SFC Responds to Fall Survey

Student Finance Committee

The Student Finance Committee recently sent out a poll to gauge student opinion on a variety of issues. Thanks to everyone who took the survey and wrote comments! We would like to take the opportunity to publicly respond to several of these concerns, in order to improve communication between the SFC and the student body.

If you have any concerns that are not addressed here, please feel free to get in contact with us during office hours or by e-mail ([email protected]).

Some clarifications (these are points that many students expressed confusion about):

Hiring: SFC members are selected by the Student Senate in May for the following academic year or as positions open up during the year. Each SFC member’s term ends at the end of the academic year, and members must apply yearly to be reappointed.

Size of the ad hoc fund: The Student Activity Fund is mostly allocated through spring budgeting. Right now, less than $200,000 is available to fund ad hocs. With over 150 active chartered student organizations and many independent students/groups organizing events, the demand for funds far exceeds that available in the Student Activity Fund.

Protests: We are currently working through a liability issue with the College concerning off-campus protests. The SFC is working with the College to draft a waiver that would handle this issue. Until we have this waiver, we are unable to provide funds for such activities. We regret any difficulties that this will cause to activist organizations. We appreciate the work such organizations are accomplishing and hope to provide more support in the future.

Concern: We don’t know enough about the SFC!

In a nutshell, the SFC allocates the Student Activity Fund, which comes from a line item on every student’s term bill. This year, it is about $1.15 million. We review budget requests for chartered groups in the spring and ad hoc requests from any student/student group throughout the year. When we’re not looking at budgets, we’re drafting policy and meeting with various working groups. These groups address past financial issues certain student organizations have had by providing guidance and oversight.

Current members are: [College] junior Abbas Mohsin, [College] junior Charlotte Landes, [College] junior Isaac Yoder, [College] senior Nikki Mitchell, [College] junior Sarah Coco, [College] senior Raven Davis and [College] first-year Julian Snow. Concern: Individual biases of SFC members for or against student organizations affect allocation decisions.

We try our best to base decisions solely on the strength and the merit of the request. We look for thought-out budgets that clearly outline the contribution the proposal will offer to student life.

We also have a solid recusal policy that helps eliminate bias. Members are expected to leave the room and not participate in any discussion or vote where they have a bias for or against the organization. The committee can also request that a member recuse himself or herself if other members of the committee feel that the individual might have a bias.

Another concern was that student organizations whose members have friends on the SFC get more funding. We can understand why people have these concerns. We’ve noticed that those who are most comfortable approaching SFC members for help with budgets submit better budgets. Usually our friends are the most willing to approach us, but we never make a decision based on any personal connection.

It is important to note that this review option is actually open to everyone. Anyone can come in to see us during office hours with your budget draft, or e-mail it in to the SFC account ([email protected]). In fact, we strongly encourage that everyone do this before submitting a budget, because it makes things easier for everyone.

Concern: The SFC allocates inconsistently. It is hard for student organizations to know what the SFC is looking for in a budget.

Our allocations are always guided by our policy. However, our policy has to remain flexible to address the wide variety of proposals we encounter.

Take, for example, food: There’s food at general interest meetings, regular group meetings, conversations/lunches/dinners with speakers, food at events at the ’Sco, concerts, dances, club sports teams traveling during the school year, any event being hosted during lunch or dinner, receptions following orchestra concerts, religious holidays, community meals, etc. It’s nearly impossible to write a policy that addresses all of these situations. The amounts can range from $10 to over $2,000, and they all contribute in different ways to the requesting organization.

Because of this variety, we try to write policy that addresses well-defined, regularly occurring events. Occasionally, student groups present a budget that merits diverging from these guidelines. Any allocation that overrides a policy requires a super-majority of five or more members.

We’re also thinking about ways to improve how we communicate what we like to see in a budget. Some things we’re looking at include: making sample budgets more easily accessible on the website; offering critiques of sample budgets, to give students a sense of what the committee ideally looks for in a budget; and having preliminary budget reviews, so we can get in touch with students before they present their budget, whether ad hoc or spring, to clarify items.

Concern: During the ad hoc process, SFC or Office of the Student Treasurer members can be warm at times and at other times interrogate with unnecessary harshness.

This is a very valid concern. It’s something we’re well aware of, and it’s been discussed in various meetings throughout the year and we’re trying to work on it. It’s probably because we focus heavily on the professionalism expected of the organization and trying to get through a large of volume of ad hocs in a short time. This means we have to fit a lot of questions into a short meeting with the group, and it doesn’t leave much time for pleasantries. The dreary backdrop of a large Wilder third-floor room combined with an intimidating number of people sitting around a large table probably doesn’t help either.

That’s why we would again like to encourage groups to come into our office hours before presenting an ad hoc. Usually we’ve noticed people who talk to us outside of the ad hoc setting generally have a much different impression of SFC than those who don’t. Except for on Saturday afternoons when we’re powering through a dozen ad hocs, we’re actually quite friendly.

The Student Finance Committee is responsible for the content of this op-ed.