By Roderick Macioch
It’s not often that students attend campus events and think about the logistics or financial planning that went into making that event possible. A venue had to be booked, food had to be ordered and, depending on the type of event, maybe transportation or lighting and sound equipment had to be arranged. Someone must provide the funding and resources to make these activities possible, and more often than not, that responsibility lies with the Student Finance Board (SFB).
On Wednesday, Nov. 11, SFB held its first ever public, town-hall style forum, with a panel of seven e-board members addressing the concerns and answering questions of interested students in room 211 of the Brower Student Center. With the hope of increasing communication between itself and student organizations, SFB advisor Ceceilia O’Callaghan acted as moderator of the discussion.
SFB allocates the Student Activity Fee (SAF), a fund that undergraduate students pay as part of their annual tuition, according to the organization’s website. The SAF fund provides SFB with an annual budget of approximately $1.8 million to fund various events presented by the 240 SAF-funded student organizations at the College. These organizations have the responsibility of planning all the logistical details of their proposed event, and then must fill out a “Special Application” to ask for SFB’s financial support.
Representatives from numerous student organizations, ranging from Student Government to the College’s chapter of AMPD (The Association for Music Production and Discussion), were in attendance, bringing their questions and concerns before the panel. Faculty members, including Director of Student Activities Tim Asher, Assistant Director of Student Activities Jessica Claar, Manager of the Brower Student Center Seth Zolin and Assistant Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life Dave Conner, were also in attendance.
The panel was quick to emphasize the importance of following the proper procedures for applying for funding. These procedures are explained in an event presented by SFB every semester called Passport to Programming, which O’Callaghan said is “a guide to navigating the programs so that student organizations know what they’re doing.”
The forum served to refresh and clarify points discussed at Passport to Programming. Organizations were reminded not to begin advertising for an event until funding has been approved, lest the event proposal be rejected and the event called off due to a lack of funding.
This year, SFB changed its policy regarding liaisons. Each organization on campus has someone serving as an intermediary between that organization and the board. To decrease miscommunications and misunderstandings, the board now requires liaisons to meet with their respective organizations in person. During the forum, SFB reminded organizations that the liaisons do not have the power to promise any amount of funding to any organization: the board has the final word on all decisions.
The board said it would not make exceptions whatsoever for any late applications for funding.
The board said it had received some complaints from organizations having applications ignored or rejected because they had submitted just a few hours after the deadline. O’Callaghan was emphatic that no grace period would be granted when she said “everyone knows when the grace period is and starts to treat that like the deadline.” In the interest of consistency, tardiness will not be tolerated by the board.
Though the focus of the forum was specific to particular student organizations, concerns regarding SFB’s actions were also discussed. At times, some believe the board’s actions appear to be in opposition to the very mission of the College, even if they are not. For example, the College places a strong emphasis on civil service, embodied by the Community Engaged Learning requirement and the activities of groups like the Bonner Institute. However, SFB has a policy of not funding philanthropic events. To a student not fully aware of the big picture, this can seem to send “mixed messages,” Zolin said.
“We seem to be stifling students who want to contribute to civil service and good works,” he said.
Zolin made it clear that he himself does not hold this opinion, and was simply mentioning the fact that some students may feel inclined to have this perception of SFB.
There are numerous reasons why SFB does not fund philanthropic events. Foremost among these reasons is that, by the very nature of SFB, it would be impossible to fund every proposed event, due to financial and logistical concerns. Supporting some events and nixing others would make SFB seem to favor some causes over others, and send the wrong message to the organizations whose events it cannot support.
“SFB doesn’t pick winners and losers,” said senior economics major Thomas Barr, who serves as operations director for SFB.
There is one exception to the rule, however, called the “Sandy Clause,” a bill proposed by O’Callaghan, who is now in her second year as SFB advisor. This bill stipulates that the board is willing to consider providing funds for events to benefit major disaster relief, as it did for events held in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the 2010 Haitian earthquake. The difference between these events and other potential fundraising causes is that these are more short-term. Cancer research, on the other hand, is an example of a cause that is indefinitely ongoing.
SFB stressed that it does not like having to turn down any group’s application for a proposed event, but between issues of finances, logistics and scheduling, it is not possible to approve funding for every proposed event.
“We want all organizations to get funding,” O’Callaghan said. “But our policies are there for a reason.”
This forum was the first step in a campaign by SFB to increase the level of communication between itself and the student body. The board plans to hold meetings of this sort every semester, but may hold them more frequently should the need arise.
SFB Executive Director and senior accounting major Brandon Klein expressed his eagerness to hear questions and comments, as well as concerns and complaints, from student organizations.
“We want SFB to seem like an open door,” Klein said.