What Happened with SBC Budget Cuts? Chair Responds to Confusion

The main purpose of this piece is to share my thoughts as the Student Budgeting Committee (SBC) Chair for this chaotic academic year and to clarify some misunderstandings and confusions that I noticed many are having. I believe that transparency is important, and I am writing this article to try and resolve any misunderstanding between SBC and the rest of the student body. In an attempt to offer clarity, I’m providing a timeline that summarizes some of the key developments related to student activities budgeting this year. It must be noted that all opinions expressed here are mine and mine only, and not of any other who I will be mentioning here. 

May 2022: I became SBC Chair for the 2022-2023 academic year. At this point, the Student Activities Fund (SAF) and Capital Reserves Fund (CRF) for the 2022-2023 academic year had not been calculated, and I was unaware of anything that ended up happening in the 2022-2023 academic year. I anticipated this academic year to be a smooth, peaceful one where all student clubs and organizations could receive all the funds they need. 

July 2022: Swarthmore’s fiscal year ended and spending was calculated by the Business Office. 

August 09, 2022: I received an email from the Business Office with fiscal data, which includes the total Student Activities Fund (SAF) spending for the 2021-2022 academic year and the remaining Capital Reserves Fund (CRF) amount for the 2022-2023 academic year. This CRF amount included the approximate $125k that was later transferred to the FLI Office. 

Late August 2022: SBC sent out spring budgeting confirmation emails. This is the initial yearly budget from the budgeting hearings in spring 2022. 

September 2022: The new SBC Board continued to host spring budgeting hearings for student clubs and organizations who did not have a chance to present their annual budget in spring 2022 for the 2022-2023 academic year. 

Late September 2022: The Student Government Organization (SGO) voted in 2020 to transfer all the unused SAF in 2020 to the FLI Office. However, the transaction never happened and was left sitting in the CRF. Throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, SBC was under the impression that the entire CRF was ours. It was not until spring 2022 that the budget transfer was discussed. In late September, the approximate $125k was officially transferred to the FLI Office from the Capital Reserves Fund (CRF). This resulted in a major reduction in the amount of funding that SBC had available to allocate to student clubs and organizations. 

Early October 2022: I recalculated the SAF and remaining CRF for AY 2022-2023 and discovered that SBC had over-allocated funds by a huge amount and was on track to go into a deficit. SBC met with the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) to discuss how we should approach this situation. 

Fall Break: I drafted the SBC Budgeting Guidelines in an effort to enhance transparency and define an official operating system for SBC. SBC planned to announce the budgeting “deficit” as soon as we returned from Fall Break, but we had to postpone the notice due to several logistical issues. 

Late October 2022: SBC hosted a town hall, and fall reallocation began the week after. We understand that the notice was very short, and many students felt unprepared and frustrated. Our initial intention was to resolve this as soon as possible, and I admit that we were not very thoughtful in the details. It was also our first time navigating this kind of situation, and readers will do well to remember that we are full-time students working with minimal guidance.

After fall reallocation, SBC reflected on how we could have done better and improvements we could make to the process. That is why we are now giving earlier notices and changing to self-sign-up meeting slots so that students can present their proposals whenever they are ready. In response to complaints about frequent walking ins and outs from the meeting room due to running overtime and SBC members needing to get dinner, we are now asking clubs and organizations with larger budgets to sign up for multiple consecutive meeting slots in an attempt to avoid this situation. 

Winter Break: The SBC Budgeting Guidelines were finalized and published on the SBC website. 

January 2023: Spring allocation begins. 

February 06-08, 2023: The SBC Board met with SGO and OSE to finalize spring allocations. We were informed that approximately $300k was spent in Fall 2022, meaning that, at that time, we had approximately $340k left in the Student Activities Fund (SAF) to allocate. However, student clubs and organizations requested over $650k during spring allocation. All the requests that were heard by the SBC Board and left the meeting room were reasonable and followed the SBC Budgeting Guidelines. However, we could not realistically approve all the requests due to the discrepancy between the remaining SAF funds and the spring allocation requests. 

During finalizations, the SBC Board struggled to cut down costs. We removed a significant portion of funding for food/catering and team bonding events for all clubs and tried to stay as fair as possible across all student organizations. Even after that, the number did not decrease sufficiently, and the total allocation was still so much higher than the SAF and the CRF combined. That week, the SBC Board worked 36 hours on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, staying up until 6:00 AM, and sacrificing studying time in order to finalize budgets and send out confirmation emails. As students ourselves, we truly wished we had the money to simply say yes to everything, but this was simply not possible.

To further reduce costs, SBC reasoned that the most effective way to avoid budgeting “deficits” was to eliminate all Spring Break trips, which in total cost approximately $60k. SBC communicated with the FLI Council and the Outsiders club, and both organizations said they were okay with removing Spring Break trips if and only if the Ultimate Frisbee teams also canceled their trip. We then asked OSE to communicate with Assistant Athletic Director Max Miller to cancel the trip. SBC sent out all confirmation emails, with Spring Break trips set as pending, as the elimination of Spring Break trips had not yet been finalized.

