In a few short weeks, the Student Activities Commission will consider budget submissions from over 105 student organizations, the largest number of groups that has ever been funded. For this current semester, SAC had $103,190 to allocate to all our groups. We received well over $200,000 in requests and had to pare those down to $161,900 that we felt were reasonable.

Dividing $103,190 by $161,900 yields a percentage of 63.73, which is the rate at which we funded reasonable requests. This is the lowest scale cut that we have ever had, and we are expecting an even lower one for next semester, as spring programming requests are usually more ambitious than fall programming. In addition, we expect to be funding upward of seven more groups than last semester, further adding to our load.

Clearly, a change needs to be made. I propose an overhaul to the club funding system that drastically changes the way money is delivered to clubs, yet still maintains the current advisory board framework.

First, the Student Activities Fee needs to be raised. It currently sits at $153 per year, which is one of the lowest SA Fee rates among our peer institutions. I propose a modest $47 raise, to $200.

Every undergraduate pays this fee, which is allocated every year by the Finance and Appropriations Committee of the GUSA senate. FinApp allocates to the seven advisory boards (SAC is the largest of these), along with things like Georgetown Day, Georgetown Programming Board and Homecoming. Last year, the total collection from the SA Fee was $998,400. Raising the fee to $200 per person would result in over $1.3 million in collections.

After the fee is raised, the manner in which it is distributed must be modified. First, I propose that the bulk of the SA Fee be allocated by the Council of Advisory Boards, which is the body that is made up of delegates from all seven advisory boards, rather than by FinApp. FinApp would receive about $300,000 to allocate to other miscellaneous entities, such as those mentioned above. CAB would receive slightly more than $500,000 to allocate out to the advisory boards, because the members of said boards should be deciding how much funding they need, rather than a group of GUSA senators with less of a direct connection to actual student groups.

That leaves an amount just shy of $500,000 still to be allocated. I propose that students themselves — with the exception of freshmen — should directly allocate that money. Each upperclassman would be able to directly control half of their fee, $100.

On “Allocation Day,” they would use a web application to directly allocate their SA Fee into the account of the group or groups of their choosing. Freshmen would not allocate under this system; rather, their full $200 would go to CAB and FinApp. I see freshman year as a trial run, a time to try many organizations to find the right fit, which is why one should be given the privilege to directly allocate beginning as a sophomore.

This model could drastically improve student life at Georgetown. The raised fee means that even if organizations were not collecting as much as they expected from their membership, their advisory boards would still be there to back them up. Funding decisions would be put more in the hands of students, and less in the hands of a small group of GUSA senators. Large organizations would continue to benefit, and small organizations with dedicated membership would have the potential to drastically raise their budgets.

Many organizations would be able to exist purely on collections from their memberships, without funding from their advisory boards. This could free up money for large conferences for SAC groups, or better-funded trips to national championships for club sports athletes. It would also encourage students to more deeply immerse themselves in the experiences offered by their organizations.

If people are allocating their money directly, they will feel more of an affinity for a group and will be encouraged to attend more events, engage with more people in their clubs and ultimately build a stronger community on the Hilltop.

Patrick Musgrave is a junior in the College. He is chair of the Student Activities Commision.

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7 Comments

  1. I tried to resist writing this comment. I really did. But this “idea” (which is, in fact, exactly how the funding system used to operate back when it was completely ineffective and hopelessly broken a few years ago, with the addition of a weird marketplace solution that I’ll talk about later on) gave this recent alum such horrible flashbacks that I simply had no choice.

    I’ll say it plainly: having unelected, interest-driven rent-seeking bureaucrats (advisory board represenatives) allocating this money rather than a doubly-elected, disinterested, collectively-minded committee (FinApp) is a terrible idea. You don’t have to take my word for it! Consult the record. Look at the budgetary battles of 2007-2010 when the advisory boards reps routinely refused to convene a budget meeting out of fear of losing out on their slice of the pie. Students lost in that equation. They have done much, much, much better for themselves since FinApp has exclusively controlled the budgeting process since 2010.

    Let’s look at the facts. Since FinApp has controlled the budget process, the amount of money available to student groups annually has tripled from roughly $300,000 to around $900,000. Student groups have been empowered because FinApp forced the advisory boards (PARTICULARLY SAC) to adopt new accountability, transparency, and block budgetary measures. Raising the student activities fee should always be on the table, if the need is there, but Mr. Musgrave should note that it’s only through FinApp budgetary control that the fee was raised and tied to inflation in the first place.

