Editor’s Note: We must pay more attention to our student governments

Shreyas Banerjee, Executive Editor

How much do you really know about what our student governments do?

Think about last year. The University Program Board (UPB) is currently in charge of campus programming, including inviting artists and comedians to perform. In addition, they fund the Springfest Committee, which organizes the largest student-run event on campus. Springfest features fun attractions, student bands, food trucks and—most importantly—a headliner artist of some renown. Springfest usually costs over $100,000, with upwards of $60,000 spent on the headliner. In April 2022, controversy ensued after the committee announced Chase Atlantic as the headliner band. The student body widely mocked this choice, as they were an unheard-of Australian alternative R&B band. Following this, allegations of racism, cultural appropriation and inappropriate communication with underage girls surfaced against the band. The generally problematic behavior surrounding Chase Atlantic was easily found online, indicating that the committee had not done its due diligence in selecting or vetting their headliner. The Springfest Committee formally apologized to the student body—while also renouncing Chase Atlantic as the headline—on April 19, admitting that they had made “a rush decision on the artist” and that it “was a serious oversight.” Subsequently, underground artist Mobley performed at Springfest ‘22 as the headliner—and although the performance was entertaining, the entire affair raises several questions. First, how did the Springfest Committee, whose entire job is planning the event, make a rushed decision about their artist, seemingly the festival’s centerpiece? Second, how much student money was spent in hiring and then firing Chase Atlantic, and how much money was then used to hire Mobley a few days before he was scheduled to perform? Third, does no one care to learn more about this entire circumstance?

So let’s return to my original question. How much do you really know about the functionality of our student governments? You may be confused by the pluralizing of “governments” and the relationship between UPB and Springfest. While we ostensibly have one “Undergraduate Student Government” (USG) which speaks for the student body and provides funding for organizations on campus, when it comes to power over the purse, USG is not the only player in the room. Case Western Reserve University is unusual in the fact that multiple governing organizations provide funding to clubs. We have various boards that split up the funds collected from the Student Activity Fee (SAF), which accounts for 0.8% of tuition—or $227 from each student, totaling over $1 million each semester. As previously stated, USG is not the only organization that controls this fund. Portions of it also go to UPB, the University Diversity Collaborative (UDC), the University Media Board (UMB), the Class Officer Collective (COC) and the Interfraternity Congress/Panhellenic Council (IFC/PHC)—all of which contain several member organizations whom they fund. For instance, The Observer is a proud member of UMB, supporting many of the performance and publication groups at CWRU, while UPB funds Springfest. As such, CWRU has a decentralized power system, so one organization does not have complete control over our student dollars, but this wasn’t always the case. 

USG used to be the sole representative of students, funding all clubs on campus and receiving the entirety of the SAF for decades. However, that ended on September 11, 1982, when USG spent a large part of the SAF on procuring the Atlanta Rhythm Section for a single performance. Less than 10% of the student body attended the band’s performance, and the decision led to many clubs receiving inadequate funding that year. The misuse of student dollars was a gross violation of trust between students and their elected student leaders—a result of too much power being in the hands of too few individuals. And no one was paying attention to what their student government was doing. That quickly changed once USG split into four different boards, and the consequences became apparent. UPB was formed as a committee in 1984 to be in charge of all major concerts, so large-scale spending decisions would no longer be in the hands of a small number of leaders. Since then more boards have formed, further splitting the SAF—leading to the many umbrella organizations previously mentioned. This move has taken power out of the hands of one organization and ensured that certain interests, whether it be diversity groups or media groups, receive guaranteed funding. Theoretically, it prevents that same level of misuse of student money seen in 1982. 

This change happened because students were aware of the scandalous behavior, were appropriately outraged and demanded action—so why don’t we see that outrage today? Those who know me know that aside from being the editor-in-chief of The Observer, I am also the SEC Allocations Committee (AC) chair. The AC is responsible for overseeing the SAF, funding all the aforementioned umbrella organizations and auditing them to ensure student money is being spent in an appropriate manner. This audit comes out at the end of every semester, detailing the previous semester’s activities of all these boards—including looking into what Springfest did with their funds this semester and releasing their report in December. But let me let you in on a little secret—it won’t matter much. Few students read the audits the AC has previously published. 

If they did, the student body at large would know that USG has been far from diligent in tracking their finances, not even submitting a budget for review to the AC last semester because said budget did not exist. In the meantime, USG hoarded their allocation of the SAF to create an endowment for themselves, leading to many clubs under their purview being underfunded. However, they scrapped this plan due to criticism from the AC and CWRU administration. The new USG leaders have since promised to change how they fund clubs—although not because of student backlash, which was nonexistent—theoretically allowing more money to go directly to student organizations. 

Similarly, there were almost no repercussions when the last AC audit revealed that IFC/PHC failed to spend the vast majority of their funds and kept over 74% of their SAF funds to themselves last fall. The report also detailed how IFC/PHC has repeatedly refused to fund many of the expenses that the fraternities and sororities have under them. Many Greek Life chapters are struggling financially and many other student organizations are underfunded, yet here is a seeming pot of gold, just hidden away. But there can’t be outrage if nobody knows.

However, I don’t blame students. I certainly don’t expect a typical CWRU student to read every report that the AC puts out—it’s boring. This ignorance partly stems from the fact that this information isn’t publicized in a manner conducive to student consumption. However, students might pay more attention if, say, the student newspaper featured this information, with all the digestible salacious details readily and easily available.

Moreover, the lack of awareness of the doings of our various student governments is somewhat the fault of The Observer. While we always endeavor to deliver content that educates our readers about campus’ ongoing issues, we have not always met that mark. The difficulties of the pandemic limited our coverage during the past few years of USG, IFC/PHC and more. We did not run articles on the Chase Atlantic scandal nor the USG endowment affair when it was critical information for the student body. While unfortunate, we now must work to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Coverage of these organizations is a niche only The Observer can fill—we won’t see The Daily, The Plain Dealer or even The New York Times reporting on the latest decisions made by our student leadership. As executive editor of The Observer, I am making it my mission to dedicate this paper to these issues and events, filling this niche. We can hold our peers to a higher standard by providing a critical eye to our student governments.