This is an open letter to everyone who has discussed the Student Budget Committee’s (SBC) need to finish meetings earlier this year than in years past. Maybe you’ve contacted me directly about this, maybe you’ve spoken to your friends or student group members about this, or maybe you haven’t been doing the talking and writing, but you’ve heard or read someone else’s concerns about this year’s funding situation. Regardless, I’ve heard a number of concerns and would like to clarify a few things:
The SBC ended early this year. That’s an indisputable and unfortunate fact, but there are two primary reasons why:
1. Student groups requested over $85,853 more this year than last year.
(Dates defined as: “7/1/10 to 4/28/11” & “7/1/11 to 4/28/12”)
The SBC was forced to make a decision: do we reject valid, well-prepared requests from groups who met with us early simply to accommodate the needs of other groups who haven’t yet met with us? Or should we choose to favor those groups who came in earlier in the year, citing a “first-come-first served” reasoning for our decisions? We attempted to find a middle-ground between increased scrutiny and giving preference to groups who met with us earlier.
Any student group leader who made a request within the last month or two of the spring funding period can attest to the fact that we rejected, deferred, and partially-funded a lot of requests.
2. Ending funding early benefits the student body by giving the SBC more time to retrieve unspent funds.
And this is much less intuitive than my first point. For the past few years, the SBC has typically seen surpluses approaching $60,000. To me, this is ridiculous and preventable. Current students should have access to the Student Activities Fee (SAF) funds during the year that they paid this fee.
By ending early, the SBC is able to perform a process called “Re-assumptions” in which the committee combs through student groups’ accounts in order to find leftover money. Once we pool all of this money, we are then able to give it to groups who were rejected/partially funded during our last few meetings.
When I ran for chair of the committee, I expressed that my goal for the year was to spend as much of the SAF as possible on student events, projects, etc. What I didn’t realize was that, by budgeting to the full amount, I was going to force some student groups into a very stressful “development hell” during the second half of the spring semester. For publications, this development hell is essentially over, and everyone should expect to see a lot of student publications during the first weeks of May.
It’s also important to note that the committee is imperfect. We are a group of seven students who sit in a windowless room on Monday nights. We are volunteers. We do not get paid. We are not professionally trained in any way whatsoever, but we are all students who care deeply about making student life at Wesleyan more enjoyable, diverse, and (even sometimes) educational. Our meetings have lasted anywhere from three hours to seven and a half hours long. We don’t always know every nuanced detail of each request that we fund, and sometimes we don’t all agree on a funding decision. It takes four votes of “yes” or “no” to determine whether a group gets a certain amount of money. Sometimes we have three and four. Sometimes we have seven resounding yeses or nos. We do not have administrators dictating what we can and cannot fund. In the instance of the SBC, student money truly is for students only.
But there are certainly some things that the SBC could improve upon: communicating much more often with the student body about funding deadlines and funding policies, ensuring that all types of student groups receive fair recognition in the form of funding (i.e. Publications getting shafted this semester), holding mandatory training sessions for all student group treasurers during the year in order to increase student knowledge of the funding process, and approaching start-of-the-year funding with a much more critical eye (if we had shaved off portions of requests earlier on, we could have saved more money for other groups).
But most importantly: I urge everyone who believes that they can do better to email the committee or myself with suggestions. Even better: run for the WSA (there’s still time to get a write-in campaign going for class elections! Or you can run in the At-Large elections in the fall!), join the SBC, and find ways to fix it. And I hope that this does not seem to be a disingenuous suggestion. There is ALWAYS room for improvement. How can the process be less intimidating for student group leaders? How can we most fairly allocate money when our weekly budget is $10,000 and over $30,000 of requests are made? When I was running to be committee chair last year, I saw massive year-end surpluses and tried to get rid of them. And when you try something new, there are bound to be bumps in the road. Sometimes people get mad, and sometimes things don’t work out as planned. While accusations against the committee and myself are a good way of keeping us in check (even if they may sting), I’m of the belief that the easiest way to enact change is through direct action. And what would be a better way to fix these perceived issues than to join the committee itself and manifest these changes in your own actions?