Friday, February 20, 2009

Can We Trust You With Our Money?

In our previous post that called for questions for SA candidates, some students were wondering why some organizations received a significant drop in funding while the SA spent large amounts of money on programming events like the Unity Ball.

Nick Fabiani wrote about what he called "flagrant abuses by the Aswani administration concerning financial matters" and identified the Unity Ball as one, while reader Elana pointed to how this year's SA "cut serious funding to a large majority of student organizations in an unprecedented manner," including an over-50% cut for her own GW Ballroom organization. Reader Omar also asked, "how can you regain our trust and confidence in such an important position?"

SA candidates: Is financially supporting events like Unity Ball, while cutting funding for student groups, a responsible use of student money? If yes, please explain to groups like GW Ballroom why slashing their budget by over 50% was good decision-making. If no, please explain to Aswani why his decision to fund the Unity Ball was bad decision-making.

16 comments:

Dan Keylin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin Hollimon said...

The question of trusting money is very important to me as well because I am also very skeptical at times when issues of management of money arise. I feel that this year's allocation of funds did a disservice to smaller student organizations. My philosophy is to make sure that each student organization has enough finances to function as they please, while also acknowledging that bigger student organizations do need a bigger budget to function as they please as well. In my opinion, a common theme that I see has emerged is that many of the artistic students organizations, such as orgs that are related to music,theatre,dance,etc, have struggled this year with finances. That will not happen next year. I have a heart for the arts because I come from an artistic family. I'm not promising a 100 percent increase in funding, but what I am promising is more public support from the SA. I can promise you that the financial problems that were faced by student organizations such as GW Ballroom will not be faced again. There will be an increase in funding for arts-focused student organizations. There will be a redistribution of funds next year in a manner that will please everyone. If response to whether the funds were used responsibly during the Unity Ball, I will say this. The Unity Ball was a magnificent idea and concept. The problem that lied with it was the actually execution of the event. That event could have been financially scaled down in many areas, which would not have taken away from the theme and message that was weaved throughout the event.
Thanks, Justin Hollimon

Dan Keylin said...

The SA has been completely reckless in terms of spending money this year. $50,000 on a Unity Ball, and $80,000 on an inaugural float which both students and even the Washington Post bashed. The SA does NOT have the ability to program. I doubt many SA members this year have formal programming experience, and it showed. The SA should not be programming events, let's leave that to the Program Board, so we can stop wasting money that could be spent more efficiently.

Also, the SA has a tendency to play favorites in the allocation process. Sometimes funding is increased to orgs that show little or no progress, and at the same time they drastically cut funding for other orgs for no discernible reason. The SA needs to adopt a more streamlined approach to allocations, one that factors in membership numbers, level of organizational activity, and the potential for future growth.

Nick said...

We have great organizations on campus, such as the Program Board, who's sole job is programming. In addition, the 300+ student organizations at GW all provide amazing programming throughout the year. It is not the SA's job to compete with them. Instead, the SA should serve as a one stop resource center for these organizations that need help with publicity, contacting administrators, etc...

We will never have enough money to go around, but as President I want to make sure that we have as much as possible. My budget for the SA will be just enough to run the copier and maybe buy a stapler. The rest needs to go to student organizations.

Julie Bindelglass said...

The issue of funding needs to be looked at from two angles. First, from the side of our student government, a Bindelglass presidency will follow the precedence set forth throughout this campaign. Just as you will not see any wasteful spending on expensive giveaways, next year, the executive will prioritize its spending. Next year, I will also work with the University Development Office to partner student organizations with the untapped body of supportive alumni that can easily earmark their gift to the student group of their choice.

From the other side, helping student organizations, we must bridge the gap between our campus groups, and our student government. With a strong background in campus involvement, I feel that I am unique qualified to serve that role. For too long, student organization leaders come to our student government with questions, and are simply met with paperwork. That needs to end today. As president, I would establish a student org. help desk which must be staffed with formally trained student association senators that truly understand what it takes to run a student group.

More information on this and other solutions can be found on my website, www.takebackthesa.com

Logan said...

This is one of my favorite questions.

I served as a CCAS-U Senator this year, and I wrote and got passed a bill called the Open the Financial Systems Act, which allows any student to come to the SA and demand to see how any student organization spends their money.

I'm sad to say that before I came along, that was illegal. I'm proud to say that I was able to increase the transparency of student funding.

Thanks for the question.

Logan Dobson, Candidate for CCAS-U.

Josh Goldstein said...

There are several aspects to how and what the SA funds. Both are essential and both need to be revised.

