Poor attendance at a Student Activities Commission working group was representative of broader challenges in engagement and communication that the group faces, according to SAC Chair Jennifer Chiang (SFS ’15).
Only SAC commissioners and two student group leaders attended the session, which was intended to be the first in a series of three events.
“The frustrations we see here are the same frustrations student groups feel,” Chiang said of the sparsely attended SAC event.
After an overhaul of its funding process in the past year — switching from funding individual events to allotting lump-sum budgets to student groups each semester — SAC has reduced the red-tape process for budget requests, but many groups remained unsatisfied.
December cuts to SAC budgets now affect student groups by equal percentages across the board, reducing all budget requests by an equal percentage regardless of club size or event scale.
Though SAC allocated a record amount of money for both fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters, student groups received less than usual due to an increased volume of requests.
“Student leaders have told me that the current system is against larger events because everything gets cut by the same percentage,” commissioner Edouard Mattille (SFS ’14) said. “If that’s a $100 loss, it can be made up easily, but if it’s a $10,000 event, then that’s a lot harder to make up. They would say SAC should do a better job at favoring larger events over smaller things.”
Mattille, however, said that, in an alternative system, SAC would have to exert judgment over which events merit more funding, which extends beyond the body’s purview.
“The big issue is that will you be willing to give SAC the authority to start saying that ‘This is a larger event, so it should be funded at a different level,’” Mattille said. “If we start doing that kind of hair-splitting, it would be giving a lot of power to an organization that probably shouldn’t have that much of a say over what should happen in student life.”
Chiang argued that many groups do not understand the SAC funding system and feel discouraged by the budget cuts — frustration she suggested factored into the limited turnout for Saturday’s event.
“If we could get more people and more ideas, it would be better for the general goal,” she said. “They think we’re just randomly cutting at certain percentages, which is not true. We really want input.”
SAC fulfilled just over 75 percent of groups’ funding requests in spring 2012, about 80 percent in fall 2012 and 69 percent in spring 2013.
“The requests we were getting were bigger than previous semesters,” Mattille said. “Are groups overreaching? Are they overstating the numbers they need? Or are they actually having growth?”
College Democrats Vice President Elyssa Skeirik (SFS ’15) agreed that student groups have an incentive to inflate budgets to obtain more funding.
“There is a big incentive to ask for more money than you need and to put in events you don’t need,”Skeirik said.
Chiang said she has observed a trend of inflating budget requests but said it is difficult tomicromanage club events.
“We can get a sense of groups are asking more money by holding more events and just reallocating money, but we really want to and we do trust our groups,” Chiang said.
Despite increased budget requests and new student groups, SAC’s budget is not likely to expand.
“We only have a finite number of resources,” Chiang said. “We want to hear feedback from student groups to improve our funding system.”
The next working group sessions will be held Feb. 9 and Feb. 23.