October 26, 2011

In a Year of Tighter Budgets, SAFC’s Expenditures Scrutinized

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The same semester it nearly halved the funding cap for student groups, the budget for the Student Assembly Finance Commission rose by four percent. Thirty-five percent, or $2,800, of the SAFC’s $7,965 budget was used for catered food — an expenditure prohibited by the SAFC’s requirements for the student organizations that it funds.

According to SAFC co-chair Larry Kogos ’13, the four percent increase in the SAFC’s budget was primarily due to a $600 increase in advertising expenditures.

In addition, Kristen Jenkins ’13, vice president of internal operations for the SAFC, said in an email that the SAFC’s decision to decrease the funding cap for student groups was largely involuntary, blaming  “detrimental and confusing” new policies “forcefully implemented” by Student Assembly leadership.

Jenkins and Kogos also defended the SAFC from criticisms that it should not cut the budgets of other groups while seeing its own increase.

The SAFC’s administrative budget is by-line funded, and therefore “has absolutely nothing to do with the pool of money we use to allocate student clubs and organizations,” Jenkins said.

In defense of the SAFC’s budgetary allocations, Jenkins emphasized that other by-line funded organizations also spend part of their budgets — funded by the Student Activity Fee, a pool of money paid by students to support by-line funding — on meals.

Citing multiple meetings that require members of the SAFC to endure “extreme working hours” — eight hours a day, three days in a row — Jenkins also said the meals “are necessary in order to fuel that kind of manpower under pressure and time constraints, especially when commissioners are unpaid and generally do [their work] to serve the University.”

Still, representatives from other SAFC-funded organizations said they saw the expenditure as gluttonous at a time when other groups are being asked to trim their waistlines.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that they’re spending $2,800 on food while student groups are only getting $2,700 [a semester],” said Matt Koren ’12, treasurer for Habitat for Humanity, an organization that experienced a dramatic decrease in its SAFC funding.

Because SAFC’s administrative budget comes from by-line funding, the commission does not have to adhere to SAFC funding guidelines. However, Koren said, this should not preclude the SAFC from “following their own rules.”

“It’s really not right that you’re spending more for catered food at a meeting where you’re denying hundreds of student groups funding,” Koren said.

Jocelyn Durlacher ’14, secretary of Mansi — an organization that seeks to raise awareness about inequalities facing women — also criticized the SAFC’s budget.

“It’s definitely not fair that the SAFC is using money toward food when there are so many groups on campus that help students” that do not have sufficient funding, Durlacher said.

Yet S.A Minority Liaison at Large Roneal Desai ’13 said that the SAFC’s food budget is similar to that of any other by-line funded organization — many of which receive allocations for food.

“There are well-developed and thought out reasons for why by-line and SAFC organizations are funded in the manner which they are,” Desai said. “As a by-line funded organization, the SAFC has in no way broken a rule or acted in an unethical way.”

Some student groups, however, disagreed.

While she said her organization does not try to compare itself with SAFC, Tahira Myers ’12, president of The Dinner Club, said “funding for food does not align with the [SAFC’s] purpose as an organization.”

“I don’t see where they get off saying groups should not get funding for food when they fund food for themselves — I think that’s hypocritical,” Myers said.

Miranda Sang ’14 said she considered the ratio between the amount the SAFC spends on food for its own meetings and the amount it gives to individual clubs to be unfair.

“Why was it necessary for [the SAFC] to increase their budget if they’re making the same executive decisions they have made in the past?” she said.

Yet some representatives on the Student Assembly defended the SAFC’s budget.

S.A. Rep. and Business Manager for the Hangovers Dan Kuhr ’13 said he did not think the SAFC’s budget for food was unreasonable, given the length of its meetings.

“I can understand why most students would not be happy to know that a lot of [the SAFC’s] money goes toward meals,” Kuhr said. “But the organization paying for meals is a way to pay back members who are working hard [and] spending long hours in meetings.”

While agreeing that, in general, the SAFC “spends its money efficiently and appropriately,” former S.A. Rep. Matt Danzer ’12 took issue with another item in the SAFC’s administrative budget: The money it spends on embroidered polo shirts.

Last year, Danzer joined Adam Nicoletti ’12, S.A. vice president of finance, in passing a Memorandum of Understanding from the S.A. to future chairs of the SAFC stating the S.A. would not approve the shirts and did not wish to see the expenditure in the SAFC’s budget moving forward. This year, however, the S.A. approved the SAFC to spend $215 on shirts —  a $285 decrease in the allocation for shirts the commission asked for in 2010.

“Though the SAFC may have reduced the amount of student money they spend on these embroidered polo shirts, it is troubling that the leadership of the SAFC —which is not elected by the general student body — would ignore the will of last year’s entire Student Assembly, who were elected by students to represent the interests of students,” Danzer said.

Danzer also said that while the SAFC does not need to abide by its rules for the organizations it funds, the group should try to set an example for other student groups.

“It is a shame to see the SAFC take advantage of their privileged positions for personal benefit year after year and at the expense of students,” Danzer said.

Original Author: Liz Camuti