Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fewer cuts, smaller budgets for student orgs next fall

Originally published in The Mac Weekly.

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Life can be hard for an FAC Chair. Mac McCreary ’12, the chair of student government’s Financial Affairs Committee (FAC), was explaining some of the jobs his successor would have to deal with.

“You get to deal with pleasant little interactions with appeals processes,” he said. “It’s a difficult job.”

Kate Hamilton ’13, his successor, sighed.

“That’s depressing.”

Every semester, the FAC pores through over a hundred student org budgets to allocate funding to deserving events. The process can be delicate.

“I don’t know if there is such a thing as a successful budget,” McCreary said. “I think so much of it is kind of a crapshoot to see how things work out–trying to keep people happy but making it fair as well.”

Next semester, Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) anticipates receiving $124,000 from the student activities fee. Of that sum, $15,000 will go toward the travel fund; the rest will be allocated to student orgs. Thus far, $72,801 has been allocated to the 106 student orgs MCSG chartered for the fall.

The FAC originally set a goal of $60-65,000 for the budgeting process, but a higher-than-usual number of student orgs submitted well-planned events for budgeting.

“[Many] fewer people got rejected this time around. More orgs got a higher percentage of what they requested from last semester,” McCreary said. “Last semester pretty much everyone saw cuts.”

Nevertheless, this year’s budget is smaller than in past years. This semester, about $85,000 was budgeted to student orgs.

Firmer rules now guide the budgeting process. At last week’s MCSG meeting, the legislative board approved bylaws to formalize some of the guidelines under which FAC has already operated.

“I think the process with additional allocations will be a little more straightforward now,” Hamilton said.

Among the changes are caps on certain types of funding for student orgs. For example, the FAC will “consider funding up to $5 per person for clothing,” and “up to $10 per person for meals.”

T-shirts were a common request in the fall student org budgets. Among those groups requesting t-shirts were Team Asia, FIA/STARSA, MacDems and Students for a Free Tibet. Although funding for t-shirts can be provided up to $5 per student, none of the requests were approved.

“We were under the impression that the t-shirts were for using them for an event, representing the organization during canvassing drives, and other campaign events and activities in the fall to represent not only the Obama campaign but Macalester in the greater community,” said Zach Avre ’14, a co-chair of MacDems. “The school can be smart about where they spend their money. There are a lot of other awesome events and activities, I don’t think shirts are a priority,” he said.

MacDems also lost funding for an event with an Obama campaign surrogate in the fall; they were approved for only $20 of the requested $740.

A new set of rules also governs alumni networking events. Previously, funding for such events was decided on an ad hoc basis. Such events often featured coffee with alumni or a larger meal. Now, only a maximum of $100 will be provided for these events.

“We understand that alumni are coming after-hours or during their lunch break,” Hamilton noted. “Food [and] coffee could be a facilitator to conversation.”

The FAC decided that $100 could provide sufficient funding for light snacks and coffee at alumni networking events, if not pizza. Nevertheless, McCreary acknowledged that the restriction was ‘micro-managey’ on the part of the FAC.

“[These events] work a lot better if you are up and moving around instead of sitting at a table with the same five or six people for an hour,” he said.

Last semester saw particular conflict over funding for food. The new bylaws specifically codify the FAC’s limitations on such expenditures. Funding is only permissible “when food is integral to the event and adds a substantive piece to the event,” they read. “Food cannot be strictly for the purpose of gaining attendance to an event. The FAC will not fund food for events that are specifically for a celebration within the org that does not contribute to the campus at large and is not in the org’s charter.”

“I just realized end of the semester dinners are dead,” McCreary said. “Or at least they require a suspension of the bylaws.”

The legislative board of MCSG is the ultimate arbiter of how student activity fee dollars are distributed. The FAC will present its budget for public discussion at this Tuesday’s MCSG meeting. There, student orgs can appeal their budgets before approval by the entire body.

Further, requests not included in the FAC budget may be requested later through the additional allocations process. The limits placed by the FAC on the fall 2012 budget leave about $40,000 for additional allocations–twice as much as the last fall and spring semesters, according to McCreary.

For his part, Avre plans to discuss appealing their budget with the other leaders of MacDems. He says the group will likely rely on additional allocations to fund its events in the fall. Planning for its prospective speaker from the Obama campaign will probably be easier closer to the event.

“It can be difficult to plan events, especially sometimes with speakers if they are still sometimes up in the air… the type of event definitely plays into how much one can be prepared,” Hamilton said. “It’s kind of nice to see some amount of foresight in the budget, but it is really hard to do it so hard in advance."

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