Don’t give GUSA power over your funds

February 4, 2010

The long-standing rift between the Georgetown University Student Association and the advisory boards that dole out funding to clubs has come to a head, with potentially disastrous implications for student organizations. This Sunday, GUSA will vote on legislation that will strip the advisory boards of their votes in the annual budgeting process, giving GUSA sole control over the allocation of half the approximately $620,000 collected through the Student Activities Fee, according to figures provided by GUSA Senator Colton Malkerson (COL `13). This bill would give an inordinate amount of power to GUSA, an organization that has repeatedly shown itself to be incapable of handling such responsibility.

This highly problematic bill is emblematic of GUSA’s tendency to pursue its long-running feud with the Student Activities Commission at the expense of the other, better-run advisory boards. Although some of the reforms in the six-point plan GUSA presented last semester were misguided and inapplicable to the other advisory boards, on the whole it was a decent first attempt at improving SAC. However, GUSA has not given the commissioners enough time to implement the proposed reforms. Instead, GUSA is inappropriately conflating SAC reform with the budget allocation process—attempting to leverage widespread animosity toward SAC into support for this unwise power grab.

The bill’s proponents have argued that advisory boards should not be able to allocate and vote on funding proposals because they have an inherent conflict of interest—no board wants to challenge another and risk having it’s own funding cut, they claim. In addition to grossly misrepresenting how the budgeting process actually works, these senators are glossing over the fact that by giving GUSA—whose budget also draws from the Student Activities Fee—sole control over funding, this bill would exacerbate the conflict of interest issue by allowing GUSA to give itself funding without any peer oversight.

Furthermore, GUSA’s demonstrated ignorance of the important details of the club funding process raises serious questions about its ability to responsibly allocate funds to all of Georgetown’s student organizations. Last semester, for example, GUSA senators arbitrarily demanded that advisory boards reduce their reserve funds to 10 percent of their annual budget, a stipulation that GUSA has since backed away from, after learning that complying with such an order would put many boards in a precarious financial position. Just this week, the GUSA Senate realized it would have to reset rules for the upcoming GUSA executive elections since no one could locate the legislation passed last year to govern the election process.

By granting GUSA so much power, this bill would create the enormous potential for manipulation of the funding process. Even if the current batch of senators could be trusted to be unbiased arbiters of the budget, students will have a strong incentive to enter largely uncontested and uncompetitive GUSA races with the primary intention of securing money for their clubs. Some proponents of the bill argue that since GUSA is elected, it is guaranteed to represent the interests of the student body more fairly than unelected advisory boards. But with only 25 percent of the undergraduate population voting in the most recent GUSA Senate election and eight out of 24 Senators seated after uncontested elections (with three or fewer votes cast for opponents), these claims ring hollow. Giving GUSA sole control over club budgets would not democratize the process, but it would concentrate power in the hands of the most historically dysfunctional organization on campus.

That description could also fit SAC, which has upset many students who justifiably complain about the opaque decision-making and the lack of an effective appeals process. But whatever SAC’s failings may be, students should remember that the advisory boards were created so that knowledgeable, dedicated, and passionate club leaders could represent student groups and advocate for their best interests. Even GUSA’s own survey results show general satisfaction with the four funding boards that operate independently of SAC. SAC reform is necessary, but it should not be used as an excuse for allowing GUSA to co-opt the budget allocation process currently in place. Even the most well-intentioned GUSA senators cannot have the same nuanced understanding of the needs of student groups, which the advisory boards focus on exclusively.

Students should contact their GUSA Senator and Speaker of the Senate Adam Talbot, as well as attend GUSA’s meeting at 8:15 PM on Monday, February 8th in Healy 105 to express their opposition to this unsound bill.

Editorial Board
The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead.

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Comments 22

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    The arguments raised in this editorial have all been addressed and refuted. The Voice has clearly abandoned any reasonable, objective analysis of the proposed reform.

    Any interested student interested in the facts should watch this evening’s town hall event: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/4429059.

    Also visit Box.net/GUSAsenate for bill language and summaries.

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    This editorial is incorrect in a number of ways, the most glaring of which comes at the very end. The meeting where the vote will take place is at 8:15 PM on Monday, February 8th in Healy 105. By all means contact me with any questions or concerns.

    Adam Talbot
    GUSA Speaker

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    “But whatever SAC’s failings may be, students should remember that the advisory boards were created so that knowledgeable, dedicated, and passionate club leaders could represent student groups and advocate for their best interests.”

