Saxa Politica: If I had $1.9 million…

October 28, 2010

Last fall, some Georgetown University Student Association senators made an alarming discovery: they were short an expected $8.2 million in student funds.

Every year, students pay a $100 Student Activities Fee, but we only use half of it every year to provide approximately $315,000 in club funding. Ever since the student activity fee was created in 2001, the other half of the fee has gone into the Georgetown Student Activities Fee Endowment, a section of the larger University endowment. GUSA’s hope was that by around 2011, that endowment would reach about $10 million and GUSA could fund student activities with the interest alone, eliminating the need for the student fee.

But a number of things went wrong. Most importantly, University administrators never came through with the $3 million they had promised to contribute. No one from GUSA noticed anything was amiss until last year’s senators checked in on the fund and found—whoops!—it only had $1.8 million.

Since then, the fund has grown to $1.9 million, but the senators estimate it will still take us until 2027 to reach $10 million. The Finance and Appropriations Committee has proposed  we change course and begin diverting the full $100 to current funding, effectively doubling our club funding to an estimated $650,000. This idea has the potential to drastically improve campus life. But FinApp has only begun discussion on the more interesting question: what are we going to do with the $1.9 million?

Our most pressing need is student space. Without a student union, there are few public places to socialize where other people aren’t trying to study. Students are constantly circling Lau looking for a place to sit. Once the science building is completed, Sellinger Lounge will become a walkway.

Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson has said a student union in New South is a “priority” in the 2010 Campus Plan, and GUSA Vice President Jason Kluger (MSB ‘11) said he has been lobbying for the center on behalf of students. But the last cost estimate for the New South Student Center was $30 million, and it will take years to build.

Furthermore, in last year’s Student Space Working Group report detailing student frustrations with student space, a plurality of students surveyed said they wished Healy were the center of student life. Tellingly, the students said the current center of student life is Lauinger.

So here’s my pipe dream: let’s lobby for student space in Healy. Healy is the symbol of our heritage. We should have student ownership over some of that space. We could put a small-scale study lounge in the basement with tables, desks, cozy chairs, and even electrical outlets.

Student Space Working Group member Fitz Lufkin (COL ’11), one of the students who helped compile the report, assured me this isn’t too crazy a wish.

“There’s historical precedent for student space in Healy dating back to when the building was constructed,” Lufkin said. But coaxing administrators out of their offices, he added, will not be easy. “You’re going to run into opposition from the people down there. Healy’s a nice place. I want my office down there too … [But] $2 million is a pretty big carrot.”

Lufkin warned that a lot of big student space improvements would be very expensive. But he said some students have discussed leveraging the $1.9 million by running a match donation campaign among alumni.

While the current FinApp members seem highly competent, we can’t say the same for all the GUSA senators who came before, or the ones who will come after. We’ve also learned the hard way that we can’t trust the administration to keep its’ promises. So this time, rather than putting money away for the future, let’s build something. If we build something tangible, future students will be able to enjoy it too, and it’ll be harder to tear down.

We forgot about this fund for a decade. Let’s spend the money while we still remember we have it.

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