SEC discusses student representation, transparency and accountability

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Big changes may be coming for the group that handles your money. The Student Executive Council (SEC), which allocates the $171 student activities fee (SAF) that each student pays on top of tuition to the umbrella organizations on campus, met on March 5 to discuss structural changes that they may make for next semester, mostly aimed at creating more student representation on the board.

The SEC includes the president and finance chairs of USG, the University Programming Board, the University Media Board (UMB), the Class Officer Collective (COC), the Interfraternity Congress and Panhellenic Congress (IFC/PHC) and the Residence Hall Association (RHA), as well as representatives from off-the-tops Springfest, Senior Week and Thwing Study Over (TSO).

Two proposals were presented at the meeting: one from Chippy Kennedy and Taylor Gladys of USG, and one from Victoria Robinson of RHA. Both involved splitting the SEC into two branches: one for financial matters, like allocating the SAF, and one for dealing with campus issues. Under Kennedy and Gladys’ proposal, the campus issues branch would have legislative power, similar to USG, while under Robinson’s proposal, they would deal more with campus wide initiatives.

SEC currently deals mainly with the allocation of the SAF, but there is frequent discussion about how they could help to deal with larger campus issues.

“There is a lot of untapped potential in terms of what SEC can actually do,” said Colin Worden, executive president of COC.

However, some worried that putting financial decisions and decisions on campus issues in the hands of the same board would lead to bias.

“My concern is that in the future there may be that one bad apple that decides that they need to manipulate the system that they need to solve their campus issues and have that money to solve their campus issues,” said Jordan Trump, vice president of finance of PHC.

Kennedy, Gladys and Robinson all hope that giving the SEC a better place to discuss campus issues will lead to more collaboration. However, some thought that this was something that SEC had already been doing a good job of working towards.

“When student groups work together as designed, they affect change that has unprecedented outcome,” said Andrew Hodowanek, vice chair of UMB.

Both proposals also include adding students who are directly elected by the student body to sit on each branch. The hope is that this will help to bring more of a student voice to the SEC, while also helping to make it less political.

“Only 11 people voting on allocating $790,000 to their own organizations means bias,” said Gladys. “Students don’t have a vote. It’s all organizations whose interests are at stake who vote on it.”

However, concerns were brought up about whether these students would remain unbiased, and how they would affect the SEC dynamic.

“What scares me about having a huge student body presence is that sometimes we get bad PR for something that gets blown up,” added Ellie Elston, president of PHC. “My concern would be that we wouldn’t be able to recover from that if that bad PR was reflected in a cut to our budget.”

Others were also worried that there would not be enough students who wanted these positions, and that would result in uncontested or unfilled seats. There was also concern that adding more people to the board might make coming to agreements even harder.

“Balance is the most important part,” said Hodowanek. “It has to be democratic, but still have a reasonable number of people to make decisions.”

There was also a lot of talk about how to hold SEC organizations accountable for sticking to their budgets and preventing rollover. They are considering hiring an auditor, possibly through the Office of Student Affairs, who could help to look at their budgets and make sure that they are spending students’ money efficiently.

“Auditing is good for sticking to your budget, but it doesn’t ensure that you’re spending students’ money in the way they want it to be spent,” said Gladys, pushing further for more student representation outside of SEC boards.

The SEC members will discuss the proposals for change further at their March 19 meeting, which will take place at 9 p.m. in the Senior Classroom in the Tinkham Veale University Center. They will also vote on whether or not to send the proposed Undergraduate Diversity Council to a student referendum.

“Now is the time to really go out and benchmark and look at some best practices and some other places and see what works, and then adapt it for our culture,” said Vice President of Student Affairs and SEC advisor Lou Stark.