November 15, 2000

S.A. Holds Forum on Student Activities Fee

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The Student Assembly appropriations committee held a small forum last night to talk about the process of allocating the Student Activities Fee.

Every other year, the S.A. appoints an appropriations committee to recommend how to divide the activities fee among 15 to 20 student organizations. The committee sets the fee for each student based on these appropriation decisions. The next cycle of decisions will begin in September 2001.

Executive members of many student-run organizations attended the meeting to voice their concerns over the way funds are meted out.

“The process has never been the same more than once,” said Antoine Asseraf ’01, vice president of public relations for the International Students Programming Board.

“It keeps changing every two years,” he added.

The organizations funded by the activities fee include ISPB, Cornell Concert Commission, Cornell University Programming Board and the Slope Fest planning committee, as well as about a dozen other campus organizations.

Members of the student groups questioned the way that the S.A. chooses appropriations committee members.

“The composition of the committee has been lopsided [in its members’ political views],” said Matthew Galin ’01, S.A. executive vice-president from 1998 to 1999.

He added that the committee would be more effective “if it was comprised of a lot more cross-sectional group [of students].”

Michael J. Hanson ’01, who served as the S.A. vice-president of finance from 1999 to 2000, during the last cycle of appropriations, explained how the S.A. selects the committee.

“It goes back to who was at the [selection] meeting in May,” Hanson said.

Only about six of the 18 S.A. members attended the May meeting to choose members of the appropriations committee, Hanson said. Attendance at the selection meeting is not mandatory for assembly members.

As a result, according to a report on the process written by Hanson, there were “accusations of bias and dereliction of duty and general discontent.”

“[The committee] had their agenda; they were not going to spend money,” said Joycelyn Getgen ’00, former president of the Slope Fest planning committee.

However, in the eyes of some of those present at the forum, “the committee had no power” in last year’s process, as Getgen commented.

“It’s an advisory position,” she said. “They felt they had the decision-making power, and then they didn’t, and they got angry about that.”

The appropriations committee was criticized for recommending spending very little on student services and activities.

Hanson described it this way: “They would say, ‘You wanna spend money? No. Alright.”

However, the S.A. later disregarded most of the committee’s recommendations to deny funding to particular groups.

According to Hanson’s report, the committee made 50 recommendations. The S.A., which has final decision-making power, agreed to only 23 of them. The assembly usually decided to grant or increase funding when the committee had determined to withhold it.

“Some members were extremely concerned [with politics] to the degree that political ideologies controlled decisions on the Student Activities Fee,” Hanson’s report stated.

These concerns caused some of those in the audience to suggest disbanding the committee altogether.

Others suggested that applicants disclose their political orientation.

“There might be an interview process for the appropriations committee,” Hanson said.

Some audience members also felt that the S.A. was not well-informed about the various organizations who request a cut of the student activities fee.

“They have their idea about what the group does, but very little info,” Asseraf said.

Some felt that it was therefore unfair to have to justify their eligibility for funding when they had been funded by the activities fee in the past.

Currently, the first step in the process is to appear in front of the appropriations committee and explain why the group should be eligible for funding.

“We shouldn’t have to justify our existence,” said CUPB president Craig Koester ’01.

“Having the committee does deepen the conversation [over allocation] among S.A. members,” said an audience member.

Hanson hoped that the new committee would “get some idea [for changes in the appropriations process] that is both fair and accountable.”

Current V.P. of Finance Kira Moriah ’03 hoped that the committee would have a resolution proposing changes to the process for the S.A.’s consideration by March or April.

Though this year’s committee will set the rules for next year, the assembly will appoint next year’s committee this May during review week.

“[The 2001-2002 committee] will get whatever [procedure] we decide,” Moriah said.

Archived article by Maggie Frank