Saxa Politica: Budget summit breakdown

December 1, 2011

In Nov. 2008, Nick Troiano (COL ‘12), then a GUSA senator, staged a sit-in in a Student Activities Commission constitutional meeting to protest SAC’s closed voting policy. In response, SAC chair Sophia Behnia (COL ‘09) shouted, “You can all stay in here for this vote, I don’t give a damn!”

Fast-forward to Spring 2011, when student groups sent SAC a series of open letters criticizing the programming arc system. “We, as students of Georgetown University,” the letter read, “expect a formal opportunity to offer constructive criticism of Funding Guidelines that enable us to make our own University better.”

Despite its flaws, SAC has come a long way in the past three years. In November, the commission allocated its first round of funds under the new comprehensive budget system, created in response to student groups’ adverse reactions to the previous system. The new guidelines allow groups to outline their own budgets, and most are pleased with the changes. The Philodemic Society, which was not allocated enough money for chairs for their weekly debates under the old system, requested their exact price in their budget. The International Relations Club is happy that travel is immune from the across-the-board cuts. Everyone is also pleased that SAC tip-toed around making value judgments about programming, something they were accused of last semester. SAC chair-elect Jack Appelbaum (COL ’14) told the Voice that the commission consciously tried to achieve an equitable distribution of funds without making such judgments.

However, even under this new system, some stubborn problems remain. “Here groups told us exactly what they need, and exactly what they want, and, not surprisingly, requests were higher than we had the money for,” Appelbaum said.

As a result, SAC had to cut all groups’ funding by 25 percent, eight percent more than the Fall 2011 cut. This semester’s cut was predicted to be less than those of previous semesters, as SAC’s budget was increased by SAFE reform and the revised guidelines sought to reduce clubs’ spending on expensive meals. However, the immunity of travel allocations from cuts shifted the weight of the cuts to the rest of the budget. Another contributing factor was that clubs could now request the total costs for large events—an option unavailable under the programming arc system. Although it was a positive change for student groups, this option ended up straining SAC’s budget.

This semester’s changes also inadvertently hinder groups’ ability to compensate for budget cuts. Under the old system, groups could redistribute money from events that were over-funded to ensure that their basic needs were met. Now, that money has to come from students. Philodemic Society Treasurer Jacob Arber (SFS ’14) told the Voice that “SAC fully allocated us the cost of chairs. However, because of the across-the-board cut, we no longer have the opportunity to move the money around to fund our larger events, such as the Merrick debate, and this translates into a direct cost to students.”

But the alternative to making across-the-board cuts would be for SAC to make value judgments on which events should be cut or scaled down—something equally, if not more undesirable.

Despite the problems intrinsic in funding student groups, the success of the budget summit provided for under the new guidelines can be attributed to SAC’s newfound willingness to work with groups. IRC President Dane Shikman (SFS ’12) said that SAC did a one-eighty from the secrecy surrounding the creation of the programming arc system. “In general, they’ve given us a lot of opportunities to talk to them,” he said.

More basic than having open channels of communication, SAC is a fundamentally different organization from the group headed by Sophia “I don’t give a damn” Behnia. The current commission has finally recognized that asking for group’s feedback seems like an obvious way to improve SAC.

So how can SAC keep on this positive trajectory? First, the Commission needs to keep soliciting continuous feedback from groups. The comprehensive budget system is a testament to SAC’s ability to allocate funds effectively and equitably. However, as mentioned above, the system is still far from perfect, and everyone knows that the easiest way to best serve student groups is to communicate with them.

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