All students pay a $75 fee per semester to fund Student Association. courtesy

SA philanthropy funding needs accountability

Discussions over a recent bill highlight exclusivity and a lack of oversight on SA charity events.

Student Association (SA) has driven itself into a deep discussion over a proposed bill and amendment that would impact funding for campus events. Instead of continuing with the current system that offers philanthropic event organizers a total of $3,000 per year with very little direct oversight, the SA Government Operations Committee (GOC) has proposed a bill that would change the functionality of SA’s involvement with this particular type of event and increase the portions dedicated to each level of expenditure.

At the moment, events that receive SA funding fall under three categories, termed “tiers.” An event’s tier is determined by criteria outlined in SA’s Monetary Allocations Guidelines (MAG) — the document the proposed bill would amend. Each tier has specific descriptions and limitations that affect the amount of money and support offered by SA. Large-scale campus-wide events that focus on community building are considered Tier 1; programs with a smaller scope and interest such as special lectures or seminars occupy Tier 2; and Tier 3 encompasses smaller internal meetings, team-building activities, competitive apparel and one event that falls outside of the prescribed criteria.

While Tier 3 events have the most flexibility and exclusivity, they receive the smallest amount of SA funding, with the monetary allowance increasing based on the general interest of the student body. Tier 2 also currently includes philanthropic events. This tier system does have a massive amount of wiggle room depending on who defines the tier of an event, although there is still an internal monetary and event limit that dictates the amount of funding a single organization may receive.

The information in the Monetary Allocations Guidelines presents a concise thesis for SA’s goals in funding events: the more people that show up, the more money the organization will receive. In theory, this incentivizes the construction of experiences that cater to a wider audience, which will in turn lead to greater student engagement and bonding. Current discussion revolves around a proposed change to the definition of “philanthropic” events. The bill would remove philanthropy events entirely from the second tier which, yet philanthropy events will still exist but require contextual review in relation to the other criteria. The total funding cap per organization will be cut in half to $750 per semester.

The proposed change specifically targets philanthropic events that both receive SA funding and charges students for participation, commonly seen in door charges. This “double-charge” phenomenon lies at the core of the disagreement, and the vast majority of these double-charge philanthropy occasions are hosted by Greek life organizations. The double-charge terminology refers to the SA fee paid by all students in conjunction with the door price. The philosophy espoused by SA is that this semester fee incorporated in students’ tuition should cover entrance to activities funded by SA.

While the bill was written and sponsored by two individuals that are affiliated with fraternities, some individuals affiliated with Greek housing oppose the proposed funding bill due to a perception that these changes unfairly target philanthropy events hosted by fraternities and sororities. This conversation became radically charged when Senator Jack Sommers introduced an amendment to this bill that would completely cut funding for philanthropy events with an internal charge. Sommers’ suggestion eliminates a specific exclusion clause that would allow funding to double-charge events so long as they are philanthropic. With an overly extreme option on the table, translating the remarks and attempting to tie them to their respective subjects becomes nearly impossible. A senator could be speaking about the bill, Sommers’ amendment or something else entirely, yet it all morphs into this one stream of consciousness.

There are those that have issues with the terminology of the bill or believe there is a less extreme option that should be pursued first. It appears that this group consists primarily of non-Greek life senators in attendance, based on the Senate meeting minutes posted on the SA website, but that might be a fragment of the larger picture. These Senators worry cutting funding may negatively affect smaller organizations. The most vocal contingent represents the interest of Greek life, a faction that sees their free money slipping through their fingers. Although senators naturally represent and pursue what is best for their group, there has to be recognition from those special interests that the student body as a whole should take higher priority than their niche interest.

The inability to untangle this issue from Greek life gets messy when translating this discussion into terms of constituencies in favor of the bill and those against it, which compounds in complexity considering Sommers’ radical amendment. Senators Frame and Scott embody this aspect. Both are fraternity members who have taken an interest in the amount of funding utilized, potentially to poor outcomes, by fraternities. However, Frame and Scott’s affiliation with larger frats might affect their willingness to cut funding. The theory goes that larger fraternities can draw on more internal funds while smaller frats will suffer due to their restricted budgets.

Including all of the academic colleges, Greek housing has an overly large contingent of the voting power. While these affiliations may overlap, the system should favor the actual function of the university as an educational institution instead of pay-to-join national organizations outside of regular school operations; a coalition of colleges should not have equal voting power to Greek housing. The seats should be balanced in the opposite way. College senate seats either need to increase to reflect the importance of academics or Greek life housing should reduce their number of seats.