    It stinks that Mr. Musgrave has had to turn down or trim the requests of some of his groups, but I would politely submit that if he doesn’t like the pain and cutting of budgeting, why on earth should the students empower him with broader budgetary authority? What exactly does he think FinApp is doing with the rest of this money he wants? Throwing it out? Blowing it on GUSA parties? Nope, it’s going to Performing Arts, Club Sports, Georgetown Program Board, and the other advisory boards–budgeted after a careful weighing of the proportional needs of each advisory board against the other in a master budgetary session in the Spring.

    Finally, this addition of a “pay for what you want” marketplace is so utterly devoid of Georgetown spirit that I feel like it needs no response. Students should only contribute to the student life they directly participate in or like? That sounds like hogwash. I never participated in Rangila. I never even went to one (so shoot me). But I was proud to help fund it through my student activities fee, because it’s part of the culture of student life that makes Georgetown great.

    Please tell me where I submit my formal testimony to oppose this proposal [under old SAC rules, I would have to submit it several days in advance, and then would have no idea how my commissioners voted on it. Thanks for fixing that FinApp!]. Until then, I feel like I need a drink.

    • Agreed with my old friend JustSaying. While I appreciate Patrick’s desire to improve student activity funding, I beg you to reconsider your proposals.

      There is a reason so many now-alumni spent hundreds of hours of their time as students to create the current system. We are now in a relative age of Enlightenment; please do not undo generations of progress and plunge us back into the Dark Ages.

  2. Wow. Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. I do not need to say more on this because JustSaying has covered the topic so well.

    But there is one specific rationalization for this backwards proposal that I would like to address.

    “Funding decisions would be put more in the hands of students, and less in the hands of a small group of GUSA senators.”

    Mr. Musgrave has omitted a crucial word in the phrase “a small group of GUSA senators.” That word is “elected.”

    I fear Mr. Musgrave has inadvertently decided to make a case against representative government, instead proposing to shift the complex duty of budgeting to a frightful mashup of “budgeting by referendum” and a panel of unelected and self-interested bureaucrats. This is not merely a return to the Dark Ages of the Advisory Board Budget Summit. It is worse.

    The system he proposes, taken logically, is an unholy hybrid in which half of the student activities fee would be cut up by self-interested and unelected bureaucrats representing their own advisory boards. The other half would go to nothing more than a series of mandatory (and extraordinarily high) membership dues paid to the clubs that members join, as students are likely to allocate their SAF monies only to those clubs that they join or are interested in joining.

    The beauty of the current system is that it allows for monies to first be allocated by elected student representatives with an eye towards fostering a healthy and comprehensive suite of student activities. They have no self-interest other than representing their constituents, who (drawn from a geographical district rather than any self-selecting pool) participate in a wide variety of student activities. Then, smart specialized advisory boards can then take their allocation and make the tough decisions about which clubs merit which amounts of funding. This is the purpose that advisory boards serve.

    It is unfortunate that Mr. Musgrave’s advisory board has met just 64 percent of requests, though I doubt this is the “lowest scale cut [they] ever had,” given the paltry amount of funding available before SAFE Reform. Would I like for there to be more money to go around? Sure. I don’t think raising the fee is a bad idea, to be honest.

    But it’s worth noting that the only reason that student groups have felt empowered to make such large requests is that GUSA dramatically increased the amount of money available to student groups through SAFE Reform. That increase was conditioned on elected student trusteeship of funding. Students felt comfortable enough contributing more to a working budgetary process because their representatives were going to be the ones making decisions about its allocation. Not the unelected and self-interested Council of Advisory Boards.

    The current system is working. We are fostering a comprehensive and inclusive system of student activities at Georgetown. Let’s not retreat to the dark ages, when so much progress has been made.

  3. I’m confused by this commentary.

    First, what is the basis for thinking that the decisions by the resurrected Funding Board (yes, this was exactly the model Georgetown had before funding reform) would be better than the FinApp decisions? Just familiarity with their own needs? The main concern the author raises seems to be that SAC doesn’t have enough money to fund 100% of student requests, but an Undead Funding Board will not magically create more money. And given that the advisory boards are still in charge of all group-by-group allocations, any expertise seems to be irrelevant to the question of how to split up the funds between the boards, rather than within them. That’s a task, outside the boards’ expertise, best fit for neutral and independent students who are directly elected by their fellow students.