    They may have been created with that purpose in mind, but can any actually be said to serve such a purpose? And even if you want to make the case that one or more boards are, the argument suffers from the same problem that the editorial claims GUSA has — people are different from structure.

    Unelected, unaccountable and non-transparent bureaucrats (with no requirement to have been a club leader, mind you) do not equal a sound structure with which to base the allocation of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    “Even if the current batch of senators could be trusted to be unbiased arbiters of the budget, students will have a strong incentive to enter largely uncontested and uncompetitive GUSA races with the primary intention of securing money for their clubs.”

    GUSA allocates funding to advisory boards, not clubs themselves. Even if the president of the College Democrats got elected, he could not ‘earmark’ money for the College Dems. And even if people think that a Dem president-cum-senator advocating more money to appropriate to SAC is a problem, an easy fix would be to ban Senators that are in executive positions on clubs to serve on the FinAp committee. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    As to the claim that GUSA is unrepresentative, I would only point out the election process as well as the numerous checks and balances built in. The Finance & Appropriations Committee is composed of Senators elected by the full Senate; all bills passed from the committee require a 7 day period before voting in order to elicit student comment and debate. The budget must be passed by 2/3rds of the Senators. The budget then must be signed into law by the President, elected by all students. If either the Senate fails to pass, or the President vetoes, the process repeats, including the comment waiting periods. Of course, the editorial mentions none of this.

    Come on, fellas, there might be legitimate concerns with the funding process, but this editorial just shows a lack of basic research.

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    One last point:
    “Even GUSA’s own survey results show general satisfaction with the four funding boards that operate independently of SAC.”

    No, it did not. With the exception of the Media Board, advisory boards did not fare well. SAC fared the worst, natch, but CSJ did not score well either. Neither did Club Sports perform too admirably. And no one from PAAC responded, it being the personal fiefdom of Ron Lignelli. Seriously.

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    Thank you for the information Adam. The ed should be updated the reflect the time and location of the meeting.

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    I’d like to echo the previous Matt’s statements – there’s much to this article that simply isn’t correct. In fact, most of this article rings the familiar echo of Voice…from two months ago.

    I hope that I’m not the only one who has noticed that the Voice editorials haven’t changed the slighest, despite two months of negotiations, changes, and revisions to the bylaws. GUSA and FinAP has been willing to offer the Voice numerous opportunities to watch us as we developed this bill. If the editors sincerely have a problem (versus what appears to be their rehash of old fearmongering), I dare them to contact us or take the time to review all the existing information.

    Watching the Town Hall video (posted above) would be a good start.

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    It is unfortunate when a few members of The Voice have a personal vendetta against GUSA. I am ashamed at the moment that the Voice considers themselves a news outlet for Georgetown University. This editorial shows an inability to do basic research into an issue. The claims in this editorial are outrageous and have been refuted before.

    I suggestion any interested students watch the Funding Reform Town Hall (link above) and judge for yourself.

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    Re: Matt

    So let me get this straight, GUSA’s big complaint is that the Funding Board isn’t allocating funds fairly between the various advisory boards?

    The advisory boards that right now come to a consensus decision about how to split the funds? The advisory boards whose chairs have voiced opposition to this plan?

    If you’re going to allege that the process is unfair, can you point to which board(s) you think are getting short-changed by the process?

    It seems to me that student leaders are expressing frustration with getting money from their own boards, not that a SAC group can’t get money because the Media board stole it all.

    Why would abandoning an appropriations process that gives all boards equal vote and asks them to come to consensus be better for fair distribution of funds? No one seems to be complaining about this as a problem except GUSA!

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    I don’t understand all of the attacks on this editorial – I wish there was a “like” button on here because it raises all of the extremely serious flaws in this bill and in this proposal as a whole.

    The part I want to reiterate most is simply that even if we can trust the current senators on the FinApp committee to do this fairly and openly and in a representative and responsible manner, we have DEFINITELY seen over the past years that the senate is too unstable an organization to trust with this kind of extreme authority in the long run.

    They said at the meeting last night that this reform is intended to be a “long-term” solution. While I agree with them that the GUSA Fund was a necessary short-term solution but that it was definitely only wise in the short term, this process is NOT a viable long-term answer to Georgetown’s finance problems because of the volatility of the Senate’s membership.

    Does anybody care to note that the FinApp committee only has two returning senators on it? Nick Troiano, a very apt and smart guy and the chair of the committee (my former position), was a senator last year but not on the FinApp committee. George Roche, another smart and reliable senator, has been a senator for at least two years. Good for them and it’s nice to see that.