Tracking this debate has been extremely difficult due to the messy nature of the minutes, with frequent spelling mistakes and possible omissions, as well as the SA website itself defying easy use. This compromises SA’s ability to relate its operations to those it reportedly represents. Unless someone knows an SA official, it is unlikely they will hear about these issues by the time they are resolved. The SA website presents an easy avenue for conveying this information, yet the errors in the minutes and disappearing information make it seem like an afterthought.

While I might be out of touch concerning parties and other campus events, the thought of my semiannual SA fee going toward food, decorations and other items so a national organization superfluous to the university can bankroll an event without a guarantee or verification that the event actually accomplishes its goal goes against my personal code of ethics. Similarly, the idea that a Greek life organization can utilize this SA funding and charge at the door in an attempt to offset the cost of running an event boggles my mind, especially since SA dues are intended to cover those entrance fees and there is no indication that these events are actually successful. When asked about the data on this particular point, it was revealed in the Senate discussion that there is no active SA-based apparatus that tracks this money after it leaves SA control. In the Senate meeting minutes, several senators simply state they do not know where the money goes after it leaves SA hands. One senator stated that those concerned should simply check the frat’s Instagram account, which, of course, has no accountability or actual proof.

Here is the core issue. The lack of oversight confirming that money allocated to these events goes to the proper expenditures translates into an “honor system” — as stated by SA Treasurer Kaitlyn Argo — where one side has no obligation to be honest. The utter apathy and disinterest to follow the money is clearly exhibited in one select statement from SA’s “Sargent-at-Arms” (as spelled on the SA website) in the Monetary Allocations Committee minutes, “[SA] should not be worried about where the money goes after they give it away.” This quote exemplifies why students hold SA in such poor regard. They see SA as an impotent and inconsistent organization with little real power. Another negative sign is that four people ran for the four executive positions, indicating a poor relationship between the student body and SA. This is why the most recognized actions made by SA have emerged from hyper-dramatic instances of self-aggrandizement, most recently in the Splain v. Williams judicial case, whose ruling is no longer available on the SA website.

While SA has a very poor reputation, some individuals do have a genuine interest in doing their due diligence. Upon realizing how inept SA currently is in pursuing answers to the handling of this money, Director of Senate Operations Liz Williams seemed to take immediate action, shifting the debate away from a total restructuring of philanthropy events to a discussion of proactive information collection. Yet her attempts to create a sensible alternative were drowned out by other questions and statements; senators were preoccupied with arranging the goals of a philanthropic event in terms of profit. The proposed Allocations Guidelines define philanthropy events as ones where students are required to make another payment, with that capital going to a charitable organization. This would be affected by that $1500 yearly cap per organization, but some individuals see that cap as too restrictive.

One individual refers to their specific organization’s inability to put on events due to their small chapter size. To that and the insistence on profits, if an organization on campus relies on SA funding for an event, why should SA have any faith that this event will actually turn a profit? The greater the dollar amount siphoned from the SA budget, the larger the return should be. If smaller organizations are unable to make back the money they receive from SA, they have not actually done anything for their charitable organization. In fact, they have reduced the money that could have been sent directly to the charitable organization through the pursuit of a personally-enriching event. Various senators bring up this exact point, and I believe this is where Williams has the strongest case to argue for more oversight, as well as where the discussion returns to door charges for entrance.

The senators’ various rebuttals revolve around the possibility of turning a profit before door sales are added into the calculation, but that itself is a violation of the ethos espoused in the Monetary Allocations Guidelines, specifically code II.F.2.iv, which states “SA funded events must be open to all of campus” — a point discussed heavily in the MAC’s internal meeting. A paywall at the door renders the event exclusive to those with the funds to pay, and with hosting house members expected to work the event, they most likely receive any leftover goods from the event, a sentiment argued by Senator Parker Bedlan. The worst part of this situation is that no one knows who gains the most from these events because no one in SA collects the concrete data. It’s baffling. It’s incompetent. It’s why I look at my $75 SA membership fee and feel so much disdain. At least with my tuition I know vaguely where it goes and whom I can be angry with.

After the lengthy discussion on the 29th, the bill was sent back to committee for further review. The reconsidered bill will be voted on during the Senate’s next meeting on Tuesday at 9 p.m. in Helmerich Hall 105, per the SA website.

Post Author: Adam Walsh