Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Many students find the Student Budgeting Committee (SBC), the group of Swatties charged with paying out funds from the Student Activities Fee and its own long-term account to student groups, as well as the Social Affairs Committee (SAC), Olde Club, Drama Board, the Movie Committee, and the Forum for Free Speech, hard to understand. Over the past couple of years, however, SBC has been taking steps to make more information available and transparent to students who want funding for group activities.
Jesse Dashefsky ’13, who, prior to retiring last semester, was chair for two semesters, said that “a problem SBC has is an informational one.”
Jacob Adenbaum ’14, who is chair this semester, agreed that there are problems with the way information is presented on their website. “We have a lot of resources online, but they’re not structured well.”
As such, Adenbaum has been focusing on making all of their resources more available and more clear. “Oftentimes, one of the most effective ways we disseminate information is when proposals are made,” he said. “I’m not happy with this. It’s not as efficient as I wish it were.”
Treasurers of student groups must submit proposals to SBC in order to receive funding. Daniel Block ‘16, who was the treasurer of College Democrats this semester, said that there is a degree of trial-and-error learning during the proposal process. “A lot of treasurers learn as they go,” he said, “I went in requesting things that I didn’t know they would not fund.”
The SBC webpage has been revised with ease of communication in mind. Whereas students in the past had to negotiate a chart to see who they should contact about funding, the new website has a form that efficiently gives specific information about emails and forms. “We’re moving towards a system that is automated,” Dashefsky said.
As Dashefsky put it, SBC runs into two types of informational problems. “Either freshmen [are] new and don’t understand how funding works, or seniors or juniors [are] trying a new type of event and don’t know what to do,” he said.
According to Adenbaum, another issue that SBC is trying to amend has to do with the type of groups that usually get funding. “What I want to see more than anything else is more outreach to groups that we’ve traditionally underserved,” such as smaller religious or cultural groups, he said, “What I think a lot of small groups don’t understand is that there’s money available to do some of the things they want to do. They could get off the ground with these funds.”
To help these groups see what’s possible with SBC funding, SBC has put all student group budgets on their webpage this year for the first time ever. Adenbaum said that this is important “because it means other groups can see what kinds of things we’re funding.”
He added that although SBC’s rules for funding groups have more or less stayed the same over the past few years, “There have been changes in what we fund. It changes from committee to committee.”
Erin Ching ’16, the treasurer of Cycling Club, said she found out that “If you’re a treasurer for the first time, the SBC is in some ways very approachable and in some ways intimidating and hard to navigate.” The Cycling Club, which was restarted in the middle of last semester, used SBC funds to redo its Bike Share partnership with StuCo.
“The website is very clear about what you do need to do in order to get money, that’s not to say that the actual process of getting funds is easy,” Ching said. As for the amount of planning students must do before asking SBC for funds, she said, “you need to know exactly what you want when you go to SBC.”
Block also said that his experience with SBC turned out well. College Democrats hold a few yearly events that require SBC funding, from State of the Union viewings to a lobbying trip to the capital. “I was satisfied with the amount of money we got,” Block said, “I thought that they were quite helpful.”
Although Block said his experience was mostly positive, he raised concerns about how final budgets were changed after being submitted to the committee, saying, “I would have liked more explanation.” He said, “obviously that’s a lot to expect from a small group of people managing a lot of money.”
The Dean’s office, which is a source of money for some student events, is also working to make it easier for students to get funding. For the last two years, Westphal has been meeting with SAC to “try to define who’s paying for what so we don’t have to figure it out again every year,” she said. “We’re undertaking a big initiative to make a how-to checklist for every event” so that students can spend time planning their event instead of learning how to work out funding.
She said that she was impressed with the partnership Dashefsky and Adenbaum have, saying that “Swarthmore students have more control over their money than most other students in the same position.”
Correction: Jesse Dashefsky was chair of SBC for one year, not three years as originally stated.