Bill to Audit Student Group Funds Fails, Administrators Talk New Wellness Center

Bill co-sponsor David Liang said he will reintroduce the auditing bill in spring.

By Deepti Sailappan, Managing Editor ('19-'20)

A bill that would have significantly enhanced the ability of Student Government (SG) to audit student groups’ spending failed by a wide margin at the SG Assembly meeting on December 3. The final vote was nine “yes” votes, 17 “no” votes, and five abstentions.

Titled the FAIR Act and Auditing Code, the bill was sponsored by Class of 2019 representative Brett Barbin, Class of 2021 representative Tony Ma, and Class of 2022 representative David Liang. It would have established a new, independent SG committee to attend and audit events hosted by Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) and Graduate Student Equivalent Organizations (GSEOs) for the remainder of the academic year.

An existing committee, the Student Government Finance Committee (SGFC), currently performs similar auditing functions for the various groups it funds—from cultural affinity groups to pre-professional organizations.

The new committee established by the FAIR Act, however, would have been tasked with auditing the expenses of groups that receive their funding from different streams, like the Coalition of Academic Teams and Program Coordinating Council. Groups funded by these alternative streams include University Theater, Model United Nations, and the Major Activities Board, which brings performers (most recently Waka Flocka Flame) to campus for quarterly shows.

The proposed committee also would have required post-allocation reports from all campus groups requesting over $250 for an event, as well as sent a “special auditor” to attend all events with funding requests over $2,000—a practice already in place for SGFC-funded groups, but not others.

Based on last year’s numbers, this would have meant that in-person audits would be required at around 30 events per year, suggested Liang, who currently serves on SGFC with Barbin.

Law School representative Max Freedman (A.B. ’18) gave an extended speech criticizing the bill as impractical.

“As someone who’s been on Student Government for five years…I have the experience of the sponsors put together,” Freedman began, before noting that several SG funding bodies give out lump-sum payments at the beginning of the year. “It’s sort of ridiculous to expect RSO leaders to correctly predict costs for yearly events that occur in May.”

He added that the bill also unnecessarily burdens RSO leaders with extra paperwork, especially low-income students who also juggle on-campus jobs and are not compensated for their roles in student groups. Other representatives echoed this concern later during the meeting.

Some representatives also said they felt the proposed policy presumed guilt on behalf of student groups, even though SG isn’t aware of any misappropriation of funds.

“We’re not accusing anyone of misusing the money, but there is concern that a bunch of people are inflating numbers,” Ma said in response.

He suggested that many RSO events are under-attended, due to “any number of reasons”—resulting in wasted spending.

The bill’s sponsors repeatedly stressed a need for more information exchange between SG’s various funding bodies. After the vote, Liang told The Maroon that he and Barbin, who are both currently on SGFC, plan to continue to work on auditing initiatives.

“We will try to find the data that’s available to support our arguments that there might be misuse of funds within SGFC,” he said.

Liang added that he plans to bring back the bill back either spring quarter or next academic year. “In the meantime, I will survey more members of the RSO community, [as well as] graduate students because I know that they were the ones who casted the most ‘no’ votes,” he said.

During Monday’s meeting, two University administrators also stopped by to provide updates on student life, including the new student wellness center on 59th and Maryland that is scheduled to open in 2021.

The center will jointly house Student Health Service (SHS), Student Counseling Service (SCS), and Health Promotion and Wellness, all of which are currently located in separate offices.

Michael Hayes, assistant vice president for student life, and Mario Polizzi, assistant vice president for student services, said the new center will allow for students to be referred between SHS and SCS more easily.

“The idea of it being seamless and integrated is absolutely key,” Polizzi added.

He suggested that a single, streamlined check-in process in a waiting room shared by SCS and SHS will allow for students with psychiatry and counseling appointments to retain some anonymity, without contributing to the seclusion of mental health resources and stigma surrounding mental health discourse on campus.

The center is also actively recruiting three new psychologists and a case manager, and hosting open houses for SCS staff and off-campus mental health providers. This will encourage more integrated care when students are referred off campus after visiting SCS, Polizzi said.

Matthew Lee contributed reporting.