An unknown problem of staggering proportions

Andrew Breland and Jacob Martin

Last year, students were denied access to Senior Week events. The planning committee failed to purchase enough tickets due to a lack of funds. A similar problem occurs every year in Undergraduate Student Government when mass funding requests are denied. The funding for these and other activities comes directly from your student activities fee.

Along with the $42,766 you pay for Case Western Reserve University tuition, undergraduates are charged .08 percent of that number as a “student activities fee.” This year’s total fee comes to over $310. These funds are given to the Student Executive Council to distribute among select university organizations—University Program Board, USG, University Media Board, Greek Life, Class Officer Collective, Senior Week, Springfest, and Thwing Study Over.

The Student Executive Council is composed of the heads and treasurers of each of these organizations, the president of the Residence Hall Association, the non-voting secretary and two advisors, the vice president and associate vice president of Student Affairs, so 10 students and two administrative advisors are responsible for allocating the approximately $1.65 million to these groups this year. This body makes up about 0.2 percent of the student body, yet allocates the equivalent of 40 students’ tuitions.

If this itself is not troubling enough, it is important to remember that this money comes directly from the student body at CWRU, not a grant from the university or from university endowment. This year, every undergraduate student will pay nearly $350 into a fund managed by the CWRU-equivalent of the mafia don.

This system could be all right. Indeed, the “grant of power” the university gives the SEC would be acceptable if the organization acted within its own rules.

Per the SEC constitution, the organization must announce all of its meetings as they are open to student observers. However, the SEC has failed to announce their meeting for the semester. Interested students who would like to attend SEC sessions are unable to because of the group’s demonstrated lack of transparency.

Beyond that, the SEC has failed to publicize their decisions, again in violation of its own constitution.

As of this publication going to press, the SEC website fails to have any of the minutes from their 2013-2014 meetings, and it has failed to provide the breakdown of funds for the 2014-2015 academic year. In fact, its entire website has gone unchanged since April 2014.

The SEC Constitution states, “The approved set of allocations shall be promptly made available to The Observer and on the website of the SEC and shall take effect the semester following approval.” This information, again, is nowhere to be found.

The organization responsible for policing and controlling our largest student organizations and for distributing student-provided funds is acting in egregious violation of its own rules.

As with many unjust governments though, the SEC provides a method by which students can overturn its rulings. Again, like unjust governments, the method here seems to be entirely for show.

Its constitution also provides that students may trigger a referendum on an SEC decision by submitting a petition with signatures from 10 percent of the student body. However, one will find it incredibly difficult to petition against decisions that are not published or announced. Moreover, even if an interested student were to learn what the mysterious organization does, submitting a petition would be an incredibly difficult endeavor. SEC meetings seem to go unannounced and their locations go unmentioned. In what might sound like an awful refrain at this point, the SEC is violating its own rules.

The far worse consequence, though, is that decisions made by the SEC affect every student on the CWRU campus.

For example, every semester all student organizations go through mass funding. Inevitably, every student group gets denied funding for one or more of their events. The USG Finance Committee bemoans a lack of funding for student organizations while SEC provides all of the funding for USG.

SEC wields tremendous power in funding organizations. This year, a one percent change in the way SEC allocates funds gifts or revokes nearly $16,500, enough to fund at least four large student organizations, another publication, or feed, seemingly, the entire campus.

Above, we mentioned that SEC will allocate approximately $1.65 million in total this year alone. Now, we do not know how that money will be allocated (because of missing meeting minutes and a lack of records), but the records we do have give us some idea.

We have the SEC allocations for the 2013 calendar year. There are no more recent numbers publicly posted. In that year, SEC allocations were as follows: $467,411 (35 percent) to UPB, $353,598 (25 percent) to USG, $254,680 (18 percent) to Media Board, $90,010 (six percent) to Greek Life, $86,556 (six percent) to COC and a collected $135,745 (10 percent) to Senior Week, Springfest and Thwing Study Over.

These allocations, again, are unilaterally imposed by an infinitesimally small minority of the campus; the entire process for these funds is shrouded in darkness. And as we’ve already seen, the public notice or ability to influence these allocations is nonexistent because of SEC’s refusal to follow the rules.

It is not an uncommon thing to hear how “the costs of college are at an all-time high.” Many writers, in addition to chastising high tuition rates, will blame this on extra fees colleges charge to unsuspecting students. The Student Activities Fee is one of those charges. Frankly, we would not have a problem paying it if it weren’t for how it was allocated.

Instead of allocation by the administration, a virtually unchecked group of students wields control of this $1.65 million fund, and apparently this group cannot be trusted to obey their own rules, let alone allocate money fairly and appropriately.

SEC’s behavior is a gross mismanagement of funds for which there is no excuse. There is no transparency, no record, no public input and no oversight. SEC has skirted around rules and broken others for long enough. Our money is too important to be trusted to this organization. The SEC should be abolished and replaced with an organization more concerned with transparency, fairness and openness.