The Georgetown University Student Association recently conducted an audit of several student advisory boards and found that six umbrella student groups—the Student Activities Commission, the Media Board, the Georgetown Program Board, the Performing Arts Advisory Council, the Center for Social Justice and Club Sports—are holding onto more than $800,000 in contingency accounts.
These contingency accounts, which groups fall back on if the money that GUSA appropriates to them does not cover their yearly expenses, will be a large topic of discussion at GUSA’s annual budget meeting next Wednesday. At the meeting, the GUSA Senate’s Finance and Appropriations Committee will discuss the funding proposals of the six boards and finalize their allocations for the next school year. The GUSA Senate will vote on the budget on April 14.
According to GUSA adviser Erika Cohen Derr, who also sits on the Media Board, the contingency funds have always existed, but grew to their current size after GUSA established the Student Activities Fee in 2001. The money that organizations do not use from the $50 per-student fee collected every semester ends up in the contingency funds.
Eden Schiffmann (COL ‘08), the GUSA Senate Speaker, said that information about these contingency funds was unavailable to GUSA members until the student body passed the Accountability and Reform Amendment (ARA) in October 2006, which gave GUSA the authority to audit the advisory boards and final say as to how much money is appropriated to each board. This year’s funding cycle is the first one since the passage of the ARA in which GUSA had time to access all of the financial information.
Schiffmann said he heard about the funds three years ago, when his friend mentioned to him that a student club had about $100,000 stagnating in a bank account.
“My friend later found out that I wasn’t supposed to know that. When I asked the club for more information, I was basically told, ‘no,’” Schiffman said. This prompted him to champion ARA, which he says has resulted in student groups including information about their contingency funds in their applications for annual GUSA funding.
“There had been rumors about accounts like these, but from my experience it wasn’t until ARA that we had information or any authority over these accounts,” Joe Curran (SFS ’09), a GUSA senator who sits on GUSA’s Finance and Appropriations Committee, said.
Cohen Derr said that information about these contingency funds had been available before the passage of ARA, and that nothing is unique to this year’s budget planning.
“It would be a miscategorization to call this an audit or say that GUSA is requiring new plans for the money,” she said. “This is just the first time we’re treating these contingency funds as more available for different student groups’ use.”
Club Sports Chair Brian Cox (COL ’08) said that there is a rationale for the six groups to have these contingency accounts.
“Clubs like SAC have had issues in the past where events have blown up in their faces and they need the money to salvage the situation,” he said.
“Some of these clubs do have good reasons for having such large reserves,” Schiffmann said. “About six years ago the Hoya had a really bad year and had to dip into the Media Board’s reserves. The real question is, does the Media Board need $220,000 as a back-up?”
Schiffmann suggested that instead some of the money could go to fund the poorly performing Student Activities Endowment, which was established in 2001 along with the Student Activity Fee as a general reserve for student clubs that GUSA could turn to independent of the University. At the very least, he said, as organizations like CSJ write up their annual applications for GUSA funding, there is an expectation for them to include plans to spend down their contingency funds.
The six boards submitted their funding proposals on March 1, after meeting with GUSA in January and February to agree about what financial information would be required.
Molly Keogh (SFS ‘08), the chair for the CSJ advisory board, said that while the CSJ’s plan does detail how it will use its $140,000 in reserves to because it is procedure for their particular program, not because GUSA requested it.
Schiffmann said that while GUSA has met with resistance from student groups about past financial issues, this year’s audit and funding proposal process has been predominantly cooperative.