Student Activity Funding Processes Shift

This school year, there has been a major uptick in campus-wide entertainment events, such as Fun Fridays and Swatoberfest, as a result of changes in student activity funding. With a brand-new administrative office for student activities and new Student Budget Committee procedures, the processes of awarding money to student groups and handling the logistics of groups and events are becoming significantly more efficient.

Sources of change in funding and party-planning this year include the new campus alcohol policies, although the effects are not yet clear. There is potential for the new rules to affect the amount of money available for events outside of parties, by decreasing the necessity for hosts of large parties to request money. A new rule established at the outset of the year banned campus parties larger than 30 guests from serving hard alcohol. Party hosts apply for funding from the Social Affairs Committee, a branch of SBC, and in the past used loopholes to serve alcohol and related items (e.g. food) to guests with the funds. Now that parties can no longer have hard alcohol present, less money is needed or requested by party hosts.

SBC is not yet sure how the policy changes will affect funding requests. The committee allocates money to SAC on an annual basis during its spring budgeting period, so the funds available for parties were doled out prior to the announcement of the new alcohol and alcohol-funding policies. However, SBC leaders Toby Levy ’16 and Dylan Gerstel ’17 believe that in the next round of budgeting, which is coming up in the next month, less money will be necessary for parties.

“It is possible, if not likely, that SAC will receive a smaller budget from SBC this spring to account for those changes,” Levy said.

New funds have also been generated by an increase in the funds made available by SBC. Public records of SBC meeting minutes has shown a slight year-to-year increase in the number of student groups receiving significant funding. Over the first two months of the 2014 spring semester, an average of three groups per weekly meeting were granted funds; this year, the number has increased to four.

Levy does not believe that there currently are or will be more groups asking for money as a result of any particular policy change, or that groups are asking for more than in the past.

“I think that most clubs ask for what they are normally requesting,” he said. “But some are asking for less money because they know how cash-strapped SBC is.”

Levy, Gerstel, and the rest of the committee have designed a new initiative to put funds to more efficient use and to streamline the process of accessing money. SBC has begun conducting mid-year reviews around winter break, during which the committee contacts groups and assesses how much money is being spent and in what ways; if funds are not being spent properly, SBC can reclaim and repurpose the money.

“In most cases this year, SBC worked out an agreement with the clubs by which they ended up clearly stating how they planned to use the money,” Levy said. “Some groups voluntarily gave money back, however, which is great because then we can redistribute it to groups that are in need.”

SBC has also focused efforts on increasing transparency and building stronger connections between the committee and other groups. The hope is that inefficiencies can be eliminated by repurposing funds that are being misused.

“We’ve reached out to the [Intercultural Center] and plan to meet with the [Black Cultural Center] and club sports liaisons to discuss our changes, which we hope will help us be able to provide the maximum amount of money to groups,” Levy said. “We welcome any suggestions and thoughts from the community on how to make the process more efficient and effective.”

Unlike in previous years, many new non-academic events have been hosted this year by the Office of Student Engagement, a merger of the former Residential Life and the Student Activities Offices. Both departments were run by the college; the college also administers the new office, which was announced in March 2014 and began operation at the beginning of this academic year. By contrast, SBC and the subsidiary, SAC, are overseen by students; SAC handles student-run parties, while OSE works with alternative events.

The process of requesting and receiving money is becoming more streamlined, beginning by combining two offices into one. In the past, students have found information on funding difficult to obtain and understand. The SBC website lists no fewer than seven committees and offices from which students can obtain money for various uses. The Student Activities Office, one of the seven, no longer exists.

“[SBC] has a pretty nice website with a student funding breakdown, although it is vastly outdated, considering the Student Activities Office does not even exist anymore,” said OSE intern John Larkin ’17. Planning events also has been a multi-step process, requiring getting in contact with multiple committees and groups unrelated to funding sources, such as Student Government and Public Safety.

Administrators and students have also been working to eliminate redundancies and make event planning and student funding more accessible. For example, Assistant Director of Student Activities and Leadership Mike Elias has helped to build a campus-wide event calendar that allows students to see what spaces and equipment are available, and to organize logistics and community marketing. An online application form on the OSE page is helping to merge several steps of the planning process, essentially building a direct relationship between the office and event hosts while bypassing other obstacles.

Those involved with OSE and SBC see firsthand changes toward more efficient funding.

“There are [more] plans to streamline the process and combine some of the groups to cut out the messiness that often ensues,” Larkin said. Student leaders and administrators alike are working towards cutting down the number of steps to both receive funds and to host an event.

Elias and the OSE will be having a public meeting to discuss these recent initiatives on March 30 at 6 p.m.

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