    But consider that FIVE of the seven members of that committee alone are brand new senators, with the bill’s author being a freshman. What if a majority (or a vocal minority) of those five people were not so responsible as these ones happen to be? What if the senate as a whole were not informed enough to pick knowledgeable or responsible members to this committee in the first place, since the committee is (necessarily) selected so very early in the Senate’s year that most senators don’t know its purpose or the details or extent of its responsibilities?

    All in all, this replaces an inefficient system with an extremely volatile and unstable one. To the tune of over half a million dollars per year for student clubs, I strongly prefer the inefficient one with more directed and specific efforts at SAC reform.

    And despite my huge respect for Nick Troiano and Matt Stoller (who is still all over these boards even 2 years out of Georgetown), I think a lot of what’s being said in defense of this proposal is a bit Orwellian and that they just don’t want to see their hard work crafting it go for naught.

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    this editorial makes me wonder if anyone from the voice was even at the town hall meeting and listened to what the senators had to say.

    the answers to those concerns are yes and, evidently, no.

    it almost seems as if the editorial was prewritten. or maybe it was somewhat recycled?

    judge for yourself:


    GUSA shouldn’t control student fees

    Written by Editorial Board on December 3, 2009 in Editorials.


    Between finals, basketball season, and impending holiday vacations, Georgetown students would be forgiven for missing the ongoing dispute between the Georgetown University Student Association and club funding boards. But if students don’t pay attention to GUSA’s funding proposals, they’ll miss one of the most significant—and most potentially damaging—changes to campus life in recent years.

    GUSA kicked off its funding reform movement last month by creating the Georgetown Fund, which will use money from funding board reserves to form a GUSA-controlled fund for clubs. While the Georgetown Fund makes the already byzantine club funding process more confusing, and raises questions about GUSA’s ability to distribute funds effectively, it does not seriously threaten Georgetown’s funding structure.

    More concerning is legislation, currently under consideration by GUSA’s Finance and Appropriations Committee, that would affect distribution of the Student Activities Fee. Currently, the fee is divided between GUSA and six funding boards, including the Advisory Board for Club Sports, the Student Activities Commission, and the Georgetown Programming Board. Each board currently has a vote on how the funds are distributed. The new legislation would strip funding boards of their votes, reducing them to mere advisory bodies, and give GUSA sole control over distributing hundreds of thousands of student-provided dollars per year.

    This legislation would threaten the funding sources for clubs and sports teams that receive a cut of the Student Activities Fee through their funding board. Club sports teams, for example, rely almost entirely on the fee for their budgets. Denying the Advisory Board of Club Sports a vote on the distribution of the fee could threaten the future of Georgetown’s successful club sports teams. At best, funding boards would have to grovel to win the support of GUSA senators. At worst, successful clubs that have improved student life could be forced to stop operating due to GUSA’s uninformed decisions.

    Although the reform affects all six of the funding boards and their clubs, it’s hard to believe the legislation isn’t aimed at SAC, the Finance and Appropriations Committee’s long-time bete noire. SAC has repeatedly and imperiously ignored compromises made with GUSA over appointments of SAC commissioners. In a GUSA survey conducted in November, leaders of clubs that receive SAC money gave SAC the lowest ratings of any advisory board.

    Clearly, there is a need to reform SAC, but there is no reason why reform needs to jeopardize other, more functional funding boards. Giving the Senate absolute control over the fee threatens student clubs and student life on campus, and should be opposed.GUSA shouldn’t control student fees

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    Matt Wagner (the previous FinAp Chair) said before:

    “The part I want to reiterate most is simply that even if we can trust the current senators on the FinApp committee to do this fairly and openly and in a representative and responsible manner, we have DEFINITELY seen over the past years that the senate is too unstable an organization to trust with this kind of extreme authority in the long run.”

    My response: Isn’t interesting that you would bring up GUSA’s instability, since one of the chief reasons GUSA struggled last year was because the Finance and Appropriation committee floundered? It was under YOUR guidence that things became so unstable.

    My opinion: To create a successful, stable institution, you need to set precedent and great a position that attracts strong student leadership. If you leave GUSA as it is, with little power over the purse (isn’t that the point of a legislature?) and even less power over university policy, then you’re probably right. GUSA, except in the rare occassions that it has strong leaders (like Nick Trioano and Adam Talbot), will probably wobble between almost-efficient and terribly-inefficient.

    BUT, if you take advantage of strong leaders and committed members (like they apparently have this year), maybe, just maybe, GUSA could establish a sustainable system.

