The Student Budget Committee began the semester as inoperative when Yin Xiao ’20, former Chair of SBC, resigned over winter break and when four other members stepped down at the beginning of the Spring 2019 semester. The student-led committee was left with an interim chair and thirteen staff members — rendering them unable to distribute funds to student clubs and groups for events or activities. Xiao did not respond to a request for an interview.
“SBC’s role on campus is to connect chartered student organizations to the student activities fund. The Committee’s funding decisions are not subject to the influence of administrators, making it an independent funding organization ran by students for students,” said Thomas Ferguson ’19, the newly appointed chair of SBC.
On January 31, Andrew Barclay promoted Ferguson from his previous status as an interim chair to chair of SBC for the remainder of the year. However, this period of uncertainty for SBC has still affected students who have tried to request funding.
“We came back from winter break and requested funding from SBC, but it wasn’t fully operative. We tried communicating with some of the adults from the Office of Student Engagement (OSE), but they told us that SBC couldn’t approve funding at the time,” said Vinay Keefe ’21, treasurer of the Men’s Ultimate Frisbee team. “We still haven’t received funding yet from SBC, but it’s fine for now because we have our reserves from the last semester. But for our supplemental requests, or any new needs, then we run into a problem.”
Keefe stated that they are uncertain if their normal expenses will covered by what was determined in the spring budgeting last year, or if they will have to ask for supplemental funding. Additionally, the joint Spring Break trip with both the Men’s and Women’s teams has been set back in terms of planning because of the lack of communication from SBC.
“We’ve had to postpone decisions, but some things need to be paid for,” said Keefe. “For instance, we need to pay for the fields now, otherwise we may not get fields… we can’t have a training trip without fields and training.”
Adora Zhang ’21, treasurer of the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team, added that the time pressure of needing to book and pay for things has resulted in members paying themselves.
“We’re relying on members of our team who volunteered to pay those expenses out of pocket and hope for future reimbursement,” said Zhang. “We’re grateful to have members on our team who can do that, but if we… didn’t have people who could do that I don’t know what we’d be able to do.”
Although SBC has not been functional in these first few weeks and has affected groups like the frisbee teams, Ferguson believes that SBC should remain a student-led organization.
“I think it is important to remember, that the students at Swarthmore directly benefit from SBC being run by students, not administrators. The committee has remained judicious, generous and unbiased in its funding approvals throughout my three years at Swarthmore. If funding decisions were made by administrators certain external pressures may exist and treasurer proposals may not receive a critically unbiased evaluation, and certainly not by an 8 person committee of peers,” Ferguson said.
Because of the situation, the process of appointing a new chair took longer than expected.
“Given the circumstances, Andrew Barclay reached out to me and asked that I fill in the role. I actually interviewed for the chair position for the past two years in a row, so it was surprising to get it … senior spring. I also meet the year-long service requirement to be eligible for the position as outlined in the constitution,” Ferguson said. “This is my third year on SBC, and I have been through two spring budgetings, so I believed I was a natural fit for the chair position.”
Despite the new appointment, SBC has not convened or distributed requested funds, although Ferguson does promise that it will become active again soon.
“For now, I cannot say anything as to what contingencies will be put in place to prevent this from happening in the future,” Ferguson said. “My primary focus is returning SBC to full functionality so that clubs may get the funds they need. I was also tasked with filling four SBC vacancies, which I have since filled since my appointment as chair. I understand people’s frustrations with the slow start, and apologize for any inconveniences.”
Even though SBC’s lack of functionality has been inconvenient, Ferguson believes that this may serve as a reminder for club treasurers to think carefully through their spring budget.
“An event like this stresses the importance of club treasurers thoroughly thinking through their club’s spring budget so that they have funding going into the year for recurring events or regular club activities. I know it is impossible to completely plan ahead, but a thorough spring budget proposal may have left clubs with some cushion if they needed immediate funding while SBC was not fully functional,” said Ferguson.
According to Zhang, there are unexpected scenarios that spring budgeting cannot account for — which happened to the Women’s team this year and their division into two teams.
“There’s no way we could have foreseen this last spring when we budgeted,” said Zhang. “This is the type of situation that supplemental funding was created for, and the fact that SBC was not functional at this time… was really frustrating.”
While Keefe and Zhang both explained that they do not have negative attitudes towards SBC or the OSE, they stated that there is a need for systems to be put in place to prevent this from happening again.
“I really hope that… mechanisms can be put in place so that the adults in OSE in extreme situations like this can approve funding if it’s consistent with prior funding and the club’s charter and constitution… so that this doesn’t happen again,” Keefe said.
SBC will convene on February 10 for the purpose of addressing the issues that have arisen from the last three weeks.