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.
Here at the beginning of a new academic year, SBC wants to strengthen its relationship with the clubs its supports as well as make e our goals and methods intelligible. We want to take this opportunity to clearly state our mission, present our methods, dispel misconceptions, and present our ideas moving forward.
In the student council constitution, The Student Budget Committee (SBC) is charged simply with “allocat[ing] and administer[ing] the Student Activities Account (SAA) in accordance with th[e] Constitution, the SAA rules, the needs of campus organizations, and a policy of fiscal prudence.” Informally, however, SBC has always operated in a utilitarian fashion, offering greater financial support to groups with greater numbers of people or groups whose events draw from large and diverse swaths of the campus community.
However, it has become clear that while legislating to the majority is often effective, such a method is not always the best way to operate. Many club representatives made persuasive cases regarding the value of small but dedicated groups whose events might not attract large crowds but whose goals and messages are incredibly valuable, particularly at an institution like Swarthmore. Although SBC feels that our current greatest-funds-for-the-greatest-number approach is suitable in most situations, we recognize that at times we must break with this notion. We intend to consider this in all discussions moving forward.
With regards to oversight, the SBC is a branch of StuCo, and the latter must approve all of the committee’s Spring Budgeting funding decisions. Furthermore, any member of student government can appeal a decision made by SBC. In fact, this summer, two budgetary decisions were repealed and were subsequently revisited. StuCo also has the jurisdiction to change the bylaws of SBC and a StuCo representative sits in on all SBC meetings. In addition to StuCo, the Swarthmore Business Office, an administrative office, shares oversight over the SBC. The Business Office must authorize all checks issued by SBC over $500 and the SBC Chairperson and Manager(s) meet with the business office weekly to update them about spending.
Beyond directly funding clubs, SBC is responsible for funding The Student Affairs Committee (SAC), The Forum for Free Speech (FFS), and the Movie Committee, meaning that a large chunk of our initial budget (around $530,000 this upcoming year) goes directly to those committees who then redistribute that money for other events. After funding these three crucial committees we usually have $300,000 dollars or less to allocate among all student groups.
Lastly, when the committee makes a decision, it does so with two things in mind: 1) the best interests of the club and 2) sustaining the budget for further allocations. When SBC is forced to make cuts, however, we do so very deliberately and carefully. We encourage committee members not to tell group representatives what to cut, but instead ask treasurers what they themselves think they can cut. This year we had to cut extensively because we chartered a number of new groups, putting increased strain on our budget. Going forward we intend to limit the number of groups chartered in order to offer more to established clubs.
Although we cannot speak for committees of the past, we have to emphasize that SBC absolutely does not discriminate against or favor any group over another.
We often hear misconceptions about the disparity in funding between club sports and other student clubs. Unfortunately, many club sports require expensive equipment, league fees and transportation costs. In addition, a number of club sports need equipment to meet safety requirements. Because club sports are not funded by the athletics department, it falls to the SBC exclusively to fund them, taking up a significant portion of our budget.
Another reason for this difference is the various different sources of funding available to academic, cultural, and religious organizations on campus. Specific departments will often fund academic groups, (for example, the economics department may provide funds to an entrepreneurial group) while the Dean’s and President’s offices subsidize trips to religious and culture conferences as well as events held on campus. Since club sports do not have access to these different forms of funding, they require more money from SBC.
The SBC chairperson is also mistakenly believed to possess far more power than in reality. The chairperson cannot vote on any decisions except in the case of a tie and therefore has the least formal power of anyone on the committee. In addition, the chairperson’s salary is approved by Dean Mike Elias and the payroll office and subscribes to the same hourly pay grade system that all student workers use. Between discussions with administrators, preparing for budget meetings, handling office hours, and meeting with group leaders, the chair often works 10-15 hours per week.
We should make something abundantly clear: Highlighting these misconceptions is not meant to hide that fact that we do possess some formal power. However, not only are SBC members dedicated to providing funding equitably, we are also not the unbridled committee we are sometimes thought to be. As mentioned, there are administrative and student checks and we always respect them.
Although we hope we have dispelled some common misconceptions, the SBC is not without flaws. In order to rectify past issues, SBC in conjunction with StuCo is looking into the possibility of making our bylaws more stringent and, perhaps most importantly: clearer. We intend to get the ball rolling on these discussions in early September and welcome all ideas from the broader campus community. Current suggestions including term limits for chairs, mandated check-ins with student groups, and daily updates and instructions regarding budgeting on our website.
In addition to that, a number of students have also raised concerns that proposing for funds can feel daunting. Although we take our work seriously, there is no reason that proposing to SBC should be an uncomfortable experience. We hope that by improving upon the mentor system (implemented with moderate success last spring) that transparency between group liaisons and the SBC will increase. With increased information prior to proposals, club members will not feel confused or scared by the process.
Although various committee members met regularly with administrators last year, a high turnover rate among the administration means we will have to forge new relationships. We have already reached out to Amer Ahmed, the new IC director, to begin dialogue and help work between the IC and SBC run smoothly. We began conversations with IC fellows and deans about implementing a budget writing tutorial at the beginning of the year, and we would love to make this a reality. However, we do not want such a program only in the IC, but also in the BCC and among various other groups including club sports and religious/affinity groups.
Extracurricular and club activities are an important aspect of college life and the process for funding activities should be clear and stress free. With your input and our desire to make proposing to SBC seamless, we foresee a bright future between SBC and student clubs.
The Student Budget Committee
Dylan Gerstel’17 Manager
Yein Pyo’16 Manager
Toby Levy’16 Chair