program’s restructuring since Christina Yokoyama was terminated from her position as Topping director last spring. Since Yokoyama’s elimination, members of Topping — a student-funded, student-led scholarship program founded in 1972 for underrepresented, low-income and first-generation students — looked to revise its 1982 charter.

“[The charter] provides for many protocols and procedures that will protect both the integrity of the Board and the Fund,” NTSAF Governing Board Chair Dustin Wong wrote in a memo to the Topping Scholar Community Tuesday. “But most importantly for you, it is our promise as the Governing Board to forge a more responsive and valuable Topping experience for current and future scholars.”

According to the memo, the Board can now review the Fund’s budget to help the Topping community grow in a “responsible manner.” New regulations set in place include enabling Topping alumni to reapply for graduate-level funding in 2020, creating programming that carries more relevance to the diverse Topping community and establishing a difference between undergraduate Topping Scholars and graduate Topping Fellows.

“The Fund’s student body composition will be no less than 30% and no more than 50% Fellows by the year 2023,” Topping Scholar representatives Jennifer Leal and Lucero Noyola wrote in a letter to the Topping community Wednesday. “Meaning, we will increase the number of graduates in Topping in the coming years.”

Wong said that from the late 1990s to 2017, the Fund experienced what is considered an “information dark age”; there was no trace of historical documents, annual reports, Board meeting minutes or other important information.

“It’s as if the Governing Board didn’t exist to function during those years,” Wong said. “And we’ve got a couple documents here and there, but not substantiated. Not many of them not dated as well, and so as a period of this decline, what we saw as a correlation at the same time, is that the Governing Board and its responsibilities started to diminish.”

Until Monday, the Fund operated in accordance with its former charter from 1982. However, according to Wong, the rules and regulations in the 1982 charter failed to apply to changes in the Fund and the University. For example, the Fund moved from the Division of Student Affairs to the Office of Undergraduate Programs. As a result, it became the norm that the Board not strictly follow the operational guidelines listed in the charter.

“That became a major issue for the Provost’s Office and for the University, because not only were we not in compliance with our own rules and own legal documents … [but we were] also no longer legally compliant with California state laws or federal laws or University bylaws,” Wong said. “And so, in light of the situation, there would be a need for restructuring to take place.”

According to Leal and Noyola’s letter, since the University is undergoing a change in leadership with President-elect Carol Folt as well as replacements for outgoing Provost Michael Quick and former Vice President of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry, the charter may have to go through several updates in the coming year.

“The Board worked hard to ratify a charter before this change occurs, so some topics, though still important, were tabled for after the ratification,” the letter read. “Next year, the Board will work on creating the Fund’s operating guidelines, while also working to address tabled topics.”

Wong said that with the new charter, the Board is on the path to creating positive change within the Fund and the University.

“I want this to be, you know, a positive sign in the midst of all the University scandals, you know, of the fact that [Quick] is resigning, that we’re gonna have new president, etc., that almost all these different issues that, you know, we’ve actually managed to come together and put some positive, something positive in the news,” Wong said.