Saxa Politica: GUSA and SAC: let the games begin

October 29, 2009

Ask almost any club on campus: funding student activities is a problem. Club Sports scrounges every year to take consistently competitive teams to national tournaments. The free newspapers that used to be a regular fixture of campus mornings are nowhere to be found. Georgetown’s WGTB Radio doesn’t have a standing concert budget, and, as a result, has difficulty making long term plans or bringing in high profile acts for campus concerts.

Six advisory boards share the responsibility for the convoluted process that allocates funds to student clubs. These six boards — the Georgetown University Student Association, the Student Activities Commission, Club Sports, the Performing Arts Advisory Council, the Media Board, and the Center for Social Justice — control the money that comes from the Student Activities Fee.

SAC is by far the biggest advisory board with 90 clubs to oversee. However, SAC has a nasty reputation for denying clubs’ requests for money.

“When I became SAC Chair, one of my friends asked me, ‘How does it feel to be the most hated person on campus?’ and that’s kind of true,” SAC Chair Aakib Khaled (SFS ‘10) said.

All this animosity means one thing: SAC needs to change the way it grants funding to clubs.
The good news is that there is more than one option on the table. The most ambitious is GUSA President Calen Angert’s (MSB ‘11) dream of a Georgetown Fund, which would be a new advisory board for students to come to for cash, particularly ones that want to bypass SAC’s nitpicking.

Angert and other GUSA members are still looking for the money to create the Georgetown Fund, but they shouldn’t waste their time. The fund would needlessly complicate the existing system on campus, especially if it would draw from the same pool of money that SAC and other groups already use.
Moreover, if a SAC club went to the Georgetown Fund to get extra money, a SAC Commissioner would still have to approve the club’s activities, according to Khaled. This redundancy would make the Georgetown Fund too much of a hassle to be worth using.

SAC reform is a better option. If SAC does not increase its transparency and accountability, those reforms may never happen.

Take, for instance, the way SAC Chairs are named. Last year, as a result of a battle with GUSA over accountability issues, SAC promised to select their chairs by a committee that would include a current GUSA representative.

However, no such process occurred when the 2010-2011 Chair, Ethel Amponsah (NHS ‘11), was named a few weeks ago. Instead, Amponsah was named quietly by her fellow board members.
Khaled insists that SAC is trying to implement some changes that would increase their transparency and accountability. The problem is, however, that without a higher organization to report to, the groups is reforming at its own pace.

Club funding is going to be a hot-button issue this year, and changing the process won’t be easy. The solution lies in the willingness of SAC and GUSA to cooperate with one another. GUSA needs to decide to work with SAC, not attack it. Extending its recommendations for SAC to the rest of the funding organizations, for instance, would not only show that GUSA doesn’t have a vendetta against SAC, but also that it wants to improve club funding across the board. SAC, for its part, should recognize that making itself accountable to GUSA can only improve its relationship with the student body.
If GUSA and SAC try to act separately, they will only complicate things further. In order to make the improvements that the fund-allocation process so desperately needs, they must work together.

Is club funding your hot button issue? E-mail Lillian at


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Matt S.

First, regarding the Georgetown Fund:

1. The current ‘Access to Benefits’ system where SAC has to approve every club event has to go. It is an abomination and hampers clubs severely. We need to change to a system of presumed compliance, and if it is brought to SAC’s attention that a club is violating A2B, they can be punished. That should be at the forefront of any reform.

2. Assuming that the A2B issues are resolved, and GUSA can freely give money to any club or individual (like nearly every other Ivy League or peer university), it would not needlessly complicate the current system.

First, there exists significant amounts of money that are not being utilized; not in the least of which is the $310,000 we shovel away into this pointless endowment fund every year, but also additional monies to another pointless reserve fund (independent of the nearly $1m the other boards have), which is currently at $68,000. So any GUSA fund would not seriously impinge on the funding boards’ abilities to distribute funds.

Second, this would be a boon to both clubs and students. SAC is there to ensure clubs get an even shake in distributing money; even its detractors admit that. Club funding shouldn’t be brought in danger of being politicized owing to the whims of who is in charge (although under SAC the past few years, it unfortunately has been — c.f. GUGS). However, once an initial allocation is made, the democratically-elected and accountable GUSA members should have a modest amount of money to give out to clubs at their own discretion.

Additionally, the new Georgetown Fund would be able to give grants to individuals as well, much like the ReImagine Georgetown Grants. If anyone on campus — student, club, club leader — has a good idea, GUSA would be able to fund it. Consider it as a democratic supplement to SAC.

3. There does need to be decisive change in how SAC operates, however.

1. Event-by-event, byline-by-byline, soda can-by-soda can funding stifles clubs. Clubs should be given one yearly or semesterly allocation of money (in line with previous years, unless otherwise justified) and allowed free reign to spend it as they see fit, within set guidelines. At the end of the year (or semester), they would be audited to make sure they had spent the funds properly (e.g. the College Dems didn’t go out and buy condoms with it, violating A2B). If the clubs did improperly spend money or improperly accounted for it, clubs as well as club leaders could face disciplinary action. This would keep clubs in line without the needless bureaucratic hassles of SAC.

If clubs run out of funding before the end of the grant, or if they want to try for additional funding because of unexpected events, they can either go to GUSA or back to SAC. Upon asking for additional money, THEN SAC could do event-by-event allocation. It would be proper at that point, since a club would probably be going to SAC asking for a specific amount of money to hold X event.

2. There needs to be an Appeals Board, in order for clubs to appeal denials of allocations. This appeals board should contain both members of GUSA and SAC, as well as club leaders. Currently there is no appeals process in SAC, which is ridiculous. There needs to be a check on the system.

3. SAC members must be held accountable and transparent. No more closed-door votes. Currently, the outgoing Chair elects the new Chair, who then selects every member of SAC.

Imagine if GUSA ran that way! Pat Dowd chooses Calen, who then hand-picks the GUSA Senate. But there’s a difference: GUSA doesn’t control $400,000 in club financing and have the final say on whether any club on campus can hold an event. IT’S F’ING INSANE!

GUSA needs to have the final say on electing the SAC Chair and Vice-Chair, and have the ability to remove any SAC members. This is how it used to be, until SAC unilaterally declared independence from GUSA, aided by a memo from Dr. Olson. Whatever the merits Dr. Olson might have thought then, it’s clear the problem has only grown worse.

The GUSA that SAC distanced itself from in 2006 was a far cry different from the current GUSA today. This was before the creation of the Senate its increased financial oversight powers. GUSA has reformed, and now should SAC.

Anyway, just my two cents.

Matt S.

Also, as to extending the recommendations to the other funding boards:

I’m all for it. But there hasn’t been a student outcry. SAC controls almost all the clubs on campus. Almost any club leader can tell you horror stories about SAC.

Horror stories about CSJ? I honestly don’t know. I remember that one time they canceled a future New Orleans trip because there was some drinking involved (I think it was of-age drinking, too – bizzare). I think an Appeals Board would be useful for this, even if it might be barely used.

But a lack of immediate action on these other boards should not preclude SAC from changing. SAC is 98% of the problem. It shouldn’t be allowed to stall until we sort out the other 2%.