August 31, 2016

EDITORIAL: Too Much Money, Not Enough Action From the Student Assembly

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On Thursday, the Student Assembly will determine how to spend its $28,630 budget, a vote that comes just a week after a majority of S.A. members admitted that they had been “allocated too much money.”

The S.A’s excess of funds stands in stark contrast to their reluctance to fund student organizations in need — most notably the Cornell Cinema. Last October, the S.A. initially rejected Cornell Cinema’s request for an increase of $1.40 per student in funding and agreed to an increase of 30 cents only after student outcry. Funding for the Cornell Cinema from the Undergraduate Student Activity Fee has only increased 90 cents per student since 2010, even though it saw an increase in attendance of 1,300 students last year.

In contrast, the S.A. has a burgeoning budget even as it continues to struggle to reach students. The S.A. budget is geared toward committee budgets and flexible funds that are, by the representatives’ own admission, underused. S.A. President Jordan Berger ’17 acknowledged that the Special Projects Fund — which the S.A. may decide to dedicate its excess funds to — “tends not to be well publicized.” But the question of whether to funnel the S.A.’s money to committees or to the Special Projects fund is a moot point, because it disregards the larger issue: that the S.A. continually has too much money and few ideas on how to effectively use their funds to support undergraduates.

The S.A.’s issues with budget surplus are nothing new. In December, the S.A. did not determine how to use a $40,000 budget surplus until a few days before members were required to vote on the final Student Activity Fee recommendation. This continued, however, in the spring, when the S.A. continued to debate how to use its $39,000 budget surplus.

Troublingly, the S.A. has been allowed to allocate and regulate its own finances for far too long. Not only does the S.A. Appropriations Committee recommend what Cornell should set the Undergraduate Student Activity Fee, it also essentially determines how much by-line funding it receives without much outside input. The Appropriations Committee consists of 8 voting members of the S.A., the S.A. vice president of finance and 7 undergraduates-at-large. Like student organizations such as the Cornell Cinema, the Student Assembly submits an application for by-line funding to the Student Assembly Appropriations Committee. But unlike the Cornell Cinema, the Student Assembly has six of its representatives on the Appropriations Committee that oversees the byline funding process. This is a blatant conflict of interest.

We suggest a simple solution: an independent committee of undergraduates that reviews and approves the Student Assembly’s finances. At their meeting last week, S.A. representatives admitted they have too many funds. This week, they should take an additional step and recognize that the system that allocates them too much must be fixed.

This editorial has been updated to clarify the difference between the Student Assembly and its Appropriations Committee.