The Georgetown University Student Association Finance and Appropriations Committee is set to release the final fiscal year 2015 budget for the student association and advisory and programming boards today. The committee considered proposals for 26 options, hearing from advisory boards, student groups and individuals, including Center for Student Engagement Director Erika Cohen Derr, who also serves as the Fin/App adviser.

As CSE Director, Cohen Derr presents before Fin/App to obtain money for CSE projects.

As adviser, Cohen Derr does not directly take part in deliberations, but is present in the room while committee members discuss allocation and reasoning on all projects.

“She can answer historical questions if I have them. She can answer procedural questions if I have them,” Fin/App Chairman Seamus Guerin (COL ’16) said. “Ultimately, the decisions are being made by us, and that’s always been respected by her.”

This year Cohen Derr asked Fin/App to fund the renovation of the courtyard inside New South, which will be visible from the upcoming Healey Family Student Center. The project totaled $50,000, which Fin/App denied in full in a draft budget.

“I have asked for money to fund projects each year,” Cohen Derr said. “I don’t think that’s a requirement [as director of the CSE], but I see it as a responsibility from the vantage point that I hold to kind of pay attention to larger needs across the student activities and student life landscape.”

Cohen Derr also considered convenience another reason for her to present CSE projects to Fin/App, as she already attends the annual budget summit to determine the draft budget.

“It’s easier if I just present it than if I ask another [CSE] staff member to come in and present it,” she said.

Fin/App finalized its draft budget March 5, and this Wednesday concluded the two-week period for public discussion about the budget.

On Sunday, the GUSA senate will vote on the budget and incoming GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) will sign off on it.

Despite the potential conflict of interest, instead of funding either Cohen Derr’s courtyard proposal or the volleyball and grills project, Fin/App’s draft allocated an increase in funding to student advisory boards.

“I try to be really intentional when I talk to them about the fact that they have no obligation to fund presentations that I might propose, and that I want them to make good, informed decisions,” Cohen Derr said.

The New South Courtyard proposal competed with student-led projects for funding. One project included the construction of a volleyball court and grills for student use in the Southwest Quad, which the draft budget also did not fund.

To students working to get funding for these projects, Cohen Derr appears to have a persuasive advantage.

“She is in the room when they’re deliberating. No one else that presented to Fin/App is in the room when they’re deliberating,” Campus Life Working Group Co-Chair and

GUSA Director of Student Space Jack Appelbaum (COL ’14) said. “Conflicts of interest are sometimes hard to manage.”

Fin/App has approved two Cohen Derr-proposed projects in the past few years while she simultaneously sat as the committee’s adviser. One of the projects appropriates $40,000 over the course of three years, from 2012 to 2014, to upgrade and maintain HoyaLink, while the other, in fiscal year 2013, appropriated $5,000 for a CSE golf cart.

“I don’t think an adviser should be presenting to a group that he or she advises,” Appelbaum said. “When I was on [the Student Activities Commission] I would’ve been uncomfortable with our adviser presenting to us. And I think, going forward, that it’s something that should be looked at.”

The money that Fin/App allocates each year consists of approximately $998,400 in student activities fees, which each student contributes to through $153 in tuition, scheduled to rise next year to $156.

“I think the intentions are in the right place,” CSE Marketing and Programming Assistant Andi Debellis (MSB ’14) said. “I think the biggest conflict comes with, it’s really hard to tell your adviser ‘no.’ And at the same time, these initiatives aren’t always student led. So while the intention’s in the right place, it’s not coming from the right person.”

According to Debellis, Cohen Derr’s funded projects, although approved, are weaker because of the administrative, not student, involvement.

“I think they’re both good in intentions. I think they would’ve been more powerful coming from students. HoyaLink, while it’s a great device and I’m its biggest advocate, it just isn’t getting the use that justifies the cost that went into it,” Debellis said. “I feel that if it were more of a student-driven initiative, we would have got some sort of product that would’ve better suited the needs of student groups.”

Fin/App, a GUSA senate committee, allocates approximately four-fifths of the almost $1 million in student money annually to advisory boards such as SAC, leaving around $200,000 for various capital improvements which can be allocated to projects like Cohen Derr’s in New South.

At the moment, the obligation to remain unbiased in the face of conflicting interests falls on the eight GUSA senators elected by the senate to serve on the Fin/App committee.

“It may be challenging, but it’s up to them to recognize that challenge and recognize the importance of staying impartial, and objective, and objectively looking at things, despite where and how a proposal might be coming from,” Appelbaum said.

Correction: An earlier version of the article stated that Cohen Derr must present before Fin/App to fund CSE projects. She may get money from other sources or another CSE member could conduct the presentation.

2 Comments

  1. So strange that of all the years we don’t fund Erika’s project this is the year it is made into a issue

  2. Of all of the problems with the GUSA Fin/App funding (of which there are many), this is probably the least important to the greater Georgetown population

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*