    Second, what do you mean when you say this is lowest scale cut “ever”? SAC has so, so, so much more money now than it did even a few years ago. I’m confident from my years of involvement with SAC that if this is the lowest rate of funding approvals ever, it is only because the increase in student requests has outstripped all reason, given that the funding boards are infinitely richer now than they were a few years ago (when they still managed to underspend every year, leading to huge and frankly silly budget surpluses).

    Third, what do you mean funding would be put “more in the hands of students”? Hard for me to imagine how the funding boards are more democratic than elected student government members. Back in the tyrannical days of the now-thankfully-dead Funding Board, the advisory groups functioned as a secretive cabal that simply reapproved their own allocations every year, starving the student body of change and obstructing any oversight. They accumulated almost one million dollars in “reserve funds” that the student body didn’t know existed until GUSA audited the boards and brought the Dracula-like Funding Board’s bloodsucking abuses to light.

    Lastly, what is the advantage of the market system? This idea has been floated around for many, many years, and I’ve never heard a justification for it.

    In sum, these are truly awful ideas, and they show a really bizarre lack of awareness of history by this SAC leader. I’m confused whether the author is just unaware of the fact that he is attempting to reinstate substantially the same system that students overwhelmingly rejected just a few years ago, or if the natural tendency of SAC leaders is to seek to drag the funding system into a dark dungeon on the third floor of Leavey where it can be safely and secretly abused.

    Cheers,

    Joe Hoya

  4. Patrick Musgrave says:

    @JustSaying

    Thanks for the criticism, I have no doubt that your remarks are well thought out and in keeping with the historical conventional wisdom regarding FinApp, the boards, and budgeting. However, I’ve got a few points which I believe refute yours.

    First, your charge that the partial individual allocation model is “utterly devoid of Georgetown spirit” is unfounded. You state that this component would amount to students only allocating to that student life that they only participate or like. This is false. Over half of all student money would in fact be allocated by boards or FinApp. The individual system, representing a large fraction, but still less than half of all monies, would encourage more attendance at events, deeper commitments to clubs, and a sense of personal responsibility towards the success of an organization. That does not sound like it lacks the Spirit of Georgetown, in any sense.

    I also challenge your dismissive rhetoric in regards to advisory board chairs. I believe that those in charge of their advisory boards have better contact with their groups, a better feel for what is needed, and can come together and make better decisions. In your day, the Council of Advisory Boards was not constituted. It is now, and is proving itself to be a body responsive to the day-to-day needs of student organizations. On the other hand, FinApp is essentially allocating without the consent of the allocated-to. Senators are elected based on geography, rather than by constituents representing any sort of collective interest. CAB allocating to advisory boards would at the very least represent a “government by the consent of the governed” model, which I believe to be superior to your model of a “disinterested, collectively-minded committee.” I am willing to cede that some body would need to check CAB, which FinApp could do, via some sort of sign-off on CAB’s published budget or through some other mechanism.

    I look forward to any and all responses or criticisms on this, at the very least, it’s time for Georgetown students to start thinking and talking about what we can do to improve student life here.

  5. Patrick – I commend that you wrote something and ran it in a student newspaper for all to read. It shows transparency and a willingness to engage students.

    I will have to agree with the alum’s comments, however, about historical problems. I also am not confident that most students are as interested in the funding allocation process as you are. That is not to critique you at all; that is simply the reality, I think, that students who aren’t deeply attached to an extracurricular will not be invested in spending the time allocating their dollars club by club. I also will agree with the comment made that allowing for students to choose to fund just clubs they’re in is a terrible idea. Popularity contests is never a good way to support student activities and has troubling implications for smaller, but equally important niche clubs.

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea to raise the fee, though. How did that number become a random $153?

  6. More on Patrick’s reply later. In the meantime, please read this article from the Hoya archives, retrieved from Google cache. This is a perfect example of how the current system (new in 2010) helped guarantee that advisory boards were accountable to their student groups. After this article was published, FinApp withheld a portion of SAC’s budget allocation, and SAC finally backed down and reformed. Mr. Musgrave would have us go backwards.

    March 2, 2010 by Katie Kettle
    Special to The Hoya
    Funding Reform Sets Budget Summit Tone

    At the first-ever Georgetown University Student Association Budget Summit held Sunday by the GUSA Finance and Appropriations Committee, the five advisory boards, the Georgetown Program Board and the GUSA Executive presented their budget proposals for fiscal year 2010.

