IRA Committee: Student Profiles: Graham Wahlberg

As the current Associated Students, Inc. (ASI president, Graham Wahlberg carries his fair share of responsibilities, one of which is chairing the Instructionally Related Activities (IRA) Advisory Board.

“It’s called an ‘ex-officio position,’” Wahlberg said, “which means by merit of your position, you’re asked to serve on different committees. Every ASI president is chair of the IRA committee.”

As a voting chair, Wahlberg heads a committee of six people — three students (of which he is one) and three faculty — who all take part in deciding which campus activities and projects to fund.

Wahlberg employs a scientific approach when it comes to helping make IRA funding decisions.

“It’s all about active versus passive: whether or not the student is engaged or participating in the activity,” he said. “An example would be if a student attends a conference. Are they going to watch someone present a paper, or are they presenting the paper themselves?”

But one of the most important things he has to consider is whether a particular activity will benefit students on a larger scale.

“It’s definitely about the students,” Wahlberg said. “We’re made up of half students and half administrators, so you’re getting both viewpoints. Sometimes we split hairs over what should be funded or not, but usually we reach a general consensus.”

If, however, the committee finds itself in a deadlock over a particular project or activity, Wahlberg must find a way to get everyone to work together.

“As chair, I will not let a decision move forward until we can come to a better consensus,” he said. “If there is a three-to-three tie, that tells me we need to discuss the issue more until we can all be more comfortable with a decision we can agree on.”

Conflicts of interest are settled matter-of-factly, with the party concerned withholding their vote.
Wahlberg, however, does not find himself in that position very often.

“I don’t have any proposals within the IRA, so it’s usually not a problem,” he said. “But you definitely have to maintain a distance.”

In fact, Wahlberg considers this to be one of his stronger points.

“I never get too emotionally attached to any one project,” he said. “There are so many different types of clubs and organizations asking for funding. Sometimes you have to put your foot down and say, ‘This doesn’t follow our guidelines.’”

It is the board’s job to determine whether an application meets the guidelines and whether IRA funding, if granted, would serve students. During a recent IRA board meeting, an application for sheet music to be used at a choir festival brought up discussion on whether the music department would benefit more than the students would.

Here’s how the discussion played out:

“Is this equivalent to a tool in engineering?” Wahlberg asked. A tool would benefit the department, making it ineligible for IRA money.

“It’s not like, ‘OK, I’m going to buy a trumpet.’ They may or may not use [the music] again,” said John Waayers, one of the three faculty/administrator members on the board.

“I was in choir for many, many years and we never got to keep our music,” said Mathew Todd, senator for the college of engineering.

Waayers agreed that the music was a gray area and used the College of Engineering as an analogy. The IRA would fund, he said, motors and tubing for a car-building project, but not a saw used to build the car. Similarly, the music department may not use the sheet music after the festival, which would make it analogous to the car parts, or it may use it again and again, making it like the saw.

Wahlberg told The Collegian that the committee’s guiding document is the IRA Policies and Procedures manual, which is closely followed.

“There are a lot of different IRA applications,” Wahlberg said, “each one tailored to a specific activity. There is an application for study abroad, there’s one for conferences, for building projects and so forth.”

“The policies and procedures manual is kind of like our bible. We use it to decide what’s instructionally related and what’s not,” he said.

IRA Advisory Board member Lauren Johnson holds nothing but respect for Wahlberg and his ability to handle the pressures that come with being both ASI president and IRA chair.

“He was basically thrown into this position when he became president,” said Johnson. “He came up to speed really fast.”

“He is just so determined when it comes to getting the money back to the students, making sure they get the most out of their fees. It’s pretty admirable.”

But the process is certainly never easy, Wahlberg said. “Turning someone down is probably one of the hardest things I’ve done. It’s really tough saying no, but saying yes is as well. It’s $2 million, you know, and we can’t just give it away.”

Additional reporting by Heather Billings.

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