SAC forum opens discussion of student funding reform, addresses its problems
On the evening of Thursday, September 29, the Student Activities Commission assembled its board members and the leaders of several student organizations to a forum in which to deliberate SAC’s financial allocation process. This followed up a forum held about the same issue last Wednesday. Although only a handful of student leaders attended the evening’s event, SAC board members presented the framework, without details, of modifications to the current funding system.
After presenting the current funding system, SAC outlined two proposed alternatives. Currently, SAC’s programming is an arc-based, bulk allocation system, where student leaders state their agendas and SAC allocates a set amount of funds for each type of event. Many members of the community have repeatedly raised the need for a better funding system, as SAC Chair Andy Koenig (COL ’12) acknowledged, saying that the “current arc-based programming has underachieved in a lot of ways.”
The first of the two proposed alternatives was a comprehensive budget system, whereby each student organization would submit a detailed budget for their upcoming events, along with statements of funding requests, to SAC. SAC would then review the submitted budgets based on several criteria, including the amount of available funds, reasonableness of requests, and data of previous utilization of SAC funds. Student organizations would be funded based on their proposed budget after SAC reviewed their requests.
Second is the criteria-based system with bulk allocation, whereby SAC would determine allocation of funds at the beginning of each semester, and student organizations would then be free to spend their allocation as they please. SAC would divide total funds that are available, 45% for the Fall and 55% for the Spring, based on various metrics that have not been entirely hammered out just yet, but possibly include group sizes, amount and scope of programming, travel plans, previous spending, fund management, and large-scale events. These group metrics would be assigned a dollar value, and student organizations would receive funds based on which of the metrics they fulfilled.
The evening’s forum then delved into a discussion of the efficacy of two potential funding systems. SAC board members noted that the difficulty of the criteria-based system lies in deciding what the metrics are, and the amount of allocation needed for each metric to make the system fair. On the other hand, the comprehensive system’s efficiency will depend on ensuring that expected budgets are as exact as possible, with the major risk being organizations inflating their budgets to get more funding than they need.
Those attending the forum acknowledged and questioned these weaknesses. GUSA Vice President Greg Laverriere (COL ’12) brought up the effectiveness and fairness of the metrics, as organizations could inflate their membership to take advantage of the system.
Jacob Arber (SFS ’14), Treasurer of the Philodemic Society, had similar issues.
“I understand the advantage of criteria based system,” he said. “But it’s a concern that it’s so hard to define those metrics,” Arber said. He then raised concern about the comprehensive budget system as well, noting that because of “the whole reasonableness thing—it will be difficult to define what is a ‘good request.’ We can walk in saying we need 75 chairs and the entire ICC, and land all of our costs. [But] for huge social events like The Merrick Debate, it’s a bit more difficult to judge from year to year, and we don’t necessarily know where it’s going to take place and how much it’s going to cost until February.”
SAC board members noted that the intention of the funding systems is not to “nickel and dime” student organizations. It was generally agreed that the comprehensive budget system would be more adjustable in unexpected circumstances, while the criteria-based system rides a risk of a big “oops,” with student groups being trapped for a semester after inefficient or perhaps even unreasonable lump sum funding.
Overall, the evening’s forum was set in a casual setting, fully open to communication about the funding systems, their pros and cons, and further suggestions.
“I hope that, whatever system is decided, there will be extensive communications between the clubs and the SAC,” Arber noted. SAC has a history of deficiency in communication, as it was criticized heavily in 2010 for its funding guidelines that did not involve any interaction with student organizations leaders. Regarding the arbitrary nature of the potential funding systems, a need for a guidebook through which both SAC and the student organizations will base their requests and reviews on was raised.
“It would be a lot easier and genial,” Arber added.