Transparency? An inquiry on the new SEC constitution

Eamon Sheehan, Contributing Reporter

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Tuition, by most accounts, is seen as both a smart investment in one’s future and a monolithic financial commitment. While the primary goal of tuition payment is to gain an education, students are developing expectations of what the money they pay to the university should go to outside the classroom. Every semester, Case Western Reserve University students pay $182 toward activities on campus. This student activity fee (SAF) functions effectively as social security for students’ social life on campus. It is distributed to different student representative boards across campus with the goal of benefitting students in extracurricular activities and events. With a rising demand for SAF money to be spent efficiently, questions of transparency have arisen with regard to how the more than $800,000 generated by students is spent on campus.

After the SAF is collected at the outset of the semester, the money is allocated to student representative boards such as University Program Board (UPB), Class Officer Collective (COC) and University Media Board (UMB). From there money is doled out to student clubs, groups and ad-hocs, spent on events or put to use in other ways by these boards. In years previous, budget information for elected student boards was required to be disclosed at the beginning of each semester. At the end of the 2016 spring semester, however, the new acting body of the Student Executive Council, the Student Presidents’ Roundtable (SPR), made up of leaders of all of the boards that receive SAF funding, adopted a new constitution which, among other regulations, gave a six-week waiting period for the disclosure of the current semester budget. While the allocations by percent are broken down on the SEC website, the student boards are free to operate as usual without the transparency of releasing their finances for more than a month into the semester.

Transparency seems to be a goal for both USG and the SEC. During the general assembly of the USG for the the week of Sept. 13, Representative Tim Nocholas was elected as the vice president of Public Relations and will head the USG’s Public Relations Committee. Running on a platform of transparency to the student body, Representative Robinson won a decisive victory. Similarly in the minutes of the SPR’s SAF allocations meeting last spring, student input  was cited regarding SAF funding as influential and evidence of progression their goal for “more accountability to the student body.”

In some ways the adoption of a new SEC constitution last spring reflects those ambitions. The system for distributing SAF funding was overhauled with the intention of increasing transparency. The SEC established “base allocations” for each board while turning over control of the remaining funds to the USG Financial Committee. Members of the financial board are also elected by the student body and will be held accountable by both SEC regulation and new bylaws passed at the USG’s general assembly. However this six week non-disclosure clause has left the student body in the blind as student representative boards spend money without public oversight.

Representative committees like USG that distribute SAF funding to student organizations have been less affected by this six week waiting period than others because of the need for student organizations to understand where their money is coming from. Thus their funding proposal for this semester, made public last spring, has a breakdown of predictions for the amount of money they will distribute to student organizations versus internal uses. Other groups represented in the SEC, such as the University Program Board (UPB) and the University Media Board (UMB) provide far less information in their proposals.

The question of SAF allocation can become contentious in a number of ways. Do students gain more from clubs or events on campus? Should funding be allocated solely for entertainment or to focus on cultivating the values of the university? In line with the universities push for diversity, this fall semester will be the first that the University Diversity Collaborative is funded by the SAF, taking in a little over seven percent, an estimated $64,000 of activity fee allocations.

Some students think another way for student diversity at CWRU to be represented is by the more than 200 student organizations already funded by USG. Funding of student organizations for some on campus can open up opportunities they never thought possible. This is the case for Ama Carney, treasurer for the quidditch team on campus, CWRUcio. “You know, to have this magical sport from a book I read in middle school become a physical thing I can participate in on campus is amazing…. It’s a unique experience I wouldn’t get elsewhere.” Carney sees club sports and quidditch in particular as an diverse and accepting, contributing to the diversity of campus life: “We are gender inclusive and accepting of all ability levels. It’s a unique opportunity.”

“I appreciate that the university is where the money is coming from; it’s got to come from somewhere in our tuition and I’m happy they are up front about it.” said Carney “But, I personally would like to see more money go to clubs.”

In comparison with the budget as a whole of $892,000 a rough estimate of $258,000 is planned to be allocated to student clubs and organizations including the rollover from last year.  Both students and student boards represent an initiative to have an open discussion about SAF funding. Unfortunately this question will be put off until six weeks into the semester, when the budgets will be released to the public.