GUSA Round-up: GUSA passes comprehensive club funding reform, defends your right to pizza

GUSA Roundup

One of the lesser-known inalienable rights

FUNDING REFORM – THE BIG ONE: On Sunday afternoon, GUSA passed a resolution threatening to withhold student activity fee funding from advisory boards, like SAC, that do not achieve six new reforms.

First, funding boards must reduce reserve accounts so that they do not exceed 10 percent of the board’s yearly allocation, and surplus funds must be rolled into the general Funding Board’s reserve account at the end of the year. Second, advisory boards must set up an appeals process for clubs who are denied funding. Third, clubs must have the option of lump sum funding for the year instead of funding event by event. Fourth, minutes of all meetings, including information on votes, must be made available online. Fifth, members of advisory boards must either be approved by the GUSA Senate or elected by club leaders. Sixth, clubs must be given reasonable control over the money they fundraise themselves.

“It seems harsh, but it’s a necessary thing to do,” said bill sponsor Nick Troiano (COL ’11—Village A, A-D). “Past negotiations have sometimes fallen through.”

The bill was passed unanimously with no contentious debate.

“This has been a long time coming,” Josh Mogil (SFS ’11—Off Campus) said. “I think it’s amazing.”

Mogil said this reform was different than club funding reform in the past because this time GUSA reached out to clubs to seek their input.

The Finance and Appropriations Committee based their recommendations on an e-mail survey to club leaders and responses from the Club Summit held on Saturday. The Club Summit was a chance for student leaders to voice their concerns about club funding. The leaders were mostly concerned about the tediousness of the process, their inability to keep funds that they fundraised, the lack of transparency in SAC leadership, and the number of events that are rejected or underfunded.

At the GUSA meeting on Sunday, Mogil said he did not want to pick on any advisory board in particular. The advisory boards affected by the legislation includes all six funding boards.

But all the club leaders who showed up at the club summit on Saturday to list their grievances were leaders of SAC-funded clubs, except for former Voice Editor-in-chief Kate Mays (COL ‘10). (She pointed out that some of the proposed funding board reforms would affect Media Board, which she has sat on in the past and already gives funding on a yearly basis, much differently than they would affect SAC). Additionally, in the Club Survey results, SAC scored lowest in evaluations of the funding process, highest in the amount of work necessary to acquire funds, and lowest in the amount of beneficial advice. Only club leaders from SAC, Club Sports, Media Board and CSJ responded to the survey – no leaders under the Performing Arts Advisory Council or GPB replied.

“In the spirit of transparency,” Colton Malkerson (COL ’13—Harbin 2-5) also spoke to the Senate about his bill to strip the other funding boards of their votes. He said he wanted to “officially recognize the fact that we are considering this bill,” but he stressed that the bill must first pass through the Finances and Appropriations Committee and then the Ways and Means Committee before being introduced in the Senate.

STUDENT SPACE WORKING GROUP: Kicking off the meeting was an airing of student space grievances by Max Glassie (COL ’10) who heads the Student Space Working Group formed last year. The group has worked with administrators and sought student input in an effort to increase the space designated solely for student activities and clubs. Glassie said one survey found that 52 percent of respondents were not satisfied with the current amount of student space provided by the university. He said the most feasible way to greatly increase student space would be to open a student center in New South, but the cost of creating the center, $30 million, is an obstacle to those efforts.

SAVING PHILLY P’S: In an entirely symbolic gesture, the GUSA Senate voted to pass a resolution in support of Philly Pizza and Grill and its appeal of the revocation of its license. The resolution “requests that the neighborhood advisory board consider the importance of Philly Pizza and Grill to the Georgetown student body, supports Mehmet Kocak, the owner of Philly Pizza and Grill, in his endeavor to keep his business alive, urges students to be respectful and responsible patrons of the Philly Pizza and Grill by conducting themselves in a manner fit for a residential area, [and] expresses a hope for a future cooperation between Philly Pizza and Grill, the Georgetown Homeowner’s, and the Georgetown Student Body.” Senator Adam Mortillaro (Henle 1-48) urged his fellow senators to support the measure, saying “affordable, quality, decent pizza is a right, not a privilege,” a line that was met with much applause. The bill passed on a vote of 17 yes, 2 abstentions and 1 no.

