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.