In a move targeting potential shell organizations that allow student groups to receive more funding than they are allocated for, the Student Assembly amended its bylaws on Thursday to allow for the creation of a review committee to audit student groups funded by the Student Activities Funding Commission.
Thirty to 40 percent of the student organizations requesting SAFC funding are duplicates of existing groups already receiving allocations, estimated co-chair of the SAFC Uchral Tergel ’19. While Tergel conceded she was as of yet unsure of the exact number of shell organizations, these student groups ballooned the SAFC budget by spending more money than the SAFC formally allocated to their individual group.
To close this loophole, the SAFC requested the assembly create the Financial Organization Review Committee — a new joint auditory body staffed with the S.A. — to “weed out” these shell organizations by reviewing their organizational structure, leadership and mission for similarities with other SAFC-funded student groups, Tergel said. Both recurring and newly-applying student organizations will be audited.
“Certain organizations are abusing the access to that [SAFC] funding, for some organizations have nearly identical leaderships, the same advisors, and the same [organizational] mission,” said Dale Barbaria ’19, S.A. vice president of finance.
Organizations that fail the audit will be disqualified from all SAFC funding, but may appeal their decision to the S.A. appropriations committee, and then again to the S.A. general body. It is unclear from the bylaws draft how long the disqualification will last. As the auditory body is a sub-committee embedded within the appropriations committee, the body will be authorized by changes to parts of the S.A. charter governing operational committees as laid out in the aforementioned bylaws draft.
The auditory body goes beyond policing bad actors in its mission to reduce the pressure on the SAFC budget, however.
The SAFC receives 40 to 50 new groups per semester — many of which emerge with “no checks and balances whatsoever” according to Tergel — further straining its funding operation. To deal with this influx of new clubs, the review committee is also empowered to deny funding to student groups applying for funding for the first time if a) a different SAFC-funded organization already fulfills the new groups’ mission; and b) the new group can achieve its objectives without funding, according to a S.A. bylaws draft.
Barbaria said these austerity measures are necessary to keep the SAFC’s promise of reducing expenditure growth to within 3 percent — a covenant written into the most recent version of the appendix of the S.A. Charter governing byline-funded organizations, which includes SAFC. The S.A. in December agreed to a 4 percent increase in student activity fee contribution to the SAFC in a byline cycle that saw the net byline budget decline for the first time since at least 2010.
Funding for the SAFC comes in large parts from the undergraduate student activity fee, which is directly paid for by students. Students will have to annually pay $100 out of their own pockets to fund the SAFC for the 2018-20 byline cycle, which is $6.59 higher than the student burden for the last byline cycle.
The wide-sweeping authority of the new auditory body to disqualify organizations from SAFC funding raised alarm for Tireniolu Onabajo ’19, undergraduate representative to the University Assembly, who thought that the originally five-member committee may not be governed by a diversity of views warranted for a powerful body.
She subsequently introduced an amendment to the bylaws draft that gave a seat to the S.A. vice president of diversity and inclusion on the auditory body, which was originally composed of two SAFC commissioners and three S.A. appropriation committee members. After the assembly voted to accept the amendment, they passed into existence the auditory body, as well as other changes to the S.A. bylaws, by a margin of 17-0-3.
It has not yet been announced who will sit on the committee.
S.A. also shot down another amendment to the S.A. bylaws that added a vice president of infrastructure to the S.A. executive board to improve communication and efficiency of the infrastructure fund commission, an organization annually allocated $75,000 to improve the sidewalks, campus lighting and other infrastructure needs of students on-campus.
By a vote of 5 against and 13 for — with 3 abstaining — the assembly voted against making the commission chair a position on the S.A. executive board. Amendments to the bylaws require a two-thirds majority of the assembly for passage.
The proposed position would have created a link between the S.A. and administrators involved in infrastructure initiatives, allowing them “to effectively communicate with groups the progress of various infrastructural projects,” according to proposed changes to the bylaws.
Joseph Anderson ’20, executive vice president, believed the purpose of the proposed position extended beyond the need for better communication and was essential to respond to students’ demands for improved facilities and building features.
“You can ask any student what will make such a simple fix on their day and it’s infrastructure concerns,” Anderson said, citing common student requests for water bottle filling fountains or renovated bathrooms. “We can make such a simple impact on so many students’ lives and on-campus, but we’re just not doing the best, streamlined process.”
For other assembly members like undesignated at-large representative Evan Shapiro ’19, however, adding a vice president of infrastructure would fail to significantly transform the S.A.’s existing influence in campus infrastructure. Rather, Shapiro said that the method to reform communication would be to “reach out to the administrators in campus offices that deal with infrastructure” and “do these things every day.”
Furthermore, communication-related issues with the commission should not be immediately turned over to the executive board for resolution as the four-year-old committee needs time to develop, according to Ashwin Viswanathan ’20, undergraduate representative to the University Assembly and former chair of the infrastructure commission.
“It needs way more structure in terms of what it’s supposed to do, and more clarification about the schedule of the semester or year that it’s running,” he added.
Disclosure: Edem Dzodzomenyo ’20, a Sun assistant photography editor, currently serves as S.A. parliamentarian, an unelected, nonvoting position. She plays no role in Sun coverage of or relating to the S.A.
Clarifications: An earlier version of this article stated the review committee had been “instituted” by the Student Assembly. While the S.A. amended its bylaws to allow for the committee’s creation, the actual body has yet to be staffed or convened. The article has also been updated to clarify that amendments to the bylaws require two-thirds majority support for passage.