The Georgetown University Student Association finalized the student activities budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, increasing funding for the Student Activities Commission and making cuts to Lecture Fund.
The GUSA Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee, made up of 12 senators, made cuts to the Campus Ministry Student Forum, the Center for Social Justice, Georgetown Program Board and Lecture Fund. Lecture Fund received the highest cut, with a decrease of 20% from FY20-21. The committee allocated more funding to SAC, the Advisory Board for Club Sports, Media Board, Georgetown Opportunities for Leadership Development, Outdoor Education, the Performing Arts Advisory Committee and GUSA. GUSA received the highest funding raise, with an increase of 43.36% from last year.
FinApp allocated just over $1.09 million collected from this year’s Student Activities Fee, a semesterly fee all students pay that covers the cost of student activities. The initial budgeting process began when each of the 12 student organizations presented their budget requests to FinApp. In the following weeks, FinApp released their preliminary budget, and then the advisory board entered an appeals process. The final budget reflects post-appeals changes.
This year’s budget allocation process was much more congenial than in past years, according to GUSA FinApp Chair James Winston Ardoin (SFS ’21). Last year, some senators raised concerns about allocating more funding to certain Part A applicants, which include the advisory boards and student organizations who can present to FinApp in order to receive funding.
“Compared to past years there wasn’t necessarily the same level of animosity towards any one of the Part A applicants,” Ardoin said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “A big part of that being that over half of our committee was first-time FinApp members and first-year students who just hadn’t been on campus to see how a lot of these organizations have existed in the past or what previous controversies have been.”
SAC, which received a 4.27% increase in funding from last year’s allocation, serves as the advisory board for the majority of Georgetown’s student clubs, funding roughly 125 member organizations. In March 2020, the FinApp committee cut SAC funding by 16.8%, prompting backlash from many member organizations. Later that month, the committee allocated more funding to SAC, transferring $43,500 of the initial $51,048 that was cut back to the organization.
While SAC received more funding for the 2021-22 fiscal year, the organization will still have to cut funding for its member organizations as it divides up monies, according to SAC Chair Matthew Failor (SFS ’23).
“SAC has no choice but to pass our budget cuts onto clubs to ensure we have sufficient money to fulfill ad hoc requests throughout the year as well as fund budgets in the spring,” Failor wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Thus, we’re imposing a 7% cut to [proposed] Fall budgets across the board.”
Leaders from Lecture Fund, a student organization that arranges forums and brings speakers to campus for these events, are also concerned about this year’s budget cuts. Many GUSA FinApp members believed Lecture Fund could make do with less funding by holding many speaker events virtually next year, according to Ardoin. However, speaker fees typically range from $6,000 to $15,000 and have not significantly decreased, even for virtual events, according to Lecture Fund Vice Chair of Finance Deena Bhatt (MSB ’23).
“The budget cut has a very direct effect on students because it means we won’t be able to host, as well as co-sponsor, as many events,” Bhatt wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Overall, any cut to our funding directly hinders our ability to carry out our organization’s mission of sparking meaningful dialogue on campus and ‘enriching the academic experience of the Georgetown community.’”
Lecture Fund also allocates funding to 14 other campus organizations. This year’s budget cuts will also cut the funding Lecture Fund can offer to other student groups, according to Bhatt.
“While we understand the limitations we’ve incurred, and may continue to incur, as a result of the pandemic, we hope we can soon get back to a point where our budget is truly reflective of our organization’s needs,” Bhatt wrote.
In addition to funding separate student organizations, the GUSA FinApp committee also decides how much to allocate to GUSA itself, which Ardoin noted students often see as a conflict of interest, although FinApp always tries to be unbiased when funding GUSA, according to Ardoin.
“The conversation was very bizarre,” Ardoin said of the FinApp meetings on GUSA’s allocation this year. “There’s obviously a recognition that there’s a bit of a conflict of interest, in that we fund all of these other organizations but we also fund ourselves, and trying to think more critically about what GUSA’s funding means and how to be as objective as possible.”
In 2019, the FinApp committee cut GUSA’s budget by a significantly large amount, with GUSA only receiving 11% of the funds they requested; GUSA was only allocated $1,735 from FinApp, a small portion of the $26,760 requested that year by former GUSA executives Norman Francis Jr. (COL ’20) and Aleida Olvera (COL ’20).
Despite controversy, much of GUSA’s funding goes to other student advocacy groups in the form of assistance funds, which can make the process confusing, since some of these advocacy groups already receive funds from SAC, according to Ardoin.
Some club leaders are also concerned about what the FinApp process will look like after some proposed structural reforms within GUSA. GUSA Senate Speaker Melanie Cruz-Morales (COL ’22) has promised to restructure the GUSA Senate by removing unnecessary hierarchies and titles, which may include restructuring certain GUSA committees such as FinApp in coming years. GUSA President Nile Blass (COL ’22) and Vice President Nicole Sanchez (SFS ’22) have also pushed for GUSA to focus more on student advocacy, and some have suggested abolishing the GUSA Senate altogether.
While some club leaders support the initiative to center GUSA more around student advocacy, many are also worried this could negatively impact the clubs who receive their funding from FinApp, according to Failor.
“The campus-wide push to abolish the senate and replace it with an advocacy-based student union is an incredible idea and one with the best of intentions, but I worry about what it will mean for pretty much every student on campus if the finapp process is left behind,” Failor wrote.