The Board of Trustees rejected the Student Senate’s proposal to increase the student activity fee by $63 per semester next fiscal year. The decision — made at a March 22 board meeting — also called for the Student Finance Committee to repropose the fee raise when the board begins discussions for FY 2020 funding allocations.
Senate initially presented the fee increase to the board March 9. The Office of the Student Treasurer initially drafted the proposal so that the SFC could keep up with student organizations’ budget demands and to bolster the diminishing funding pool.
Student Senate Chair and College junior Kameron Dunbar presented the proposal to the board, and he added that he was disappointed in the board’s decision.
“I think the board didn’t make the right decision to decline the fee increase,” Dunbar said. “However, I understand that the pricing model had already been made for the year and changing even this small part would have disrupted students’ financial aid packages that had already been set, so I respect the decision.”
The SFC and Senate’s reasoning behind raising the student activity fund was threefold. They first claimed that the fee had remained stagnant for at least four years. In that time, it had fallen behind the cost inflation student organizations had experienced since. Student budgets have also increased as student organizations have requested more funding. Under-enrollment has also impacted the SFC, since the activity fee is drawn from tuition income.
“We would not be able to meet student needs under our current funding model,” SFC co-chair and College senior Josh Koller said.
SFC co-chair and College senior Alana Sheppard said that while the board’s decision didn’t put student organizations in any immediate financial danger, it would impact how SFC allocated money this spring budgeting session.
“I think [funding levels] will stay the same for now, but student budgets will come under deeper scrutiny,” Sheppard said.
Koller echoed Sheppard’s sentiment, saying that “[Deeper scrutiny] is positive and necessary, but any cuts won’t be drastic.”
Both co-chairs agreed that the lack of additional funding does present a challenge, but that the SFC is tackling it by re-evaluating its funding and distribution model.
“Not getting the fee has allowed us to rethink our structure and spend our money more thoughtfully,” Koller said. “We’re changing the ad-hoc policy to reflect this since we anticipate greater reliance on it.”
The SFC plans to move more funds into the ad-hoc pool, which has stricter dispensation rules than the regular budgetary pool, in order to compensate for reduced funds.
“[Greater ad-hoc reliance] is good because then we can analyze spending in greater detail, which is one way we plan on spending our money more carefully,” Koller said.
In addition to adding more funds, the SFC also intends to change many of the rules around how student organizations interact with the ad-hoc process.
“We want greater dialogue,” Sheppard said. “During the spring budgeting process we have no dialogue, but under ad-hoc — because groups are asking for funding for specific events — there is a much higher level of discussion and detail.”
The SFC’s hope is that by funneling more student asks away from regular budgeting and into the ad-hoc system, the quality and success of individual events will increase, while SFC will be able to maintain tighter fiscal control.
Sheppard laid out how ad-hoc currently works and how she hopes to change it.
“Its general principles have been very rigid: that it cannot be used for additional events, nor can it be used for things SFC cut from an organization’s spring budget,” she said. “Now, we’d want it to be a more open process — maybe allow groups to ask for things that were initially cut if they can present a detailed need.”
According to Koller, the ad-hoc fund distributes close to $120,000 on average years. This year, SFC is expecting student demand to exceed that. But even without the student activity fund increase, SFC remains optimistic.
“Barring any unexpected shocks, I’m 95 percent sure that we’ll be able to cover ad-hoc requests this year,” Koller said. Sheppard agreed.
Student Senate welcomes the proposed changes to SFC’s structure, but some members remain deeply frustrated with how the committee operates. Currently, SFC distributes mainly to individual student organizations, mostly using the established budgeting process.
“I think SFC has to do better and be more judicious,” Dunbar said. “Its structure is unresponsive and unrepresentative of student needs. This way of operating siloes communities and hinders campus wide events,” Dunbar said. “This isn’t what students want.”
The SFC agrees that funding should be more reflective of student demand. “In the end, we’re here to make sure students’ needs are met,” Sheppard said. Both Koller and Sheppard referenced Campus Climate Survey data, which indicated student desire for more campus unity and campus-wide services as a way for SFC to tap into what students want.
However, according to Dunbar, the SFC will need to do more than change strategies if it is going to improve.
“In relation to raising the student activity fee, [the SFC was] unaware of their own bylaws and restrictions,” Dunbar said. “I had to read it to them.”
Under article two of the SFC’s charter, the committee is not actually allowed to create a specific proposal for raising the activity fee. SFC must ask Senate to consider a raise, at which point student senators will craft and debate specific proposals before voting on which specific increase to present to the Board of Trustees.
Instead, for the recent fee increase proposal, the SFC crafted the specific increase on their own and went directly to the Chair of Student Senate. This breach of protocol circumnavigated student-elected representatives and falls outside the SFC’s responsibilities.
Despite the friction between Student Senate and the SFC over correct procedure, Senate intends to present the SFC fee increase to the board again next fall.