What Happened to the Riso Funds?

Students still awaiting UHHSA action

News Writer Gina Selig

UHHSA symbol

As with almost any other college, many people at UH Hilo spend their free time by partaking in student clubs. It’s a way to not only meet new people, but make lasting college memories. At UH Hilo, diversity is abundant and the different clubs have a wide range of interests and goals. However, what happens when the student clubs don’t receive proper funding?

RISOs - or Registered Independent Student Organizations - are clubs that are officially sanctioned by UH Hilo. On their webpage, RISOs define themselves as “any group of six or more students currently enrolled at UH Hilo wishing to pursue a common educational, civic, social, cultural or recreational interest may become a RISO by completing the registration application and submitting the required documents.”

Until a couple of weeks ago, the RISO handbook had not been approved and the application for RISO status for clubs had not been published. This amendment to the handbook was supposed to be completed over the summer of 2016. Effectively, without RISO status, clubs are not able to be affiliated with the university - thus denying them opportunities for funding through the CSOs (Chartered Student Organizations) in Campus Center, like UHHSA and SAC.

Additionally, this limits clubs’ abilities to use UH facilities. Without university affiliation, independent clubs can still rent rooms, but they cost much more. Currently, $190,000 in student fees are held by UHHSA; it has been unspent, and is supposed to be given back to the students and the clubs. It is possible that this paperwork and disbursement of these fees could roll over to next year. However, many RISO members find this frustrating - especially those who are graduating this semester, and have worked hard to start and sustain clubs on campus throughout the 2016-2017 year.

Ke Kalahea recently interviewed Lazareth Sye, who most recently served as vice president of UHHSA, to get his perspective on the situation. “In order to give a full narrative of the situation, a lot of people need to understand the RISO legal term has been redefined due to issues [that] occurred last year between RISOs and the university. The general counsel at the [UH] system level was consulted regarding the handbook and the application, so a lot of RISOs couldn’t register until recently in the spring. So, all last semester, they didn’t have access to the application.”

Are RISOs automatically granted money? The answer seems to be no. As Sye asserts, the CSOs are not obligated by the Board of Regents to immediately disburse the funds. “Even though all the CSOs can give money, they aren’t mandated or obligated by the Board of Regents to support clubs. The [UHHSA] Senate re-evaluated the budget and put $20,000 toward the clubs. The Campus Center community coordinator’s job is to train registrar and keep track. If they were a nationally recognized RISO, they didn’t need to be registered. RISOs that were in “good standing” had a much longer process that was ultimately unclear due to lack of communication,” Sye said.

In Sye’s view, this reality was the result of poor communication on the part of UHHSA. “At the beginning of January, because there was a fear that the committee wouldn’t spend its money, there was a decrease of $7,000 because of this. All the clubs did have access to these funds of $20,000, but the group that was controlling it wasn’t aware that they could actually get it and neither did the clubs. I don’t think the organization was hoarding it. The idea was that we can’t give you the money if there [is] no process in place to allow us to. “

Sye, in turn, offers advice to future RISOs that hope to avoid falling victim to this same issue, should it occur again. “RISOs that are registering, I encourage them to submit funding requests at the beginning of the semester. There's a special application that you submit regardless of you have finished going through training or registration. We can approve your funding and the moment you're done we can grant it to you,” Sye said.

If you wish to offer further information on this story to Ke Kalahea, contact us at uhhkk@hawaii.edu.