On June 28, a memo was sent from Lesley N. Salafia of the University Counsel informing Student Activities that UConn Praxis could no longer be a Tier III organization. This meant that UConn Praxis, which was established in 1973, would no longer exist as an organization on campus and that all employees of the organization would lose their job. According to Praxis officers this memo was sent with little to no warning from the Board of Trustees or University General Counsel. 

Praxis as an organization was established as a student-funded advocacy group. It was initially set up in relation to the national organization PIRG, or the Public Interest Research Group, which is a private organization. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, the UConn chapter of PIRG decided to disaffiliate from the organization due to a number of complaints, foremost being a controversy regarding a statement made by UConnPIRG following the death of George Floyd. While this was noted as the catalyst for disaffiliation, UConn Praxis as well as former UConnPIRG officers and employees also cited abuse of staff and financial mismanagement as reasons for disaffiliation. The Daily Campus has been able to verify these allegations through documentation provided by UConn Praxis and former UConnPIRG employees as well as Trustee Student Organization Support (TSOS), which handles the finances of all Tier III organizations. These allegations will be covered in a later edition of this paper.  

During the disaffiliation process, Praxis officers and employees stated that they had felt that nothing would be in jeopardy if they were to disaffiliate from UConnPIRG as they would essentially still be the same organization just without contractual ties to PIRG which is a private organization. As a result of this decision, 14 student employees lost their jobs for the year and there is no longer paid advocacy on campus.  

Ben Albee, a senior Political Science and Environmental Studies major, was the president of Praxis before the memo was released. He spoke on the process with the UConn Board of Trustees and how this whole situation was handled.  

“In February — I was the treasurer then — me, and Natalie who was the President, met with the Board of Trustees Student Life Committee because they were discussing whether or not to put our fee back on the fee bill because PIRG has had a $5 waivable fee though every semester for students and when we changed our name we wanted to suspend that so that people knew what Praxis was before they were like, ‘Oh, what is this Praxis thing?’ And also because of the disaffiliation we were told by our advisors that it was just routine, they’re just going to check up on us, make sure that it’s good to go. So that was in February.” Albee continued. “We met with them. There was a Student Life Committee and it was kind of abhorrent how they did not know anything about students’ lives. They had no idea what Praxis or PIRG was, what USG was, what Tier III’s are like, like it was a mess and they were like ‘okay, we’re gonna table this until next month’s meeting.’ Through all of this, we’re all like, ‘Oh, damn, are we going to lose our jobs like how serious is this?’ So through the semester we keep meeting with them at these meetings, they have no idea what they’re doing and eventually they put it out to a student vote.” 

What Albee is referring to is a survey that is sent to students every year by AFU which surveys how students feel about Tier III organizations. In this survey, the question was asked about whether Praxis should continue to exist as a Tier III organization on campus. More than 85% of students surveyed said they would like Praxis to remain a Tier III organization. When asked whether students would be willing to pay a waivable $5 fee to continue Praxis operations, about 70% responded “yes.” A standard positive response to these questions is around 60%.  

Albee said that as the information from the AFU survey was being released, the University Board of Trustees asked the University General Counsel as to whether Praxis could still legally exist. Albee stated that while he was told by some that the board did not have to do this, he understands why that action may have been taken.  

“At the same time, the Board of Trustees asked the University General Counsel for their legal opinion on the matter. I’ve had people telling me that they didn’t have to do this or that this was the Board Trustees trying to sabotage us, to me that sounds fair to ask for a legal opinion. And then in the middle of the summer, after these results were back in after we were confused that we weren’t on the Board of Trustees agenda for that June meeting, we got sent a memo from that attorney counsel saying this is not a legal opinion. We have to strike you down, because the fee that we were trying to reinstate was specifically established to fund UConn PIRG, not the students,” Albee said.  

Albee continued by saying that he disagrees with how the University General Counsel interpreted Praxis’ situation in terms of its purpose as a subcontract to UConnPIRG instead of a student advocacy group. 

“I don’t know what evidence I can point to, that the money is for the students, except that the way that the funding system has always worked is that the money comes from students from the fee bill and goes to an account that the student organization manages. And that organization can choose to contract some of that money to UConn PIRG. So we basically decided we don’t want to contract out with them anymore and by doing that, we’re going to change our name, change our brand, but we’re still going to be the same community organization. But because the attorney counsel saw that we’re no longer contracting out to them, they’re like, ‘you no longer have a right to the money that you still have,’” Albee said.  

Monet Paredes is a junior political science and environmental studies major and was the Director of Communications for Praxis before it was dissolved. She spoke on the personal aspect of the memo, reflecting on how the decision affected the employees of Praxis and how the abruptness of the decision and the Board of Trustees’ decision not to communicate with Praxis consistently impacted them.  

“I think it shows they don’t really care about the students. I know that it was defended as a very legal and administrative decision based on the language that was in the agreement back in the 70s, I understand that, but to just give us a memo to a group of maybe 12 people who were just hired and who have been doing this for a long time and It just felt like they didn’t really care about the students. They didn’t really care about the issues. And they didn’t really have any pause to be like, ‘Okay, what is this? What is this memo doing for these people? What about this group of students who have benefited from this group or who want to join or who want to be involved in these issues, so the message is, even though it was legal, it felt bad, it felt inconsiderate,” Paredes said.  

“So I got this job, awesome, so when I heard that we basically just all lost our jobs. I was super frustrated, devastated, sad, angry, I had so many emotions, my first initial feelings were like, this is sad because it’s this club I joined as a freshman. This is what I’ve been doing for like 2-3 years and then I was kind of like wait, I don’t have a job anymore.”