    So, what will it be? Allow GUSA and student funding to continue opperating in a largely mediocere fashion (which tells you a lot about Georgetown), or let students who have vision and are willing to fight for it make a difference, ennact change, and offer their solutions (there’s no comfort with improvement, and no improvement with mere comfort…).

    If all else fails, anything GUSA changes now is far from permanent. In fact, I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful chance to reevaluate everything FinAp has accomplished in a year from now.

    So, all in all, lets give GUSA a chance, I say. If 6 students, who seem to have a strong base of club support, want to fight tooth and nail for something they believe in, then they have every right to do so. To say the least, we should at least support them for doing what others stray from addressing.

    Plus, since what they’re doing is based on most of our peer institutions (EVERYONE accross the board has an independent body that hears Student Activity fee requests, offers and appeal, and then sends a budget to the Senate for approval…everyone, except Georgetown that is), then there’s certainly some logic to it.

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    There really should be some way to edit – I hate reading over my posts and finding errors, haha

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    What seems to be missing from all these arguments are the groups themselves that will suffer from GUSA’s unnecessary shift..

    Why are you taking away money from legitimate groups who do a TON of work with their funds? The University has given this money to different organizations for a variety of reasons, many of which are to give students fun alternatives to the usual party scene here on campus.. Sure, most of us go out on the weekends (and some weeknights too :)), but it’s nice to get to see an a cappella performance, or go a dance show or go off campus to DC United game. these programs and so many more are produced by organizations who work tireless for quality programming on this campus. By GUSA taking away our money, we as student organizations will have to come before them ask for permission to use money that was pretty rightfully theirs for many year prior..

    GUSA isn’t a programming organization for a reason.. Something I hoped that we’ve learned here at Georgetown is that we’re all good at something and that to have a cohesive campus community, we rely on the talent of others as well. GUSA should stick to school regulations, working with administrators and such to get us great things like wireless, more affordable meal plans, more study spaces, etc. and let the groups on campus that organize programs do their own job.

    Showing respect gets you respect, and I hope that GUSA really takes that thought to heart. Building your organization from your own merits, not by breaking down the processes that help so many other groups.

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    No one is taking away your money. Our whole aim is to give clubs/organizations more resources and easier access to those resources – with an ultimate goal of improving campus life. Watch the town hall video, and that should be apparent.

    We’re students too, you know. We want to see the funding process best serve students – and that’s why, in good faith, we’re seeking the reforms we are. The current process can and must be improved.

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    In addition, Matt is absolutley correct when he speaks of GUSA as a mediocre institution due to its hands being tied.

    I think these reforms will make GUSA a legitimate student government, one wherein more people will want to become involved because it will actually exercise the authority students gave it through referendum four years ago by allocating the student activity fee (as every other student government does). More people will run for the seats, more students will vote in elections, etc. These changes would be transformational for the body itself.

    GUSA will become that much more of an effective advocacy body because of this increased involvement and legitimacy. Surely the reforms can’t be justified only on these grounds, but one should recognize these positive spillover effects. All students benefit at the end of the day by having a robust student government.

    That’s also why I’m disheartened that Matt Wagner–someone who wants to lead GUSA as an institution–would vehemently oppose proposals that will only improve GUSA itself.

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    As a member of a club who receives a great amount of funding, I know for a fact that this “reallocation” is actually taking away from our current budget. It’s really frustrating and unnecessary for GUSA to do this.. Establish yourself as a legitimate institution by some other means.

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    I don’t follow. GUSA doesn’t distribute money to clubs (except via the GUSA Fund and otherwise). SAC and other advisory boards do. GUSA’s vote would control who votes on the budget. Since the budget hasn’t been voted on, it’s unclear how you can claim GUSA is taking away your money. Voting on this will mean no change for club funding for the remainder of the year, and likely no change in the future. In any case, if your club is getting less funding, that’s an issue between you and your advisory board. Remember that some advisory boards have tens of thousands more dollars in their reserves over even the amount they acknowledge is neccessary for risk purposes.

    As for an argument that GUSA’s prior allocation of money to the GUSA Fund took away your club’s money, that too is inaccurate. The money GUSA took for the club fund was in a general reserve fund; if GUSA didn’t allocate it, it would simply have sat there unused. Rather than taking away any money, the GUSA Fund actually opened up $30,000 for clubs.

    So, again, unless you’d like to substantiate this claim with actual facts, I’m sorry to say that you’re simply mistaken. As Nick and others have said, all these reforms have clubs’ interests in mind, as Georgetown’s paper of record, the Hoya, agrees in today’s editorial.

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    How could you know your funding is being cut already? They haven’t proposed a sample budget or anything. Don’t believe the fearmongering.

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