First, how the executive spends its money must not only be overseen by the Senate Finance Committee, but also be overseen by the people. Whomever becomes the finance chair next year as well as the next president will have to create an open system in which leaders of student organizations that receive SA funding meet regularly with the SA Senate Finance Committee as well as the Vice President of Financial Affairs so that student org leaders know how the money is being spent and can voice their concerns or approval in an organized way that is effective and not destructive.

Additionally, I think that events like the Unity Ball, if planned correctly, can be successful. Obviously, the Unity Ball was not successful, but if events like the Unity Ball are carefully planned and serve a purpose to benefit the student body or the university as a whole, it can be looked at as a fit investment and an appropriate use of student money. The Unity Ball was not one of those instances, and that is truly too bad, but that should not mean that the future president of the SA should not be able to create events that use student money if the events are planned and executed correctly.

As I said in a previous question in this online debate and even before I became a freshman senator, I have said that the SA and the student body needs to talk to each other better in order to facilitate a relationship where each side can discuss their differences. Julie Bindelglass was a good finance chair, no doubt about that--but there is more that must be done on the senate's side of controlling the student fee that can be achieved next year and that I hope to contribute to in some distinct way, shape or form if I am elected as a CCAS Senator.

Josh Goldstein, candidate for CCAS Senator
jmgold@gwmail.gwu.edu

Louis Laverone said...

Everyone else seems to be hitting the high points of this subject, so I'll try to be brief. This issue of funding ties in very closely with the other question on transparency. We've legalized requesting information on financial records through Logan's "Open the Financial Systems Act." Julie has a good idea to take this a step further by posting finance reports online.

However, this only covers one half of the problem: checking spending after our money has already been withdrawn. We need to cover the budgeting process itself. Part of this is solved through broader steps toward transparency, like regular town halls and a real open door policy (again, feel free to drop me a line anytime).

Formal disclosure requirements in the Senate might also help. If Senators simply let the Senate know if they are an officer in a group up for an allocation, then any arguments that Senator makes calling for more funding can be put in the proper context.

We can also help student orgs take financing into their own hands. There are a large number of endowments, grants, non-profits, and private citizens in DC and around the country that can provide student orgs with extra funding - all we need to do is find them and ask. If we created a private donor database, as I propose, students can have a real alternative to the SA for funding.

Kyle Boyer - Pres. Candidate said...

If the SA wants to have any credibility at all, the student body needs to be able to trust their leaders with money, especially since the SA oversees what will be an approximately $750,000 budget.

The SA has two roles, first and foremost is to advocate, and second is to allocate the money from the student fee. Advocacy doesn't normally cost money. Meeting with Sodexo about dining does not cost money. Pressuring the bookstore by avoiding purchasing books from them does not cost money - in fact it usually saves money. Those are just two simple examples of how an SA that advocates does not waste money.

A float on the other hand costs over 80,000. To be fair the float money didn't come from the student fee, but that is an example of how programming takes away from the purpose of the SA, and the resources that student orgs need to be successful.

For the most part I think Julie Bindelglass did a fine job leading allocations in the Finance Committee, but the President's job is not to micro-manage finances. His or her job is to articulate a vision that hopefully does not involve wasting money, but instead involves advocacy.

Erik Ashida said...

As Louis said, most of the major points in this discussion have been worked over by other people. I’d make just one more suggestion in addition to the reforms
Dan is absolutely right that some organizations have advantages with the allocations process as it stands. Personally, I think that advantages come mainly from the fact that some organizations know the financial process better than others.

The SA already assigns senators to organizations in order to level the playing field. However, my experience this year has been that these relationships only exist on paper. Next year’s committee chairs need to make sure that their senators reach out to their partner student organizations so that every org has someone to listen to their concerns, educate them about the process, and go to the mat for them in the final allocations bill.

If we can sustain those relationships, they can continue to be useful as a way to assist with the cosponsorship process and as a way to stay in touch with the student body.

- Erik Ashida

Candidate for CCAS Senator

George J. Brunner said...

When I am elected as SA president, I will ensure the SA allocates the money in way that is beneficial to all students. I've addressed an issue at my last school where an administrator was receiving a large sum of money out of student activity fees to act as an adviser, and a number of students receiving stipends. Through advocacy and determination, we brought over $20,000 back to the student organizations.

Korson/Tomasi: That's Easy said...

I think the important themes have been hit on here so I will be brief in what I say.

Most of the problems with funding for student organizations came from a philosophy in the role of the SA. I believe that the SA in an advocacy organization. The programming should be left up to the student organizations and Program Board.