Monet Paredes, previous Director of Communications for Praxis

Paredes described how she had to scramble for a semester job following the announcement, and how the announcement of the dissolvement of Praxis impacted her wellbeing.  

“I got into this paid leadership role which was a bonus, but not the reason I did it, which ended up being my campus job. It took up a lot of time. It was a lot of work, and so this past spring, I applied for a different position because I wanted to switch it up, I wanted to stay in the [organization]. So I applied, was hired and I recognized it was a year-long position like all the positions which last a year so it’s okay, that will be my fall and spring semester. I mentioned I just got an apartment which I’m paying for. I’ll have a job that can pay for all my groceries, pay for my electricity, my WiFi and things like that, things that I wasn’t expecting to pay for with a dorm. So I got this job, awesome, so when I heard that we basically just all lost our jobs. I was super frustrated, devastated, sad, angry, I had so many emotions, my first initial feelings were like, this is sad because it’s this club I joined as a freshman. This is what I’ve been doing for like 2-3 years and then I was kind of like wait, I don’t have a job anymore. So I’m now having to apply for jobs. I just started applying for jobs frantically and I was in a panic,” Paredes said.  

This description raised another question as to the future of paid activism on campus. UConn Praxis was the only avenue for paid activism on campus as noted in the constitution of the organization. As of today, with Praxis’ dissolvement, there are no opportunities for expressly paid activism as a part of UConn Campus. This raised questions about whether this was fair to students who want to advocate and lobby for issues, but can no longer due to Praxis’ absence. Albee spoke on how he personally dealt with this issue. 

“I feel like I need a job. I’m working three jobs right now. Like, if I am going to do activism, that needs to be paid. I just don’t have that time or energy to do that on this side,” Albee said. 

Paredes had similar sentiments in describing the new landscape created by the General Counsels memo. 

“I saw once I got into doing more work that the reason we paid people was because sometimes doing activism is a privilege that you have the time and can put in the effort to go do activism where maybe someone else has to go work a job, and so paying them was the reason to do that,” Paredes said 

Due to this memo, USG will receive about $125,000 in additional funding and has taken over traditionally collaborative projects between Praxis and USG such as Husky Market.  

A photo of the USG Office in the Student Union. After UConn Praxis was shut down by a university memo, USG will receive about $125,000 in additional funding and will take over collaborative projects between Praxis and USG. Photo by Heemin Koo/The Daily Campus

University Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz also issued the following statement to the Daily Campus regarding Praxis’ dissolvement. It breaks down the history of the organization and what options student activities offered to Praxis employees following dissolvement. The University issued a similar statement on Sep. 15.  

“UConn is committed to having a campus culture in which students’ voices are amplified through whatever means they choose, including formal advocacy organizations and informal circles of like-minded individuals.” 

“As you likely already know, UConn PIRG became a trustee organization (Tier III) on campus in the 1970s and was fee-funded, although it slightly differed from other Tier III organizations because students had the choice whether to waive the fee (known as a negative check-off option). Student leaders of UConn PIRG voted in late 2020 to disassociate from the state chapter.” 

“Since the organization could no longer use the PIRG name, its student participants changed the name to UConn Praxis with the intention that it would operate essentially as it had when it was UConn PIRG without state or national affiliations.” 

“However, a review by the Office of the General Counsel found that the original purpose for UConn PIRG, and its ability to collect and use student fees, were specific to that organization as initially established and not transferrable either formally or informally to a successor group under a different name and with a different relationship to the state chapter.” 

“UConn’s Student Activities staff have talked with the students since that time about the options available to them: namely, if they wanted to register UConn Praxis as a Tier II organization that would qualify for USG funding, and either remain at that status permanently or initiate the process to pursue trustee status.” 

“We await word from them on their next steps, and look forward to guiding them through whatever process they choose.” 

“I think there could be a future for paid advocacy on campus. I think there should be. There was such a unique situation that happened with disaffiliation that made it easy for them to do that. We were advised to disaffiliate. We didn’t expect anything like this would happen. I would be very interested to see if there’s another Tier III that came up to apply to pay student activists.”

Monet Paredes, previous Director of Communications for Praxis

“Several of the Tier II student groups at UConn are specifically focused on advocacy, and the campus also has many strong formal and informal networks of students who’ve pursued common interests and make their voices heard. Most of the current trustee organizations also serve in an advocacy role, most notably the Undergraduate Student Government, and many of those leaders are paid positions as well,” Reitz said.  

Praxis officials dispute this account, with multiple Praxis officers stating that after the decision was made to disassociate, the dissociation was supported by TSOS. Praxis officers also claim when meeting with USG following the memo, a discussion was had about the possibility of becoming employed by USG with the funds received from Praxis’ dissolvement. This was apparently shut down by USG. The Daily Campus has reached out to both TSOS and USG officials for interviews but has not received an official response. These claims will be covered in a later edition of this paper.  

Paredes concluded by expressing her vision for what paid advocacy on campus might look like in the future and what students can do to challenge UConn in the future. 

“I think there could be a future for paid advocacy on campus. I think there should be. There was such a unique situation that happened with disaffiliation that made it easy for them to do that. We were advised to disaffiliate. We didn’t expect anything like this would happen. I would be very interested to see if there’s another Tier III that came up to apply to pay student activists. I’d be interested to see if the Board of Trustees would approve that. And I’d follow that very closely because I think there should be. But it’s a weird balance. We’re challenging them, their authority and getting money while doing so. It’s like they don’t want to see a passionate, encouraged, paid group of students coming to challenge what UConn’s doing,” Paredes said.  

Leave a Reply