Since 2001, Georgetown University students have paid a semesterly fee to cover the cost of student activities and to fund initiatives that benefit the entire Georgetown community. This Student Activities Fee is collected by the administration, and the Georgetown University Student Association Finance and Appropriations Committee distributes the revenue, which has hovered at almost 1.1 million dollars over the last three years, to the various advisory boards such as the Student Activities Commission, the Advisory Board for Club Sports and Media Board. From there, funding boards allocate the money to individual student organizations.
As a member of FinApp during the past academic year, I’ve seen firsthand the way this system plays out; without question, it must be seriously reformed. The present structure of the SAF has created an unsustainable financial situation that fails students and hinders progress on larger issues on campus. We need greater oversight and structural change for the groups that are a part of the funding process.
Ideally, FinApp would be able to satisfy the demonstrated funding needs of all the advisory boards and applicants. However, since SAF’s inception, requests have always exceeded the actual pool of funds available. Despite strict fiscal allocation on the part of advisory boards, which already hinders the expansion of programming by student groups, SAF funds are limited because of stagnation in the fee’s revenues and already stretched thin.
Although the fee grows at the rate of inflation, going into the 2021 fiscal year, the revenues from the SAF are projected to decrease by $18,000 as a result of declining active enrollment, the students physically on main campus. This decrease was explained to members of FinApp as being because of increased participation in study abroad, the increased prevalence of gap semesters and medical leaves, and a decrease in undergraduate applicants. Despite this revenue decrease, funding requests have steadily increased, this year reaching a massive total of almost $1.4 million dollars. Every advisory board wants funding, so FinApp must decide which groups need it most imminently. All student organizations are valuable to our campus community, and having to decide which groups most deserve funding makes for inherently arbitrary and subjective decisions by FinApp. After all, my own priorities may not align with those of the person next to me.
Let’s be clear — by no means am I advocating massively raising our activities fee to cover $1.4 million worth of student organization spending. In fact, FinApp’s audits this year revealed plenty of wasteful overspending by specific student organizations that must be curtailed. Instead, FinApp needs to take steps to reorganize our process, minimize waste, collect more data and ensure that the SAF can grow in a sustainable way.
SAF reform should begin by addressing long-standing complaints from student organizations and collecting data on how much the university profits from the Georgetown University Lecture Fund, SAC organizations and other groups when they use venues on campus and incur AV, venue and Georgetown University Police Department costs. It should continue with the setting up of better systems to measure group membership than using group email list numbers and with holding groups accountable when they misuse valuable student money.
We also must ensure we have an increase in funds available year to year and that we increase the growth rate so it can better sustain club spending in the long run. And it doesn’t have to be huge, either — an adjustment equal to the value of a Chicken Madness sandwich would increase available funds by over $100,000.
Chiefly, the reform process must culminate in structural reforms to better serve groups and hold advisory boards, FinApp and the administration more accountable for the decisions made with our money. Solutions include working with cultural and identity-based organizations to better serve and prioritize their needs in the funding process and revamping the Council of Advisory Boards so it serves its purpose as a forum for the boards to solve common issues. The New Club Development process should also be more sustainable given growing budgetary constraints. Finally, FinApp, as the only elected body in the student organizations funding system, must take a more public, assertive position by holding boards and itself accountable.
Every Hoya is affected by SAF’s process, and we all deserve a system that better supports student life. It is, therefore, our obligation to fight for reform and a fairer, more effective system.
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a first-year student in the School of Foreign Service and is the newly elected chair of GUSA’s Finance and Appropriations Committee.