The Student Activities Board (SAB), the event-‐planning wing of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) that is now equipped with a $534,887 budget, is clearly adept at putting on successful campus events. The White Panda concert last Friday proved that SAB’s current leadership plans to carry on the consistency and popularity of last year’s run of concerts, comedians and speakers, but with better economic sensibilities and the opportunity to build upon last year’s foundation. The concert, this year’s first SAB-‐coordinated event, cost roughly $28,000 and nearly 1,100 students attended, according to estimates by USG President Mark Maloof.
But the newly revised USG financial bylaws the senate passed at the beginning of the summer, which were presented to all clubs at the USG Leadership Conference on Saturday, September 10, make it clear that USG is set not only on decreasing the budgets of many clubs, but also on minimizing their influence in a way that ultimately injures our diverse campus environment. This highly unjustified approach to student leadership is setting a disastrous precedent for future students, all while the success of concerts and other events helps mask this rechanneling of power and student money as a newfound source of “fun on campus.”
In the words of USG Treasurer Thomas Kirnbauer, SAB’s success is the very reason its budget was increased by more than 30 percent, while clubs and organizations saw massive reductions across the entire board. That admission alone is enough to evoke suspicion and anger from every club for a number of reasons, such as the fact that SAB went over budget last year and still received such an increase, or the fact that SAB is currently operating without a Special Events Coordinator, the second half of SAB leadership alongside the VP of Student Life. USG determining that its own organization is successful enough for a budget increase is akin to a corporate executive increasing his or her salary because they felt they deserved it. But USG has gone even further than budget cuts in its efforts to minimize the influence of clubs and maximize the reach of SAB.
For one, “Fall Revisions” was the oft-‐repeated answer Kirnbauer gave out when questioned about the large club budget decreases. The revision process takes rollover money from last year and appropriates it to clubs who felt they were shortchanged by USG’s original 2011-‐2012 budget.
But it was revealed at the leadership conference that this process is reserved only for clubs whose budgets were decreased by 40 percent or more, a new restriction under the rewritten bylaws. This applies to only 15 clubs out of 76 who saw their USG line budget decrease, if one compares last year’s final budget with this year’s original and excludes clubs whose budgets that were cut completely because a budget was never submitted or the club disbanded.
For the remaining clubs, they’re out of luck and must make due with what they have, which is especially painful for clubs with larger budgets because a decrease less than 40 can still equate to a substantial decrease in funds. For instance, the African Students Union saw their budget decreased by $7,080, or 26 percent, with no hope for a revision under the new bylaws, where as last year, they would have been able to apply for at least a small increase. The LGBTA had their budget cut from $13,500 to $8,490, or 37 percent, and will undoubtedly suffer greatly because of that. If its budget were cut down to $8,000 instead, they would then be eligible to make some of that money back. USG members will like to say that it is only appropriate to compare original budgets, which illustrate a far smaller decrease, but because USG placed no restrictions on last year’s fall revisions—any club could apply for more funding—last year’s final budgets should only be compared to this year’s original budgets, which without fall revisions, are final.
Kirnbauer’s official response to this is a more efficient grant process where clubs will be able to apply specifically for extra money for events or long-‐term items, but even the
grant amounts were arbitrarily constructed and their distribution highly restrictive. A club with a budget less than $10,000 can receive a maximum of only $1,000 to put on a campus event, with the maximum event grant amount set at $3,000 for clubs with budgets larger than $20,000. These amounts basically stomp out any possibility of a club with a small budget planning a larger event, or a new club getting on its feet by planning something successful.
The revised bylaws go further to cripple club event planning by restricting the maximum amount of money a club can spend on a guest speaker to $2,000, and prohibiting clubs from using an event grant to co-‐sponsor an event. By placing an arbitrary limit on the amount a club can pay a speaker and by prohibiting clubs from splitting the costs of events, USG is effectively making itself the only student-‐run organization with the ability to bring a well-‐known person to campus. Had these restrictions been in place in the past, countless successful events, including The Press’ last spring with Daniel Ellsberg, would not have been possible. It’s a vast overstepping of USG’s boundaries that further centralizes power in the hands of a few students, rather than many student-‐led clubs that are open to the entire student body.
There is a way to bolster the consistency and success of large-‐scale events on campus while at the same time helping foster a diverse club environment, but our current leadership is not searching for such a solution. Instead, they have strengthened an arm of their own organization and taken a stance against the influence and effectiveness of nearly all clubs. In doing so, USG is failing to do one of its fundamental jobs – maintaining and protecting clubs and fostering positive campus life.
President Maloof has solidified his position against the university’s clubs, whether he knows it or not, by not vetoing these changes to the bylaws when they were brought to the Senate, meaning only new legislation can reverse any of this damage.