By Dominique DeRubeis ‘18 and Ryan Skinner ‘19
What is it like to be a member of the Budget Allocations Committee? In one word: frustrating. In many more words: a unique opportunity to maximize opportunities and events on campus for other students. Too often, BAC is seen as an impediment — another perimeter of red tape— to student clubs and organizations.
At its very core, however, the BAC first and foremost strives to be an ally and a resource for the over 100 student organizations it serves. The committee is made up entirely of students who are dedicated to campus programming and serving their peers.
There comes a time when grievances must be aired publicly to achieve meaningful change. For too long, student governments have acquiesced to unnecessary intervention by Student Activities without publicly resisting this assault on student autonomy. That ends with this piece.
In order to make a lasting difference, we must record the truth in this timeless newspaper with neither malice nor omissions. During our tenure as Treasurers, we experienced interventions in which Student Activities altered the budget guidelines unilaterally, attempted to veto funding decisions made by the Budget Allocation Committee, and caused concerns from other students that are worth noting.
Before the Fall 2017 Reallocations, Student Activities sent us the funding guidelines in an email. Much to our dismay we discovered that Student Activities had altered these guidelines without consulting us or anyone on our committee. The three new provisions they inserted were not unreasonable. After all, there had been some murmurings from the committee about potentially imposing some sort of a cap on speaker fees and formally prohibiting the use of funds for investment purposes. However, no decision was reached and no vote was cast.
Student Activities took it upon themselves to edit the funding guidelines without asking for permission or even doing the courtesy of informing us. While the ordinary student may not concern themselves with the budget guidelines, each rule acts as a constraint on the capabilities of every club, which is why this power has traditionally been maintained by students who feel the impact of these decisions more keenly. Needless to say, we deliberately avoided circulating these new guidelines until after the Fall 2017 Reallocations when the members of the BAC had the chance to weigh in on these changes.
Our most significant dispute with Student Activities emerged after the Fall 2017 Reallocations when the BAC decided to grant a sum of funding to four clubs that were especially harmed by the budget cuts enacted in the Fall 2017 Allocations. Student Activities had a representative in the room at the time when the BAC made this decision, but they only raised their objection to this conclusion the week after it was made. Student Activities did not think it was fair to grant relief from the budget cuts to only those clubs that attended reallocations. They wanted us to email the members of the BAC and insist that they change their decision.
At first we ignored this directive, hoping that Student Activities would drop their demands and begin updating clubs about their budgets. After another week passed, we began a lengthy argument with them over email in which we insisted that the unanimous decision of the BAC should be honored. Eventually, Student Activities informed us that the funding in dispute would not be allocated to the four clubs in question and they stopped responding to our emails. At that point, we informed the members of the BAC and the Presidents of HSG and WSC about these events. Jesse Maltese, who was then a voting member of the BAC, wrote a lengthy email to Student Activities arguing why they should honor the decision of the BAC. They never responded to him either.
Faced with a Student Activities that refused to communicate with us about this issue, we emailed Robb Flowers who got us a meeting with Brandon Barile. During our meeting with Barile, he offered to allocate the same sum of funding in SOAR grants to the four clubs if we would agree to allow the BAC funds that we had been arguing about to roll over to Spring 2018 Allocations. As long as every club received the amount of funding the BAC allocated them, we were not particularly concerned about where the funding came from, so we accepted this offer. However, having never received any acknowledgement of wrongdoing, we are concerned that Student Activities may repeat this behavior and obstruct future decisions of the BAC.
More concerning is that we have facts suggesting that the history of student leaders feeling frustration with Student Activities began long before our tenure. In the draft folder of the Budget Allocation Committee email account, we found a poignant rebuke of the officious behavior of Student Activities written by HSG Treasurer Joshua Kreeger and the WSC Treasurer Bridget Logan in 2014. In their complaint, which seemingly was never sent, they accused Student Activities of acting “as more of a parent… than as an advisor.” They contended, as we do now, that the administration continuously undermines the authority of our governments and the BAC.
Some of the problems they listed we did not experience ourselves, such as Student Activities signing bills without acknowledgement from the Treasurers or allocating funds without the approval of student governments. Yet others, such as constraining how the Budget Allocation Committee allocates funding, appear all too familiar and demonstrate that we still function as “a pawn of the Administration.”
They appreciated, as we do, the advising role that Student Activities plays and the resources they make available to us, but this support should never have developed into such suffocating control. Other students have also felt the impact of this domineering attitude. A voting member of the Budget Allocations Committee noticed the change in procedure between Spring 2018 Allocations (in November 2017) and Re-Allocations (in February 2017). While wishing to remain anonymous, they expressed, “During my first appointment on the committee, the conversation about funding was driven more by the students in the room and the second time, it was about what funding was right and wrong in the eyes of Student Activities.”
In the past two sessions of allocations, we managed to stay within the budget of the Student Activities fees, as well as revised the funding guidelines to hopefully avoid this in the future and to represent the concerns of the BAC during Fall 2017 in the absence of seeing our decision honored. This has in turn, increased the cash flow into the Excess Funds of each student government. In the event budget cuts are made in the future, all clubs will be asked to complete a Post-Allocations Document to highlight how their plans for the semester have changed in light of the budget cuts. As a rule, clubs who received budget cuts will not be eligible to return to Re-Allocations to prevent the BAC being conflicted as they were in the Fall. As the number of clubs on campus increase and the guidelines change over time, know that we are doing this to be flexible to the changing needs of campus.
There are many steps that can be taken to fortify our student governments. Intrusion from the administration, however, is not one of them and given our recent election as Vice President and Treasurer, we are committed to bolstering the power of the student governments to be flexible to changing needs of clubs and organizations on campus.
As a student who served on this committee in recent years, I can attest to the odd and overbearing behavior of student activities advisers towards the members of the BAC. In one particular instance there was discussion that extended beyond the allocated time for a particular club, so the members of the BAC decided to table the discussion and move on with the morning. The normal presentations continued and we eventually broke for lunch as a group. Once we all returned we decided to continue the discussion from earlier, even thought the Student Activities adviser was not in the room. We made a decision on the funding item (which was simply a logistical decision to ensure all clubs got equal funding for equal activities, the exact budget item escapes me at the moment) and then informed the adviser what our decision was. Our decision was met with a very upset response by the adviser, who became hysterical and even called a higher-up to discuss the fact that we had made our decisions. The adviser seemed to be extremely upset that the student led committee had made a decision without an adviser in the room and insisted we change our minds and reconsider our vote. It struck all of the members of the board as odd that we would need to change our mind, even though it was a fair and thoughtful decisions by the students on the student designated and run committee. The fact that we had voted without the adviser in the room continued to be a point of contention the rest of the day, but as a committee we never wavered in our decision because we believed we made a fair vote. To this day it stuck out in my mind as odd treatment of a very important committee by the people who carryout the decisions of that committee and I simply offer my story as a somewhat related experience to those in which the treasurers have encountered and written about in this article. While this does outline my experience, it is quite disheartening to hear from the more leaders of the committee (the treasurers) that things have continued in the way I encountered them semesters ago. I hadn’t considered until now that there was even more going on behind the scenes by student activities to shape and potentially sway what is supposed to be an independent student committee. Great piece on an important campus topic which many HWS students don’t even know about or consider the significance of considering how much power it really has.
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