NEWS

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February 28, 2006

SGFC funding runs low

Despite promises of reform and restraint, the Student Government Finance Committee (SGFC) looks poised to run out of money by early spring quarter yet again, according to committee members. Registred Student Organizations (RSOs) planning events in the coming months have already begun to feel the pinch.

A combination of factors—from SGFC receiving a smaller percentage of this year’s Student Activity Fee (42 percent compared to nearly 60 percent last year), to more RSOs requesting more money earlier, to the full funding of many expensive events earlier in the year—has left SGFC in the precarious position of trying to stretch the remaining $16,841 in their ledger over all of spring quarter.

“The fact is, we funded a lot of events for winter and spring already,” said Phil Caruso, vice president of administration in Student Government (SG). “Money is given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, and a lot of RSOs planned out events ahead of time…So while we are faced with significantly diminished resources at this point, by in large we’re looking at a pretty standard year as to SGFC running out of money.”

To put the $16,841 in perspective, SG has allocated, on average, $13,726 per meeting nearly every week of classes since late October. It began the year with a balance of more than $195,000. The figure is skewed by the fact that SGFC was funding both winter and spring events over that time period.

The trickle-down effect of money shortage has been felt throughout all stages of the funding process in recent weeks. The examination of RSO event budgets in both SGFC and the College Council (CC) has become more stringent as of late, and RSOs have been receiving just fractions of the planned costs of events.

For the third annual Latin American Perspectives conference, an event that would feature five panels of experts, numerous professors, and the deans of both the Graduate School of Business and Harris schools, a request of nearly $14,000 was cut to just $2,000.

SGFC explained the cut in its meeting notes by saying that “this is a great event, but we just don’t have the money”—a theme echoed on numerous occasions through the minutes of the past few meetings, and has meant the cancellation or significant scale—back of many campus events, big and small.

Still, despite the recent necessity of a tight-fisted approach to RSO funding, many SG leaders are optimistic about the coming quarter.

“I feel like there will be enough RSO stability to have a successful spring quarter,” said second-year in the College Leah Endalkatchew, the chair of SGFC, noting that SG has already allocated nearly as much money for spring quarter events as it did for all of winter quarter and that Annual Allocations (AnnAll), with its expanded budget this year, has given money to more of the traditional big spring events.

AnnAll is a committee that functions separately from SGFC, comprised of the SGFC Chair and eight other students elected from the general student body, and is primarily responsible for funding long-standing or permanent programs that happen annually, such as student publications.

The committee convenes in May of every year to make funding recommendations. While SGFC takes into consideration whether a RSO has already received funding from AnnAll, the organization otherwise operates independently.

“We’ve funded a majority of events that have come through, and if we can’t fund them in full, we try to give enough so it can still happen,” Endalkatchew said. “We’ve had a lot of events that are really well planned, but really expensive, so as a result, it would be naïve to say I wouldn’t expect [money to run out]. But we have a lot of great events coming up, and I think we’ve tried to encourage different, diverse student activity.”

For instance, SGFC just recently allocated nearly $6,000 to UChicago HYPE’s program at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Though the group requested $14,322, SGFC offered the “bare bones funding they needed for this event,” according to the meeting notes.

“This was a really great opportunity for students to get to see a part of Chicago they don’t usually get to see,” Caruso said. “Dollar for dollar, we’re getting a lot of value out of that.”

SGFC has also stepped up efforts to help RSOs with large events to find funding through alternative channels, both for this year and for annual events in the future.

In addition to e-mail reminders about deadlines and the intricacies of the budget process, SGFC is organizing round-table discussions for RSO leaders to better understand how SG reviews funding requests, along with how to best lobby national organizations, University departments, and AnnAll for money.

With most big-ticket events already funded, SGFC hopes that a combination of late-year thrift, steering groups toward submitting more prudent budgets, and encouraging groups to find outside funding will enable RSOs to put on scheduled spring events.

Despite these efforts, there has been a palpable sense of frustration among other SG members with the process. As money becomes tight, some RSOs are actually being denied funding.

Third-year in the College David Courchaine, chair of CC, said he has called for greater transparency in the funding process and clashed with SGFC and Executive Slate members over the distribution of money by SG.

“I think SGFC has been spending too much money on frivolous events,” Courchaine said. “I have tried to point out these mistakes to the College Council and often, they agree with me. But the way the approval process is designed and the way SG members handle it, my efforts have been wasted.”

“The worst part is, students have no idea what is going on in SG because nobody is telling them,” Courchaine added. “But as long as they get their money, nobody cares. Now that the money has also completely run out, I expect that students will become more interested.”