Still feuding with GUSA, SAC warns clubs of cuts

March 18, 2010

Photo by Jackson Perry

Photo by Jackson Perry

The Student Activity Commission may decrease allocations to clubs next year, SAC Chair Ethel Amponsah (NHS ‘11) warned in an e-mail sent to SAC-funded groups Tuesday. Amponsah told clubs that the Georgetown University Student Association currently plans to cut SAC’s budget by approximately 15 percent, which will affect club funding unless SAC agrees to all six of GUSA’s advisory board recommendations.

While SAC has adopted three of GUSA’s reforms—lump sum funding, an appeals process, and the ability of groups to retain profits—GUSA Senator Colton Malkerson (COL ’13) said SAC has been resistant to holding open votes, redistributing its  reserves to clubs, and changing the way SAC commissioners are elected.

Since the e-mail went out, club leaders have been considering how proposed cuts may affect their organizations.

“My very first reaction [to Amponsah’s e-mail] was, ‘This is like a bad divorce,’” Erwin Knippenberg (SFS ’11), former president of Amnesty International, said. Knippenberg said he has worked with SAC for three years. “It sounds that SAC doesn’t need to make all those reforms, or immediately, it just needs to be a bit more conciliating. A little compromise both ways wouldn’t hurt, and holding student clubs hostage is shameful on both sides.”

In her e-mail, Amponsah wrote that SAC may need to decrease clubs’ standard operating budgets, which would potentially harm groups like the Georgetown University Grilling Society. GUGS President Greg Bohn (COL ’11) said he was not too concerned because GUGS recoups the money in profits and remains fairly self sufficient, but the dispute between GUSA and SAC “creates uncertainty,” since the group sometimes requires start up money at the beginning of the year.

Other organizations are considering scaling back programming or paying more out of pocket for events. International Relations Club Chair Michael Karno (SFS ’10) said that if its funding is cut, members may have to pay more to travel to Model UN conferences or SAC may decide to cut the number of trips. College Democrats President Bryan Woll (COL ‘12) said if SAC cuts allocations rather than cutting back on programming, College Democrats leaders will probably pay for events out of their own pockets.

“It’s just the wrong way for student groups to operate, and it sends the wrong message that to operate a student group you have to spend your own money,” Woll said. “It’s not fair or sustainable.”

Woll said that while College Democrats support GUSA’s six recommendations—especially lump sum funding and increased accountability—it has had a good relationship with its SAC commissioner this year. Woll said he would like to see the conflict resolved because it unfairly puts students in the middle.

“We don’t appreciate being put in this situation,” Woll said. “The burden of the standoff is now on our shoulders.”

Knippenberg said SAC’s plan to cut down on funding to clubs seems like political maneuvering to gain sympathy. On the other hand, he said he thinks GUSA is using the GUSA Fund to act as an alternative to SAC, which he does not think is a viable solution either.

“My one fear with that is that GUSA seems to be plagued with favoritism and nepotism,” Knippenberg said. “SAC is harsh, but SAC is harsh on everybody … [the GUSA Fund is] a brand new process. I don’t know how fully set up it is.”

Amponsah said she is disheartened that the disagreement is affecting student clubs, but that GUSA’s recommendations require more deliberation before they are implemented.

Amponsah said making SAC more accountable to student organizations is something SAC wants to look into, but she is unsure about how to create a system where all 87 SAC-funded clubs have a say.

According to Amponsah’s e-mail, SAC recently learned that the new recommendation for its reserve fund balance is $150,000, rather than the old figure of $215,000. Director of Student Programs Erika Cohen-Derr said that both the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Financial Affairs reevaluate target reserve account balances and occasionally readjust the targets, as they did a few weeks ago.

In cutting their Student Activities Fee allocation, the Finance and Appropriations Committee hopes that SAC will use their excess reserves to fund clubs, but SAC is instead considering using the excess funds for capital improvements like increasing student space.

But Amponsah said she is “adamant” about the issue of closed votes. She said SAC has received a lot of negative feedback from both the student body and the University about its decisions, and she would not want individual commissioners to be attacked for their votes.

Amponsah said she sees the conflict as a power struggle, and she may “review whether engaging with GUSA is worthwhile.”

Malkerson said regardless of what GUSA allocates to SAC, clubs will be guaranteed adequate funding.

“If clubs feel as if they are being harmed, that is not the fault of GUSA,” Malkerson said. “That is a decision that SAC commissioners have made… to spend their reserves on something else … If [clubs] can’t get [funding] from SAC, they can get it from the GUSA Fund.”

Malkerson said he believes GUSA and SAC will reach a good outcome.

“We’re going to get it right,” Malkerson said.

SAC will meet with its Finance and Appropriations Committee liaison, Greg Laverriere (COL ’12), on Thursday.

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