    Almost all groups present requested an increase in funding for the upcoming year, except for the Performing Arts Advisory Council, which requested the same amount as last year.

    The total amount requested by all groups that receive funding from the Student Activities Fee exceeded the amount of funds available for Finance and Appropriations Committee allocation by $57,213.

    Before the sweeping club funding reforms passed by the GUSA Senate in February took effect, the advisory boards, GPB and the members of the Finance and Appropriations Committee would meet to draft and vote on a budget for the upcoming year.

    The legislation, which was passed on Feb. 8, stripped the advisory boards and GPB of their votes in the funding process and the allocation of the Student Activities Fee, requiring the boards to present their budgets separately in front of the seven members of the Finance and Appropriations Committee throughout the course of the day; the summit lasted from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

    According to Sen. Colton Malkerson (COL ’13), a member of the Finance and Appropriations Committee, the committee plans to release a complete budget before spring break. After a period of public comment and appeals hearings, the senate will vote on the budget, after which it will go to the GUSA Executive for approval.

    Most of the advisory boards receive their funding from a combination of the Student Activities Fee, which is a $50 fee that all students pay each semester, and funds from tuition money and the university’s contract with Coca-Cola. Some boards, such as Club Sports, receive almost all of their funding from the Student Activities Fee, while others, such as the Student Activities Commission, receive only a portion from the fee.

    After each board presented its budget proposal, the committee reviewed a six-point funding reform plan with each of the groups, which required boards to hold open votes and meetings, lower excessive reserve funds through spending, implement an appeals process for groups dissatisfied with funding allocated, allow clubs to request lump-sum funding, increase accountability of advisory board members to their constituents and allow student organizations to retain any funds they raise autonomously.

    Most of the boards were receptive to the reform plan and agreed to adopt at least some of the reform suggestions, including cutting down on reserve amounts by spending to the amount recommended by Associate Vice President Jeanne Lord of the Office of Student Affairs.

    In order to reduce the amount of their budget request, the senate voted Sunday evening to transfer $150,000 from the GUSA Fund to the Student Activities Fee general reserve account, an action that reduced the amount of money the GUSA Fund can allocate for the year by half but increased the amount available to the advisory boards and the Georgetown Program Board and the Student Activities Commission for their budget proposals next year.

    Representing the Student Activities Commission, the only group present that expressed firm opposition to the reforms, Chair Ethel Amponsah (NHS ’11) said that the changes to the club funding process would not allow SAC to operate properly.

    Amponsah refused to consider open votes, citing the public’s sensitivity to the funding issues being addressed and SAC commissioners’ heavy involvement in the organizations they represent. She declined to put in place a concrete plan for reducing close to $215,000 in SAC reserves to the recommended amount of $150,000, stating a need for high reserves so that SAC could protect clubs from liabilities and contribute to capital improvements such as improving the quality of student space in spaces such as Riverside Lounge.

    In response, the senators said it was unfair for SAC to diverge from the example of the other boards and to expect to be granted its requested funding, since the amount of money requested by clubs exceeded the amount available and most boards were willing to spend their reserve funds or had already significantly dug into their reserves to accommodate new goals.

    “Money shouldn’t be going to boards that have enough fees to sustain themselves,” said Finance and Appropriations Committee Chair Nick Troiano (COL ’11).

    On the topic of open votes, Amponsah was candid.

    “There are small instances that become controversial and I won’t have commissioners’ names put next to votes,” she said.

    All of the other boards, except for the Media Board, agreed to have open, published votes. The Finance and Appropriations Committee agreed to allow the Media Board to have closed votes because unlike the other boards, for which members submit applications and freely run for positions, each of the four major media outlets on campus choose a member of their organization to be their representative on the Media Board.

    Malkerson said that the new reforms will increase fairness in the budget process, especially in a year in which the advisory boards requested more money than is available.

    “Our votes are open and our meetings are public,” Malkerson said. “All of our actions will be scrutinized. We will be forced to defend any decision we make. This is a good thing. We should be able to stand by anything we do, and this is the same principle we are asking all the advisory boards to follow.”

    During the summit, each board presented their budget proposal, which included a summary of past budgets for the prior two years, a written overview describing how the funding benefited students and any significant changes that impacted funding in the budget proposal.

    **Correction:** This article originally stated that the GUSA Senate voted to transfer $150,000 from the GUSA Fund to the Student Activities Fee general reserve account. The senate voted to transfer $15,000.

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