An investigation into the early exhaustion of funds controlled by the Student Government Finance Committee (SGFC) has revealed a system exposed by a lack of spending safeguards and has raised questions about control in the SG bureaucracy and what the role of SGFC is in determining the type and character of student activities.
SGFC, the committee that handles requests for money by Recognized Student Organizations (RSOs), ran out of money for the current calendar year on April 6, about four or five weeks before they have in past years. As a result, many student groups that were expecting to get funding were left out in the cold.
SGFC chair and third-year in the College Ben Mainzer said that twice the amount of money was requested as in previous years. In the current academic year, there were $421,012 worth of requests, with $234,371 allocated. In the 2002-2003 academic year, $245,168 were requested, with $172,594 allocated.
Mainzer also emphasized that the trend of requests was completely different than in previous years. "Usually requests hit their peak in the middle of winter quarter, with another very small rise early in spring quarter," he said.
But a spreadsheet showed $90,000 worth of allocations sixth and seventh weeks, after the traditional peak had already occurred. Mainzer called such a high number of requests for any week "unprecedented."
"We expected to see the usual downturn, which just didn't happen," he said.
At the April 2 meeting of the committee, Mainzer said SGFC had $40,000 worth of requests, and considerably less money. Diana Doty, RSO resource coordinator for the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities and SGFC adviser, said that SGFC tried to help groups applying at that meeting. "Maybe they didn't get $500 dollars worth of food items, but we were able to fund the groups enough that their events could still go on," she said.
The increase in demand was purposely created by SGFC, according to Mainzer and Doty. Doty, a member of the Class of 2002, said that SGFC's image has really changed since she was a student.
"The perception was that you couldn't get money from SGFC," she said. "In the two years since, SGFC chairs have gone out of their way to make themselves available to give advice on applications and let people know that the money is theirs. The effect has been that people think that they will be able to get money, which was the intent," she said. Doty called SGFC's makeover a double-edged sword in that if more people expect to get their share of a finite amount of money, the money will run out sooner.
Another aspect of the increase in demand has been that graduate RSOs have begun to apply for funds from SGFC more often than in previous years. According to Mainzer, it was simply a matter of getting the word out. Representatives on the Graduate Council were told to bring the word back to the graduate divisions.
The current executive slate ran last spring on a platform of making more SGFC money accessible to graduate schools. SG president Bo Shan attributed his victory partly to the graduate schools. "It was a part of it, but there were definitely other ways that we persuaded the graduate schools to vote for us," he said.
Mainzer, however said that Shan and the executive slate had nothing to do with the actions of SGFC.
"We don't take direction from the slate," Mainzer said. "Bo doesn't participate .There has been no change in the actions of SGFC. I have run SGFC the way it ran last year. This year has been a continuation of last year."
But this year's executive slate prided itself on making the SGFC application process a friendly and easy one. In interviews for the position of SGFC chair that the executive slate appoints, Shan made it very clear what he wanted as far as "generosity of funds." The chair, however, does not vote, and the seven voting members are elected from the College and Graduate Councils.
Mainzer, who had served on SGFC in the past, said he thought the number one reason he was appointed was his experience, not any tendency toward generosity.
Shan held six formal conferences at the beginning of the school year designed to "win the hearts and minds" of the committee members. He also said that extensive changes were made to the by-laws governing funding. Listed on the SGFC's website are four changes. SGFC now funds $125 per night for hotels, as opposed to $90, $15 compared to $12 for pizza. They also fund for gas mileage, and for giveaways (pens, buttons, etc.) if the group can demonstrate "programmatic value."
Mainzer said that he regrets the bankruptcy of SGFC. "The committee will take a hard look at funding changes for next year," he said. "Nothing has been finalized, but we are definitely thinking about quarterly spending caps."
Shan was less enthusiastic. "It's a trade-off," he said. "I want to keep money around for spring quarter events, but if there are a thousand great events planned winter quarter, I say, great, let's fund them all. I want to maintain the generous atmosphere around SGFC."
Shan and Mainzer agreed that discrimination against certain types of events was always a bad idea. Shan called it a "dangerous slope."
"Inadvertently, we could have a situation where decisions are based on the personal preferences of the committee," Shan said. "We don't want that. I am for keeping the guidelines [for approval] broad."
"I really don't think it's a big deal that we ran out of money three weeks early," Shan said. "There are three weeks of events that were canceled, but there are three weeks of events that wouldn't have happened otherwise."