Tensions between the Student Activities Commission and student organizations are nothing new. This year, however, the Georgetown University Student Association is doing something about it.

GUSA President Calen Angert (MSB ’11) aims to create a fund for student organizations to serve as a funding alternative to the Student Activities Commission, and GUSA has pursued a joint process in naming SAC chairs – two measures designed to ease the often tense relations between some student organizations and the commission.

Angert announced during his campaign that he wanted to establish a GUSA-managed fund for student organizations that would supplement SAC by providing additional funding to student groups. SAC, a group of 14 students and a staff adviser from the Center for Student Programs, is responsible for allocating about $200,000 annually to almost 100 student groups. SAC is the largest of six university advisory boards that oversee Georgetown’s student organizations.

Angert said he has been working to secure money for the fund and believes it can be a resource for student organizations. During his campaign, he said the target amount for the fund was $30,000, but that figure is now being evaluated.

Angert added that he does not believe such a fund would infringe on SAC’s purview.

“[The GUSA fund] does not run contrary to anything [SAC is] doing. . It wouldn’t be taking over [SAC’s] position,” Angert said.

In past years, SAC has faced criticism from student organizations over accountability and the extensive approval process for funding for organizations’ events and activities.

The SAC chair has previously been appointed by the outgoing SAC chair or other SAC commissioners. Last fall, SAC revised its constitution, and soon after it was announced that GUSA and SAC would form a joint committee to appoint the SAC chair.

“We aren’t going to get anywhere by political grandstanding, but rather mature and open discussion,” Angert said. “This year, the SAC chair will be determined by a joint GUSA-SAC committee and it is the first step in delivering more openness requested by the students.”

Angert said that the key is maintaining a professional relationship among all parties. “Until both sides are able to come to the table in an adult manner, however, I’m afraid this issue will continue to fester each year,” he said.

Bill McCoy, an associate director in the Center for Student Programs and the SAC adviser, said transparency is a constant priority for the commission, citing open meetings, commissioner office hours and posted meeting minutes on its Web site.

“Would I describe SAC as transparent? I definitely would,” McCoy said. “Do I think that the information is digestible? Yes – but not without some serious interest on the [part of the] individual seeking the information. . Too often, those who critique SAC for a lack of transparency are largely unwilling to do any work to find the information they would like the answer to.”

The Georgetown chapter of EcoAction is one of the 86 student organizations overseen by SAC this year.

“When it comes down to it, EcoAction has been able to get funding when we need it. It’s just a rather painful process,” EcoAction President Kristin Ng (COL ’11) said.

“I feel that people have difficulty getting events approved and most people don’t understand how SAC runs – even some commissioners who I’ve talked to don’t fully understand how SAC runs – and that is not okay.”

But on the whole, Ng said she believes the system does work.

“I want to make clear that I understand their job is pretty broad [and] rough and I am totally glad that they do what they do, I just wish it wasn’t such a painful process,” she said.

The Georgetown University Lecture Fund’s relationship with SAC is unique. According to Lecture Fund Chair Dara Gold (COL ’10), the Lecture Fund, unlike most clubs, receives an annual lump sum of funding, which means they do not have to receive funding on a line-by-line basis. Gold said their relationship with the commission has, in her experience, been a productive one.

cCoy described SAC’s role as the oversight body for student organizations, insuring that student groups conduct themselves in alignment with university policy. In its weekly meetings, SAC regularly votes to approve or deny proposals concerning event type, choice of club promotion and the associated cost.

“On the most basic and fundamental level, SAC’s responsibility is to grant student organizations access to benefits and administer those benefits for which groups may petition,” McCoy said. “Benefits include the use of the institution’s name, funding, space, technological resources, et cetera. SAC is also responsible for ensuring that the benefits granted are used within university policy and consistent to expectations outlined in the stated character of the institution, and to hold accountable those groups that are in violation of policy.”

Each SAC commissioner is assigned between eight and 12 student groups, and works with those groups to help them obtain funding for their events.

Georgetown University College Democrats Vice President Fitz Lufkin (COL ’11) said that past GUCD leaders have generally received about $3,000 from SAC, which he said is considerably lower than the allocation given to similar groups at peer universities.

Historically, the College Democrats have had an uneven relationship with SAC, according to Lufkin.

“The College Democrats’ relationship with SAC has ranged from fine to not-so-good during the years I have been involved,” Lufkin said. “Currently, we have a working relationship with our SAC commissioner and an adequate relationship with the commission as a whole.”

Lufkin cited a lack of flexibility in the budgeting process as what he believes to be SAC’s principal shortcoming.

“As the system currently stands, clubs are allocated money not just per event, but per item. There is no room for changes in funding allocation without going through the unnecessarily arduous SAC approval process,” Lufkin said. “SAC is extremely controlling of clubs’ funding, almost to the point of paranoia.”

GUCD President Danny Gustafson (COL ’11) said that SAC needs to be held accountable for its distribution of funding.

“The primary problem with the Student Activities Commission is that they are in no way, shape or form answerable to the students and the clubs that they are intended to serve. . The fact that commissioners, as well as the SAC chair, are appointed with no oversight by the student body is completely unacceptable,” Gustafson said.

cCoy was hesitant to uniformly characterize the relationship between SAC and the student organizations it oversees, citing significant variation among the 86 student groups SAC currently oversees.

“Some groups who have had challenging relationships or have been critical of SAC in the past get new leadership that approaches the process and relationship in a different way and suddenly all goes well,” McCoy said. “I have also seen the reverse happen, that a new treasurer will approach SAC as a burden rather than responsibility and a normally pleasant interaction between groups turns sour. Then there are those organizations that institutionalize within themselves ill will between the groups that perpetuates through generations of leadership.”

Nick Troiano (COL ’11), a GUSA senator and the newly appointed finance and appropriations chair, said he believes both SAC and GUSA can overcome the checkered past between the two.

“However, there is no doubt in my mind that elected representatives of the students should unequivocally have ultimate say with where students’ money goes, how it gets there and who spends it,” Troiano said.

Troiano also cited several areas of concern in the relationship between SAC and student organizations. “The system does not give clubs the independence and responsibility they deserve by micromanaging them and forcing them to constantly come back for money – virtually on a per-event basis,” Troiano said.

He added that the current system takes away incentives for student organizations to fundraise, because money that is raised can be spent only with SAC approval. Troiano also criticized SAC for maintaining excessive reserve accounts for insurance, which Troiano believes should be available to student clubs. In February 2008, a GUSA audit revealed that there was over $800,000 in reserve funds distributed across the six advisory boards. SAC had $250,006 in reserve at the time. Troiano further noted that the commission votes in private, which he believes undermines accountability for commissioners.

Troiano pointed to the Georgetown University College Democrats as an example of the funding challenges between SAC and student groups.

“The most egregious case I know exists with the College Democrats, who, despite years of consistent programming, were given an initial allocation of $100.* It is downright ridiculous that a club with a 2,500-member listserv and a successful record of student engagement be micromanaged to this extent by an unaccountable body of peers,” Troiano said.

SAC Chair Aakib Khaled (COL ’10) and Vice Chair Juliana Pugliese (COL ’10) were unavailable for comment.

***Note:** The initial allocation actually amounted to $167.

**Correction:** This article incorrectly stated that GUSA and SAC had made an agreement to form a joint selection process for the selection of SAC chairs.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.