FREE NEWSPAPERS: The Senate unanimously appropriated $2,000 to the Collegiate Readership Program. The program has provided free newspapers to Georgetown students in past years but lacked the necessary funding for the fall semester. According to Senator Greg Laverriere (COL ’12—Henle 49-96), who introduced the bill, with the $2,000 from GUSA, the program will have enough money to start distributing papers next semester. Laverriere said that the program would distribute 90 copies of the New York Times, 90 copies of the Washington Post, and 90 copies of USA Today daily.

Section on Funding Reform by Kara Brandeisky.

20 Comments on “GUSA Round-up: GUSA passes comprehensive club funding reform, defends your right to pizza

  1. Additionally, in the Club Survey results, SAC scored lowest in evaluations of the funding process, highest in the amount of work necessary to acquire funds, and lowest in the amount of beneficial advice.

    (No surprise there)

  2. Thanks for the post, Galen. Welcome to the often heady world of covering GUSA.

  3. Does anyone really believe it would cost $30 million to put a student center in New South? The whole SW Quad: MKR, Leo’s and the Jes Res cost $180 million. They should just buy townhouses at that rate and let groups use them.

  4. The way Max explained it, it would cost $12-15 million to actually construct the student center, but the administration estimates a reserve of $30 million would be needed to make the student center self-sustaining as far as facility upkeep, so that’s the price tag they put on it. He also said construction is expensive on campus because Georgetown is landlocked, so there is less room for construction equipment, debris, etc.

  5. I was at this meeting, and GUSA has come a long way from when I was a freshman on many levels. With these and upcoming funding reforms, the SA is taking unprecedented measures to work to improve student life.

    Keep it up.

  6. Thank GOD – lump sum funding will make my life (well really that of my successor) so much easier.

    I don’t really have a problem with the reserve accounts they have now, but not having to get every event approved is great. An appeals board isn’t a bad idea either.

    Is there a time line for this threat? I assume it won’t be affect the Spring, just next fall.

  7. SAC reform is all well and good: I’m glad to see it happen and glad the Student Association is stepping up to task, but GUSA should be careful not to put undue pressure on funding boards that don’t have the same kinds of problems. To that end, I am concerned about three points mentioned in this article

    1) All funding board’s reserve funding rolls back to ‘the’ Funding Board’s reserve: that’s good, as long as GUSA doesn’t treat the Funding Board reserve as it’s pocket piggy bank (that’s where funding for the GUSA Fund is coming from). Abuse of the reserve funds might be something GUSA is likely to do especially if:

    2) They pass Colton Malkerson’s bill to strip funding/advisory boards of their votes on the Funding Board for annual student activity allocations, effectively making the Funding Board a GUSA Senate committee. I’ll leave you to work out the implications, none of which would matter if:

    3) GUSA makes good on it’s 5th point of reform for funding boards. Unless clubs are given the power to elect their funding board officials (which is a great idea by the way) then GUSA will acquire approval power for all officials on funding boards, or, in laymen’s terms: funding board officials will be GUSA people.

    These are all what could happen if GUSA got seriously power hungry. they’re disaster scenarios. I don’t think GUSA is power hungry, so I don’t think any of the above will come to pass: I just thought I’d point them out.

    I’m all for reform, but I’m not particularly confident in GUSA’s ability to take over Student Programs and 100% of the decision making for the allocation of our student activities fees for any duration of time. Reform the system, set it right, make sure it works, and then get yourselves the hell out of there so you can spend time on some of the other problems that exist on campus.

  8. Your concerns are understandable, but I think that GUSA is aware that taking over Student Programs and Allocation would on the whole be a bad idea because 1) It would mean far too much work for them and 2) they don’t have the expertise to deal with it.

  9. Hi Pat,

    As someone who’s worked on this issue for quite a while, I respect your points and agree with you on some of them.

    1. As to the reserve funds, the advisory boards need to justify just how much total liability they need. If, frankly, they don’t want to go on the university insurance policy for event liability, they can’t expect to just say that the total amount they collect is the Gospel word that can’t be touched. Justify a reasonable need for all the boards; for the funds in remainder, GUSA, the advisory boards, clubs and the students — all the stakeholders — should discuss the best way to use them.

    Ditto with the endowment, currently at 1.8million or so and not expected to mature for some 15 years under the current system. That could be put to good use, in a very large way. Ditto with the additional $310,000 or so we get every year that we used to put in the endowment. That could free up some sizeable cash (or allow us to reduce the student activities fee).