I think reform in the allocations process is where we are most likely to see fairness for all student organizations. Initial allocations should be made smaller across the board, and their shouldbe a heavy emphasis placed on cosponsorships for student orgs. This helps reduce the cronyism associated with initial allocations, incentivizes student orgs to program, and also gives smaller student orgs a chance for more money. Lastly, since I believe the SA should not be programming, money such as the $50,000 used for Unity Ball will remain in the cosponsorship fund for student orgs.

I also appreciate the work that has been done in the Seante this past year. I think transparency is important, and will continue this idea into the Seante next year.

Serving on the Executive Board of a student organization this year has shown me what an arduous process financing can be. Through the cosponsorship process, we hope to make this an easier process.

Sammy Lopez - Presidential Candidate said...

Personally, I thought it was incredibly embarrassing for the SA that the student fee increase didn’t pass the time it was first proposed last year. Almost anyone familiar with student organization funding knew that too many of our valuable student groups were dangerously underfunded, and there was a lot of popular support in favor of increasing the student fee since so many GW students are involved in student organizations. However, the failure of the initial fee increase to pass when it was first proposed clearly demonstrated that many students did not, and still don’t, trust the SA to spend their money wisely. Increasing transparency and the availability of financial information through the SA website (as I’ve mentioned in response to another question) would do wonders to fortify student’s confidence in the SA. More importantly however, the SA needs to undertake projects that actually affect the day-to-day lives of students. For example, I have proposed installing microwaves for student use in areas across campus and making GWorld money transferable between students. These changes would be easy to implement, relatively cheap, and would benefit nearly every student here at GW. This past year over two-thirds of the SAs legislation pertained soley to the affairs of the SA itself, and this is simply unacceptable. If the SA passed more projects like these and fewer like the Unity Ball, then perhaps students would be less hesitant to support the SA financially.

Chris Clark - Senate Candidate said...

Hey guys hope everyone’s semesters are going well. With our economy in shambles the allocation of funds in this day and age is essential to success. Having said this, each student organization needs money to function properly. I believe assessing the financial statements of each student organization and assessing an asset allocation plan for the school is the first task of the finance committee. Obviously, we do not have the money we had ten years ago to do with what we please. We need to pay more attention to our distribution, and keep each student organization to a strict financial schedule. Each year there is a tradeoff between different organizations, and the amount of capital issued. Last year, organizations having to do with the arts such as music, theater, dance, etc. saw financial problems along with a number of small student organizations. The problem the SA is having this year, is the same problem the United States Senate is facing. Small businesses are failing because of lack of funding, while the shear size of larger organizations is keeping them afloat. That will not happen next year. I pledge to work with smaller organizations as well as larger organizations to develop a financial plan, which is best for GW as a whole.

Melissa Gindin for CCAS-U said...

There are a myriad of reasons I feel that I am in a uniquely beneficial position to fix the SA issues surrounding funding. First and foremost it is relevant to note that it’s my money too. I have just as much a stake in wasteful spending as the next person. Perhaps this past year the SA has so far isolated itself from its fellow students that it loses sight of this fact.
Next, I wish to note that much of my campaign focuses on opening up lines of communication between the SA and the students. Some changes that I have proposed include establishing a listserv and conducting surveying as a means to this end. I resolve that if both of these proposals are implemented, along with other of my ideas, the students will be made more aware of how the SA is spending their money and by way be more inclined to trust them to do so.
Programming as well is applicable to this debate. Yet the inaugural float and the Unity Ball are separate issues and must be regarded as such. It is one thing to invest in a float to be viewed not only on national television but also by the newly inaugurated President; it is an entirely different issue to allocate an additional $50,000 to a Greek life. Many are claiming that they want to stop programming and start advocating. I have never been one for campaign chatter, it negates the process, and so I say that we take it one significant step further. The SA to illustrate its willingness to really fight for students, must formally outlaw SA programming. The sooner we can achieve this, the sooner we can get back to advocacy and reassure all that we mean what we say. Whether I agree or not, the students, the people who truly matter here, agree that these events did not work. Its time to give it up. This initiative has the potential to instill lasting change that will actually benefit people.
Lastly, I have proposed establishing a student org networking system. This would eliminate confusion and bureaucracy while maximizing efficiency. Allowing a reduction in spending and raising the level of connectedness. The SA must enable others to help themselves.

Brendan Curran- SOB Senate said...

One main role of the SA is funding. Although some believe we need more money, the truth is, there is more and more money every year. Your group should have received more money this year, and if they didn't there is a problem. The key is smart spending, downsizing executive spending, and complete transparency for every SA dollar. Great strides will be taken next year to simplify the allocating, co-sponsoring, and reclaiming processes to increase SA efficiency, and earn back your trust with the SA.