The two words can be found in large font and blue ink on signs plastered across campus today: “Vote Yes.” Faced with a referendum on Student Activities Fee and Endowment reform, students may take one of three routes: heed the command on the signs, opt out of the voting entirely, or reconsider. No matter their decisions, the integrity of the university’s club funding system hangs in the balance – and the student body can’t afford to get lost in the details.
With its first major initiative of the year, the Georgetown University Student Association has correctly identified many of the concerns about student group funding at Georgetown. But SAFE reform is not the right solution to the problem.
Leaders of student clubs have complained that funding for their activities is not always adequate and they have been forced to cut back on their programming as a result. Yes, SAFE reform would increase the amount of funding for clubs now, but it would be at the expense of continuing to build the Student Activities Endowment.
A decade ago, Georgetown students voted to establish the Student Activities Endowment to make club funding self-sustaining. By contributing half of their $100 Student Activities Fee to the endowment, thousands of students in every graduating class since have worked toward the promise that clubs should have a steady source of funding without students being charged a large annual fee.
Originally projected to reach maturity in about 10 years, the Student Activities Endowment currently only has $2 million in deposits, well short of the required $10 million for sustainability. The endowment’s lackluster performance can be attributed to two factors: First, the administration originally promised $3 million in seed funding for the endowment, but it has not followed through. Second, market interest rates have been lower than expected because of the weak economy, so the fund has not gotten a solid return in recent years.
The problems with the Student Activities Endowment are not structural flaws. The promise of a self-sustaining source of club funding for future generations of Georgetown students was a sound plan when the student body first approved the push and it remains so today.
Simply put, students should vote to reject the proposed SAFE reform because the proposal is too shortsighted. While clubs would see expanded funding in the short term, as all $150 of the increased Student Activities Fee (up from $100) would go to fund clubs every year, the long-term costs of the proposal are too severe.
Instead of simply eliminating the role of the Student Activities Endowment, what GUSA should propose is a $50 increase to the Student Activities Fee while maintaining the current allocation structure. If each student contributed $75 to the activities endowment instead of the current $50, the endowment would reach its $10 million target in just over 15 years. While the Financial Appropriations Committee recently deemed speculative returns from a $10 million endowment insufficient for covering annual club costs, by increasing the student Activities Fee, as SAFE proposes, the endowment would grow larger and faster than projected. Additionally, the $25 extra portion of the fee going straight to clubs would increase their funding by 50 percent in two years, giving clubs access to the immediate support many of them so desperately need.
This proposal fits suitably between the short-term needs of clubs at Georgetown for more funding and the long-term goal of creating a self-sustaining Student Activities Endowment. Consider: In 30 years, if SAFE reform passes, students will pay an annual Student Activities Fee of $150 plus inflation – a figure likely to be close to $200, if not higher. If students reject the proposal and continue to contribute to the Student Activities Endowment, club funding will eventually be self-sustaining, and future students will not have to pay exorbitant fees to experience all the university has to offer.
Students and alumni should also use this opportunity to pressure the university to provide the $3 million contribution promised to students who sacrificed deep pockets for a promise of a sturdier base for club funds. The Student Activities Fee endowment would be self-sufficient in less than 10 years if the university ponies up the funds it promised and the fees are increased as the reform suggests. Alumni should be outraged that their efforts to create an activities endowment have been hampered by the university not living up to its word. They should show the university that its choice was, and remains, unacceptable by withholding donations.
Students should vote against SAFE reform by Thursday at 11:30 p.m. because it would abandon a system that promises the surest long-term benefits in favor of a shortsighted plan that has some immediate benefits. GUSA should head back to the drawing board in search of middle ground. Any solution must increase funding for clubs today without destroying the promise of a self-supportive Student Activities Endowment in the future.