    2. As to your second point about the voting power:

    The student activities should be administered in an accountable and transparent process. The seven Senators on the Finance & Appropriations Committee, plus at least 2/3rds of the Senate, plus the President (unless overriden by veto) has to approve the allocation. In this way you get a ‘first draft’ from a specialized body of Senators specifically concerned with Finance, supplemented with advice from the advisory boards, which then must be ratified by 2/3rds of the Senate — which represents all geographic locations on campus, plus four ‘at large’ seats — and then approved by the President (which is the only position elected by the entire student body).

    The advisory boards, by contrast, are generally not elected in an open process, not accountable to students and unlike GUSA actually do have control, at the moment, almost every organized activity on campus. The disconnect is palpable.

    Pre-empting your third point for a moment, I wouldn’t be opposed to the boards that do transform themselves into accountable, transparent bodies, through the procedures outlined, getting back (or keeping) their vote. I would eliminate the unanimity requirement, perhaps substituting it with a 2/3rds vote (and if deadlock was still continuing after a short period, a simple majority vote). It’s an added incentive to reform, and fits the idea behind why Senator Malkerson’s bill gives the 7 Senators the only vote — because they are the only ones accountable.

    3. Now, as to your third point.

    Requiring GUSA approval of funding board officials, or some funding board officials, will not make them de facto GUSA officials. Depending on how the process is done, it might have that potential for abuse.

    But I think there could be easy steps taken to allow accountability, give GUSA a role, without unduly interfering with the process. Subjecting at least some officials to GUSA approval (e.g., the chairs of the boards) can ensure some needed accountability without dominating the Board. Or, another route could allow a collaborative process between the advisory boards, the affected clubs and GUSA, with each getting some amount of say in the composition.

    The strongest guard against abuse, however, would be the ability of GUSA to impeach members. As an article from 2002 (!) pointed out, “When a SAC commissioner applies for re-appointment, they are not judged on the quality of their previous work, such as how their decisions impacted different student groups. Rather, they are selected merely on whether or not they did their work — showed up for meetings and held office hours.” Giving GUSA, when clubs request, investigate advisory board members, they can focus on quality—is this person responsive to student needs, helpful, etc.

    In any case, the biggest hurdle is getting yearly allocations and a reform of the Access to Benefits system. Many of these problems would be severely minimized if not eliminated if club leaders could spend and hold events as they see fit, without having to justify every table-cloth or nickel to their advisory boards.

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  11. GUSA today seemed unresponsive to the justifications that the Advisory boards put forth for needing more than 10% of their previous year’s budget in reserves. Some examples: GPB dips into reserves every few years to pay for its concert. Club Sports dip in to help pay for nationals trips for its teams. Media Board is contingent on ad revenue– when the going is bad, it’s REALLY bad. CSJ “lends” money to Relay for Life for startup funds.

    Some advisory boards already “elect” their members through clubs– GUSA has clearly not done enough research into this matter, as well as the 10% reserve requirement, and together, this makes them unfit to be running ALL of Funding board without the votes of the Advisory Boards.

    The main source of discontent seems to be between SAC groups and SAC Commissioners– institute SAC reform, don’t screw over the rest of the Advisory boards.

    @Matt: If only all of GUSA were so forthcoming. I don’t believe GUSA should be the sole bloc in charge of the money. I understand that, officially, they are responsible for the student activity fees, but it is logistically impossible for responsible GUSA members to be fully aware of the funding nuances that each Advisory Board deals with. Isn’t that why we have Advisory Boards to begin with? Instead of hiding behind the broad shield of enacting “reform,” GUSA has yet to call out each board individually on what they are doing wrong (minus SAC). I have yet to see (or hear, for that matter) any intention of “giving back” Advisory Boards their voting privileges.

    All of this totally disregards the disconnect between the two points of contention: Funding Board reform and the GUSA fund. The GUSA fund is supposed to reduce the bureaucracy needed to get approval through Advisory Boards (never mind the fact that MANY groups don’t have issues with their Advisory Boards, again, sans SAC). The Funding Board Reform ENSURES more bureaucracy because then groups must go to their Advisory Board first, only to be told reserves have been folded into Funding Board reserves, and then they must take the additional step of going to the (GUSA-only) Funding Board and explain at length things that their Advisory Boards already understand. I don’t see how both “streamline” the process together.

