March 8, 2011

Dozens of Cornell Student Groups Appeal Recent SAFC Funding Decisions

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This semester, 41 student groups have appealed funding allocation decisions made by the Student Assembly Finance Comission. Adam Nicoletti ’12, vice president of finance for the Student Assembly, called this semester’s number of appeals “a higher side of normal.”

The number of appeals has increased over the last three semesters. 20 groups appealed the SAFC decisions last spring and 30 appealed this fall, according to Lauren Rosenblum ’11, SAFC co-chair.

Many of the groups that were turned down for SAFC  funding made mistakes in the application process, Nicoletti said.

However, some student groups said the reasons for being denied funding were not explained, and they argued that the SAFC system was not transparent.

Audrey Boochever ’13, president of Farm to Cornell, said she decided to apply for funding for a movie showing this semester, but was denied funding. When she received the funding allocation decision, Boochever said she was confused by the lack of explanation given.

“[The website] doesn’t give the reason why you didn’t receive funding,” Boochever said. “I didn’t know who to contact to find out more about it.”

Nicoletti said that an effort is underway to reform the SAFC finance process to minimize the number of unsatisfied groups. A new process will be in place for the fall, he said.

“This [high number of appeals] shows why we need to create reforms. The process is too rigid and bureaucratic,” Nicoletti said.

The SAFC and Student Assembly will work together to make appropriate changes to the application process, said Kevin Song ’12, co-chair of the SAFC.

“Every semester after the allocation period, the SAFC internally reviews the guidelines to see how we can make the process even more fair and understandable … However, change is always hard, and if our discussions come into fruition, they must happen very gradually,” Song said.

Although reforms are underway, Nicoletti stressed the need to continue following the current guidelines.

“At the end of the day, these are errors that can be fixed if we just change the guidelines. … We’re reforming the SAFC as we speak, but while the old guidelines are in place, it’s important to stick by these guidelines,” he said.

According to Nicoletti, the high number of applications for funding — 419 this semester — led to the increased number of SAFC appeals this year.

Additionally, in the past, the SAFC was more lenient in the appeals process, Nicoletti said. For this reason, many groups appealed their funding allocation decisions even though they knew they made mistakes, he added.

Chris House grad, president and captain of an ultimate frisbee team, Shake Ultimate, is currently completing the appeals process for the team.

House said that the group completed the process correctly but was still denied funding. According to House, the SAFC stated that submitting an event’s dates was still necessary to receive funding — although the group had already submitted documentation from an event organizer.

“[The SAFC’s] request isn’t well explained. … They should make their guidelines explicitly say what they want to say,” House said.

House said he plans to appeal the decision to the Student Assembly General body after the team was first denied it’s funding request by the SAFC and again by the SA Appropriations Committee.

According to Song, the SAFC attempted to increase its involvement in the application process for student groups this year by providing guidance throughout the funding application process.

“This semester especially, we wanted to ramp up our education program, which included help sessions, office hours and a fully educated commission, to provide student groups with multiple resources to ensure they received necessary funds,” Song said.

Student groups, however, still feel frustrated with the application process.

Despite a high number of appeals, the SAFC reversed its decision in just six cases — a record-low, Song said. Song attributed this lower number of reversals to fewer mistakes made by the SAFC.

“To say the least, I’m very proud of how the commission has performed this semester. The few errors that were made were mostly simple miscalculations, which are expected when reviewing hundreds of budgets,” Song said.

The remaining 35 appeals, for which the SAFC stood by its original decisions, have been sent to the Student Assembly Appropriations Committee, which will then make further rulings. Two weeks have been allocated for hearing appeals, Nicoletti said, but the actual process may take longer because of the high volume of appeals.

Abby Wessel ’13, president of the Society of Natural Resource Conservation, also did not receive a portion of her requested funding. She said that more transparency and guidance would help groups to properly apply for funding.

“An outline of the steps that we should go about would be extremely helpful. We were kind of going about [the funding process] blindly,” Wessel said. “It was a very stressful and confusing process.”

Original Author: Cindy Huynh