February 09, 2023: SBC and SGO met prior to the SGO Senate meeting. We were in a joint agreement to remove all Spring Break trips. However, in the middle of the meeting, before we could announce the decision, I received an email from OSE with updates from Max Miller, saying that the plane tickets were bought and that they were no longer refundable. SBC had no choice but to comply. SBC spoke with Max Miller later on about this trip. He expressed support for the Ultimate Frisbee teams, pointing out how they had been going on this trip for the past 10 years, how students train for 50-60 hours during the week, how practice fields do not open until after Spring Break, and how alumni pay out-of-pocket to train with them during the Spring Break practices. In the past, the Ultimate teams were able to just drive the vans down to South Carolina. However, due to a change in college policy on Fleet Management, they could no longer do so, and thus flew on planes instead, increasing costs even more.

February-Present: Many students are unhappy with SBC after confirmation emails were sent. It felt almost as if SBC is obligated to say yes to everyone and is not allowed to say no. If we are to say no, SBC is called disrespectful, unfair, unprofessional, etc. In fact, I’ve received reports from SBC Associates saying that they were made extremely uncomfortable in class due to surrounding peers ranting and yelling about SBC. Yet, these students are commenting on SBC without knowing the full picture. If anyone believes that we, SBC, wanted to do this, they are mistaken. Realistically, there is really not much SBC can do. We are students and we are trying our best to support everyone, but we are in a position where we are forced into an adversarial position against our peers.

From then till now, many student clubs and organizations are still continuously requesting funds, despite knowing that SBC does not have any funds left. You cannot really ask SBC to spend more money when there is no more money in the “bank.” I have also observed that many clubs have unused funds. However, when we ask them to cross-club reallocate their funds to clubs with more urgent needs, they refuse to. They would rather reallocate their unused funds to their later planned events and spend more. Many student clubs are over-budgeting in their proposals and are not willing to let go of unused funds when realistically, they did not even need those funds in the first place. Students are still attempting to take advantage of SBC funds in a period of financial difficulty. 

Reading the Voices article, I learned that many students think of SBC as the primary source of funding instead of college Departments and Offices. However, it is important to understand that the Student Activities Fund (SAF) is limited. For example, one thing that many do not know is that nearly one-third of the SAF spending is made up of fixed costs. SBC funds student clubs that receive PE credit. This number comes to an average of $10k per club, which includes annual coach/training fees, field rentals, tournament registration fees, tournament traveling and lodging fees, etc. These are all costs that SBC really does not have the right to say no to. I have calculated that, as of April 1, Club Sports take up 36.09% of the total allocation. So realistically, how much power does SBC really have? Ultimately, we are also just students, subject to the authority of the college administration.

There were many changes in SBC funding based on the guidelines I drafted. Last year, without those guidelines in place, many students were keeping club equipment as personal items and never returned them. For this reason, Supplies and Equipment expenses have been huge, which is one of the primary reasons $808k was spent last academic year, leading to a budgeting “deficit” this year. With guidelines in place this year, SBC is no longer funding any item of which students can keep possession. There are still many students who are trying to request these kinds of funds, and after getting rejected by SBC, get angry with us. We have also received several reimbursement requests where students are trying to save up meal funds in order to have one large, fancy dinner. It is important to understand that this is not the purpose of food budget allocations. We allocate these funds so that students will not starve, not so that students can go to a steak buffet that costs over $80 per person and have a fancy night out (of course, this reimbursement request was rejected). 

I personally believe the SAF should be primarily serving Personal Hobbies groups, and all other groups should be supported by college Departments and Offices. However, this is not currently the case. The present situation is that SBC funds items that the Athletic Department could fund and would be better off funding. SBC also funds religious and cultural events, which fall within the mission of the Intercultural Center and the Interfaith Center and would be better served by them. SBC also funds students to go to academic conferences, a role that the Academic Division should take. Our students, and especially our affinity groups, are not receiving enough support from the College and SBC must support them the best we can with limited funding. For instance, funding for Ramadan is mainly provided by SBC instead of the Interfaith Center. Swarthmore College, which defines itself as a school that values diversity and inclusion, is not providing enough support for its Muslim Students. It has come to a point where it is only the students supporting students. 

As of now, three Associates have decided to resign from SBC. This year has been stressful for all of us, and we no longer want to be in a position where we are continuously being misunderstood and criticized. We have been trying to accommodate every student club and organization on this campus and be supportive as best we can with the limited resources we have, but we are yet still getting yelled and ranted at. Personally, I have been unable to study in public areas due to always overhearing students talking maliciously about me without understanding. Throughout this academic year, I have been working for SBC 25-30 hours a week as a full-time student, trying to be as responsive as possible, and yet my efforts are not being recognized, much less appreciated.

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