  12. @Alex:

    Leaving out the reserve issue, I don’t see what the objection to the other issues are.

    If an advisory board already provides that the constituent clubs under it vote the AdBoard, there’s no issue — GUSA and the Board sees eye to eye. Ditto with an Appeals Process, transparency in voting, an option for clubs to get a lump sum to do with as they will and an ability to keep money they fundraise.

    So, if your advisory board already does these things, cheers! You’re ahead of the curve. The student body and your clubs applaud you.

    But given the results of the recent GUSA survey, it looks like all advisory boards could use some level of reform (the Media Board being the best handled, from what I understand).

    As to the reserve issue: As I stated above, I’m not quite convinced that a blanket 10% level is appropriate. That having been said, advisory boards still need to justify their current reserves. How much do they usually appropriate annually from the reserve funds?

    If, as you say, some boards make yearly loans from the reserves, why not just give them more money annually? And if some boards (e.g., GPB) only dip into their reserves once every three or four years, why not take that money out and put it in a general reserve account to free up money?

    There’s also the question, as I brought up, of the $310,000 that has heretofore been put in the endowment — which is $1.8 mil. I think the idea of the endowment was a noble idea that never quite got off the ground–so we potentially have not only $1.8 million to work with, but also $310,000 additional per year — double the funding.

  13. As for the GUSA Fund:

    It can also grant funds to individuals, who don’t need to get club approval (as long as what they propose to do doesn’t violate the University’s Access to Benefits policy).

    But as to clubs under other advisory boards:

    Scenario 1.

    Say a club wants to hold Event X. It requests $500 for event from Advisory Board Y. The board only grants them $300 (but approves the event). The club can then go to the GUSA Fund and try to supplement that. Of course, it may be that the club was proposing to use the additional money poorly and don’t need it; I would expect the GUSA Fund not to do it. They could alternatively (or simultaneously) choose to appeal the decision.

    In any case, it’s not any “additional” work, as if the GUSA Fund was generating extra bureaucracy. The club under the old system simply would not get the extra $200; here they have a chance.

    Scenario 2:

    Club already has a budget but gets a good idea for an event. Rather than perhaps submit to the onerous process it might take to get advisory board approval for funds (but not for the event), it could go to the simplified, transparent and accountable funding procedures by the GUSA Funding Board.

    Then, assuming it gets the funds, the club can go to their advisory board and say, “We’ve been allocated $X to put on this event. That money completely covers the costs. All we need is approval to put on the event.” Seeing as at that point the group has everything it needs and isn’t affirmatively requesting any money from the advisory board, I don’t see how the process should be onerous at that point. The advisory board simply checks to see if the event is in line with Georgetown’s access to benefits policy.

    Like, let’s say the Medieval Club gets money from the GUSA Fund to throw a “Rennaisance Faire” idea, where they will dress in costume, hire a Minnesänger to perform selections from Tristan & Isolde and provide medieval-inspired cuisine and games. They then go to SAC and say, “Hey guys, we have all the money we need for this. All we need is your approval.” SAC checks to make sure they aren’t doing anything dangerous (like hosting a jousting tournament on Healy lawn, for example), illegal or against the RC doctrine (buying medieval sheepskin condoms to distribute there). This should take all of 10 minutes. Finding none, they approve it.

    How does that increase the bureaucracy?

  14. @Matt: Thanks for the clarifications. I don’t really have a problem with the GUSA Fund. I like the idea that more money can come from somewhere. I still have the problem that the proposal only specifically addresses events, and the intention seems like the bill should be broadened to account for basically anything a Funding Board club wouldn’t get money for from their AdBoard.

    I agree that there should be some sort of accountability on the part of the AdBoards to justify their reserves, but most of them have apparently only built up reserves little by little to dip into when they find it necessary– I would see capital improvements as a good reason to do so. There is no reason for programs like Relay to have to justify their budget to Funding Board each year– CSJ just loans the money and expects it back in its reserves when the event is over. I don’t see why GUSA sees the need to take over (practically) ALL of these reserves to do with as they see fit. I see a lot of this money eventually being funneled into the GUSA Fund.

    The GPB advisor brought up an indisputable problem with this proposal: What happens when groups are requesting money out of reserves right up until the end of the fiscal year? Funding Board will certainly not be convening in June.

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