Student Clubs Navigate Early Semester Budget Freeze

On Jan. 30, a freeze on the Student Activities Fund (SAF) that began as a result of an administrative audit of the budgeting process ended. All purchasing appointments to request funds for student organizations were canceled indefinitely by the Office of Student Engagement when the freeze began on Dec.11. Chartered student organizations are allocated funding each semester through only the SAF, which is managed by the Student Budgeting Committee (SBC).

In an email to the college community, the SBC cited the number of reallocations made by clubs regarding food and catering expenditures and events being held in Parrish Hall as reasons behind the audit, alluding to club events held in support of the Student Palestine Coalition (SPC)’s sit-in in Parrish Hall last semester

In a statement sent to The Phoenix, the First-Generation Low Income (FLI) Council highlighted their dependency on the SAF to serve the college’s roughly 300 FLI students and outlined the past difficulties the group has had in securing funding.

 “In the past, FLI Council was denied access to [Student Government Organization’s] Green Fund twice by Swarthmore’s administration, meaning FLI Council is forced to rely on SBC’s timely and delicate decision-making process to maintain these services,” the executive board of FLI Council said in a statement.  Because of this dependency, FLI Council was heavily impacted by the club budget freeze. 

“Without access to our budget, we were unable to do a final restock of our food pantry for members of the community who are unable to return home over winter break,” explained the council. “Thankfully, the FLI Office was able to take on the costs of the last restock; however, with so many students dependent on our services, our work is incredibly sensitive to disruptions like this one.” 

Similarly, Swarthmore Mock Trial relies on the SAF to fund lodging and tournament registration fees. According to Celia Kiesel ’24, because of the freeze, she and the mock trial team were unable to access pre-approved funds when away at a competition at Wesleyan University from Jan. 27 to 28. 

“We had submitted our budget requests for [the Wesleyan tournament] Nov. 30 last semester. [SBC] sent us an email, halfway through winter break, where they said, ‘[the freeze is] still ongoing, but we think it’s not going to affect your spring budget,” she said. “[Closer to the tournament], we sent three or four follow-up emails to them, and they just stopped responding to us. I paid out of my pocket for our registration fee, which was hundreds of dollars.” 

Noting the sudden freeze, the SBC clarified their and the Office of Student Engagement’s (OSE) lack of knowledge of the decision. 

“We want to clarify that the Student Budgeting Committee was not given any prior notice of this audit, nor were we involved in its decision-making, and we learned about the decision in the same manner and at the same time as the rest of the student body,” the email read. 

Vice President for Finance and Administration Rob Goldberg, in an email to The Phoenix, explained that student organizations would not be subject to reduced funding or further sanctions based on their support for the SPC sit-in but for violating the pledge between club treasurers and the college on the use of funds. 

“We did not restrict funding due to any student position, and we would not do so in the future,” he said. “The treasurer of every club signs a pledge that their club will only use funds for authorized purposes. If a club violates that pledge, [their] funding may be subject to restrictions.”

When asked what potential outcomes the audit could lead to, Goldberg stated that “as long as student clubs use their funds for their intended purposes, there should be no additional impact.” 

Approximately a week after the spring semester began, the SAF was unfrozen, and student organization allocations from SBC began releasing on Jan. 30. Many student organization leaders noticed significant cuts to their proposed budgets. 

FLI Council explained that as a result of both the delay and the $20,000 cut to their proposed budget, the organization would have to cut community programs, jeopardizing funding for “any activities over spring break for students forced to stay.” FLI Council acknowledged that SBC was constrained by the OSE audit but suspects that as one of the member organizations of SPC, they are being retaliated against for involvement with the two-week SPC sit-in in Parrish Hall. 

“We would rather not speculate, but we cannot help but feel that we and other student groups are being punished for advocating on the behalf of our communities last semester,” the council said. “If this were true, it is an incredibly negligent move on behalf of administration when these funds are being used to provide services to our communities that Swarthmore’s administration itself does not provide.”

Kiesel stated that frustration from student organization leaders also comes from a lack of transparency about how much control SBC has over the allocation and budget management process. Student club leaders did not receive any communication or clarification from the college after the original SBC email. 

“SBC emailed us when the audit started [and said] ‘We have no control over the audit. We didn’t know it was coming in advance. We couldn’t have planned around it.’ That’s understandable.” she said. “If it’s out of your control, it’s out of your control. It’s more so that once January started, we sent multiple emails, and they had no answer.”

SBC Associate Wyatt Brannon ’26 denied claims that the administration was involved in spring allocation. They explained in an interview with The Phoenix that the audit did not impact SBC’s operations.  

“We continue to allocate funds the way we would normally. We haven’t received any kind of order from the administration. There has been no impact on our allocation decisions or SBC’s decisions because of what the administration is doing,” Brannon said. 

Brannon stated that SBC is aware of clubs’ grievances with spring allocations and reiterated that the audit came as a surprise to both organizations and SBC. 

“We’re trying our best at SBC. We were blindsided by all this like everyone else. It’s been a very difficult winter for us,” they said. “In a lot of the cases where club funding was cut, we’re just requesting more information, so we may still give the club the requested amount. It is simply that we need more information on how they’re going to use it.” 

 In an email sent on Feb. 5, SBC encouraged organizations unsatisfied with their allocation decision to request an appeal with a breakdown of costs, event details, and reasoning on “how the funding supports the primary function of the club.” 

“We understand that budget decisions may not always align perfectly with the needs and expectations of student organizations,” the email read. “We highly encourage clubs to submit the requested information, as it indicates that the SBC is interested in funding your experience, event, or initiative but requires more details to make an informed decision. Additionally, if necessary, clubs may request an appeal by simply writing a letter and emailing it to us.” 

As funds reopen for student clubs, SBC will be working with clubs to clarify budgets and handle appeals. 

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