A recap of last night’s GUSA Town Hall on funding reform
Given the kind of concerned, accusatory letters some advisory board leaders sent in the last week, the town hall that the Georgetown University Student Association hosted last night to shed additional light on its proposed funding reforms was surprisingly quiet. A few students grudgingly observed that they didn’t think GUSA had enough knowledge about the various advisory boards to oversee the new club funding process they are proposing, and club representatives individually worried about how specific events their group holds will be affected by the potential funding changes. But for the most part, the town hall was uncontentious. It even ended early.
It kicked off with a half-hour presentation by members of GUSA’s Finance and Appropriations Committee detailing the reforms they intend to (or already have) passed in order to completely remake the current process by which student groups at Georgetown get funding, followed by a about an hour-and-a-half long question and answer session.
Standing below a large powerpoint presentation in a lecture hall in Reiss, members of the FinApp committee reiterated the now-familiar goals of funding reform, among them increasing transparency and efficiency in the funding process, and improving oversight of those involved in allocating the Student Activities Fee, the $50 that each student pays at the beginning of each semester. FinApp members also touched on some of the things they feel show that there their efforts have student consensus, like the Accountability and Reform Amendment—an amendment that students passed in 2006 giving GUSA the authority to the authority to audit the advisory boards and final say as to how much money is appropriated to each board.
Greg Laverriere (COL ‘12) walked the audience of about thirty students through the results of a club satisfaction survey GUSA conducted last semester (see the results here), and summed up student sentiment about the current funding process.
“Student clubs and organizations face an uphill climb to secure resources and receive reasonable control over their activities …. Student clubs and organizations are not getting the money they deserve and need,” he said, adding that the club funding process is bloated and opaque compared to the process at peer schools.
Nick Troiano (COL ’11), the chair of the FinApp Committee spoke next, in a section of the town hall that seemed pretty clearly geared toward rebutting accusations and rumors lobbed at GUSA’s three reforms—the creation of the temporary $30,000 GUSA Fund to supplant the current funding process; the six reforms GUSA is pressing advisory boards to accept; and legislation that will give GUSA, rather than the 13-member Funding Board comprised of representatives from the six advisory boards, FinApp Senators, and a representative from the Georgetown Programming Board, authority to approve club budgets—in the past few weeks.
If you are a student, Troiano said, “your money will now be spent only by those who you can hold accountable … If you’re a member of an advisory board, your job pretty much remains the same.”
“This is not a power grab by GUSA,” he continued. And accusations that members of GUSA will not be knowledgeable enough to oversee the funding process once they have abolished the Funding Board, he said, “may have been [apt] in the past. But I challenge anyone to make that same accusation this year.”
Junior Sandy Glassberg emphasized that GUSA viewed the newly created GUSA Fund as a temporary supplement to the Funding Process, which they believe does not supply enough money to student clubs, before Colton Malkerson (COL ’13), one of the architects of legislation to strip the six advisory boards and GPB of their votes in the funding process, assumed the podium. Malkerson recapped the six reforms GUSA is compelling advisory boards to make: reducing reserve accounts; setting up an appeals process for clubs; giving clubs the option of lump sum funding; making minutes of all meetings and votes publicly available; holding elections to choose or approve board members; and allowing clubs to keep the money they earn.
George Roche (COL ’10) presented the new timeline budgets will follow if this legislation passes. The FinApp Committee will be required to hold a budget summit within 21 days of the swearing-in of the new GUSA president. Drafts of budgets must follow in seven days, and budgets will get a week of public comment. They must pass with two-thirds of the FinApp Committee and two thirds of the Senate’s votes and be signed by the GUSA president.
Then Sam Ungar (COL ’12) then took charge of the question and answer section.
“I will not permit grandstanding or speechifying,” he promised, and he didn’t—everyone was limited to a one-minute question and one minute follow-up question at a time.
GUSA Vice President Jason Kluger (MSB ’11) commenced the questioning with a softball, remarking that a friend on Relay for Life had accused GUSA of trying to take away his funding and inviting the FinApp members to explain how that was the opposite of what they were trying to do.
“It’s inaccurate to say that their funding is in jeopardy,” Troiano said. “CSJ makes a loan to Relay for Life every year, so when they heard about reserve accounts change, they got nervous,” he said, explaining that a GUSA proposal that would have required advisory boards to spend down their reserves to 10 percent of the board’s yearly allocation—a potential change that made clubs whose advisory boards rely on those reserves very skeptical of GUSA’s understanding of the current process—was being reconsidered on a case-by-case basis for each board.
Junior Harrison Holkom, the vice-chair of the Student Activities Commission, pointed out that the new budget timeline would make it difficult for student organizations to get funds to book rooms through the Office of Campus Activity Facilities until weeks after OCAF had begun to make rooms available. Laverierre remarked that that was why advisory boards had reserves.
To a former member of the Philodemic Society, FinApp members explained that they’re looking into a process that would make it easy for clubs to retain gifts they are given for specific purposes, such as alumni donations.
Matt Wagner (SFS ’11), the former chair of the FinApp committee, asked why advisory boards which more or less already comply with GUSA’s six reforms, like Media Board, were being stripped of their votes along with more notorious boards, like SAC.
“It’s unfair to look at the taking away of the votes of the Funding Board as punitive,” Troiano responded. “[Currently,] each advisory board is voting on their own budget. Are Student Activities Fees being divied up fairly? Is money being spent wisely? That’s the kind of conversation that isn’t taking place at the Funding Board.”
Erica Esposito, a student who works with CSJ ABSO, echoed Wagner’s concerns, asking why GUSA felt it needed to abolish the Funding Board as it simultaneously compelled advisory boards to elect its representatives. Troiano responded that a 13-member Funding Board was still a very unwieldy organization.
Another student wondered when clubs could expect to see guidelines laid out about how exactly the GUSA Fund would be allocating its $30,000. In response, Kate Peterson (COL ’11), a former SAC commissioner who has been nominated as the Chair of the GUSA Fund (a vote on her confirmation will take place this Monday), said that the GUSA Fund’s first meeting was that night, and they would begin to hash out details of how they will fund clubs there.
Richard Rinaldi (MSB ’12), the programming director of GUTV, asked whether he was correct in his understanding that the passage of this legislation would mean that GUSA would now have complete control over the Student Activities Fee.
“Yes technically, ultimately where all the fees go is up to the Senate,” Troiano said, “but we don’t have any intention of allocating the majority to the Senate.”
“In any system you can get into the weeds about when there would be over-reach and where there wouldn’t,” Laverriere added. “But there wouldn’t be any point.” The Senators joked that they wouldn’t have anything to spend the money on if they did give it all to themselves, except for fliers.
Esposito spoke again, saying that ultimately, she was concerned that Senators would not understand the nuances of clubs’ proposed budgets.
“You guys can be sitting in the room behind us,” Malkerson responded. “So we’re not going to go into the room close the door, you’re gonna be in the room … and if we don’t understand the nuances, you’ll be right there to help us.”
That about concluded the hard questioning. The rest of the questions were devoted to plan specifics: How does the new appeals process work? Clubs can go before GUSA again if their proposals are rejected, Troiano said. Can clubs make a yearlong budget based on spending forecasts? If they’re up to the task, yes.
At the very end, a SAC commissioner asked how the proposed changes will effect communication between the different advisory boards.
“Well honestly, right now I think the only time they talk is when they get in that room together [as the Funding Board],” Laverriere said.