Funding frameworks for campus groups saw sweeping change this year, with SAFE reform more than doubling the funds available to organizations and a new Student Activities Commission bulk allocation system irking many club leaders.
Greg Laverriere (COL ’12), current vice president of the Georgetown University Student Association, led the reform of the Student Activities Fee Endowment in December when he served as chairman for the Finance and Appropriations Committee. In a campus referendum passed in December, students signed off on a gradual hike of $50 in the fee, which is tacked on to students’ tuition bills.
Reflecting on the build-up to the student body vote, Laverriere said it was difficult to convince the undergraduates that an increase in tuition fees was necessary.
“The hardest part was selling the activity fee [raise],” Laverriere said. “Administrators had questions, but students had more questions. … But ultimately it will have a profound impact.”
Under the reform, the $100 fee — once allocated evenly between club funding and the Student Activities Fee Endowment — was raised to $125 for next year and $150 for the 2012-2013 academic year. After that, the annual fee will increase by the rate of inflation.
The changes also halted any allocation of the fee to a languishing endowment that was once projected to accumulate enough funds to finance student activities in the long run. A student committee was apointed to suggest major projects to be funded with the remaining $3.4 million in the endowment, and the entirety of the student activities fees each year will now go to more immediate club funding needs.
The spike in the amount of money now at the disposal of campus groups — an increase from $380,000 this year to $800,000 next year and $1 million the next — will put Georgetown in the middle of the pack compared to other universities’ club funding numbers, Laverriere said.
Jason Kluger (MSB ’11), GUSA vice president at the time of the reform push, said the largely positive reaction reflected what he determined were tangible rewards for students.
“Giving students more money, giving them more control over their money — it makes the university a student-centered place,” he said.
But with a rise in usable funds following SAFE reform, many club leaders under SAC said controlling this money as they see fit has not come as easily.
“Our biggest complaint isn’t not having enough money, but the way the money is allocated,” said Eitan Paul (SFS ’12), former chair of the International Relations Club and a vocal opponent of changes to SAC funding procedures this spring.
According to Paul, the frustration stemmed from SAC’s transition into a bulk allocation funding process and an initial lack of conversation between club leaders and the funding body. While SAC had previously allocated money on an event-by-event basis, it began issuing money based on semester-long programming arcs in the spring semester. The goal of the new system, according to SAC Vice Chairwoman Ruiyong Chen (SFS ’13), was to streamline the club funding process for everyone involved.
The backlash from the transition resulted in two open letters signed by representatives of nearly a third of the clubs SAC oversees, according to Chen. The letters highlighted shortcomings that SAC had previously noted but had not yet ironed out while faced with the new system, she said.
“It’s a whole new process for our groups and for us,” Chen said.
The letters largely demanded that students be able to chime in on the new allocation system set forth by SAC.
“A lot of the frustration that clubs had been having was because there wasn’t really consultation,” Paul said.
The letters led to a SAC-sponsored town hall, and club input has led to a number of proposed amendments to the allocation process. Many clubs, such as Georgetown University College Democrats, see the reforms as a step in the right direction.
“The reforms recognize what we have been arguing all along: that club programming is flexible,” Jake Sticka (COL ’13), College Democrats vice president, said. “I also applaud SAC for being less punitive and more focused on advocating for students and student groups. I do worry that some members of the commission continue to feel paternalistic toward their student groups.”
According to Paul and Laverriere, there is still work to be done, especially to ensure that clubs receive the funding that they need on a rolling basis.
But Paul and Chen acknowledged that the dialogue this spring has been a uniting force, even if contentious at times.
“I think we’ve started to see a cultural shift both within SAC and in terms of the relationship between student groups and SAC,” Paul said. “A lot of people are just more in tune or at least having more types of conversations about what types of funding guidelines would be good for students.”
For Chen, the funding changes and the way they’ve come about have shown that GUSA and SAC have common goals.
“All of us want to contribute to student life and to the Georgetown community,” Chen said. “This year has proven that we can work together.”
For those who worked to implement these changes, the anticipation of the effects is exciting, yet bittersweet.
“I’m absolutely proud, but I think proud is a weird word,” Kluger said. “Just happy to have been able to get this money loosened up and into the hands of the students and sad more than anything that I won’t be able to truly observe the results it’s going to bring.”