Fixing our student group funding system

It can be hard, as a student already busy with classes, homework, clubs and sports, to take the time to really care about the Student Executive Council (SEC). From the outside, a bureaucratic organization with meetings that can take up to three hours does not seem particularly interesting. We’ll say it now. For the average student, bylaws, legislation and parliamentary procedures are not fun. We have to care though. The SEC has a say in many university decisions and more importantly decides the budgets of our clubs and organizations.

This is especially true right now, as SEC is debating overarching structural changes that could reshape our entire student government.

SEC representatives, Undergraduate Student Government (USG), Residential Hall Association (RHA) and other members of the student body have been frustrated by a major issue: Umbrella organizations only advocate for themselves when it comes to funding groups and do not look at what’s best for the entire student body. Additional gripes stem from the lack of ability to address campus issues at SEC meetings.

These issues are not a surprise considering how the organization is set up. Currently the SEC is made up of two representatives from USG, University Media Board, Class Officer Collective, and University Program Board and one for Interfraternity Congress and Panhellenic Council (IFC/PHC) each. RHA’s executive president sits on the board as well and can only vote on non-financial matters since they do not receive funding from the Student Activities Fee, the roughly $171 fee you pay on top of tuition each semester.

There is no individual who currently sits on the board who isn’t jockeying for their organization. No one has the job of looking at the SEC as a whole, so groups just fight for all the funding they can get, even if it’s not best for the student body.

Additionally with no direct representation from the student, there is no motivation for the group to be transparent either.

Clearly reform in some way is needed.

Members of SEC began working on this issue several weeks ago, and a meeting will be held next Thursday, April 2 at 9 p.m. in the Senior Classroom of the Tinkham Veale University Center to discuss a myriad of proposals have been brought forward and form one plan of action. The meeting will be open to any member of the student body who wants to listen and give input.

First things first, you should go. While dry, these decisions could have lasting impacts for years to come.

Now back to the proposals.

While many ideas will be presented, we examined the three major ones available as of press time.

Here’s a quick overview. These are the simplified versions, so if you’d like to know more, attend the April 2 meeting.

Proposal 1: Kennedy and Gladys backed

The first was created by junior Chippy Kennedy, USG vice president of finance, and senior Taylor Gladys, president of USG and SEC co-chair. They propose a three-branch system with an Assembly of the Treasury for budgets, a Student Body Senate for legislative issues and a Judicial Board. The Assembly of the Treasury would be made up of one treasurer appointed per SEC member organization along with two elected officials from the student body for every one appointed treasurer. Members of the Student Body Senate would have a similar setup, except that one senator would be elected for every 200 students at CWRU. Five Judicial Board members would be elected as well. An Executive Council consisting of members of all three branches would oversee the system. In effect USG would be dissolved and blended into a USG-SEC hybrid for better or for worse.

Proposal 2: Dupuis, Eckman and Socrates backed

Sophomore Andrew Dupuis and freshmen Dallas Eckman and Vimig Socrates have proposed another three-branch plan. An Undergraduate Student Senate would take over USG’s current responsibilities, with the exception that it would not allocate funds. Budgetary power would then be held by the Student Board Union, which would be made up of appointed representatives like the current structure. The Judiciary Board in this plan would consist of the USG president, a Student Board Union representative, two unaffiliated members, and a faculty advisor. They would have the power to overturn decisions by four-fifths vote. Again, another SEC-USG blend.

Proposal 3: Robinson backed

The final proposal is by junior Victoria Robinson, president of RHA and SEC co-chair. The two-part system is comprised of a Finance Committee in charge of—you guessed it—finance. There will also be a Community Engagement Committee that discusses campus situations and works to improve campus culture.

Both groups would include representatives from all of the campus umbrella organizations like the current system (with the exception that RHA, which is funded separately and would not have members on the Finance Committee), but also feature the addition of three student body representatives to both groups whose process would start by being selected by faculty and administration nomination. In this setup, USG would not be replaced, but merely representatives from the organization would meet with RHA representatives as part of the Community Engagement Committee.

Our verdict: Robinson’s needs some adjustments, but should be the starting framework for reforms

After examining the three proposals, The Observer believes that Robinson’s proposal should be used as the framework for reforms going forward. While we are adamantly against faculty and administration playing any role in picking student representatives, since what’s in the best interest of CWRU officials is not necessary what’s best for students, we still believe that Robinson’s structure is the best choice.

Her proposal addresses the issues and fixes them with a simple solution. Tweaks are better than throwing the system out, especially at a university where students are often apathetic about elections to start.

Concerns with the Kennedy and Gladys backed proposal include the worry that it will actually increase politics on SEC. By voting for treasurers (who would be in a vast majority over appointed ones), groups could back candidates, and stack the deck so to speak with representatives that value their organization. Funding would go to whoever could secure the most positions. Additionally their proposal, along with Dupuis and colleagues, is too complicated and would only increase bureaucratic time wasted. We appreciate both groups work however, and wanted to especially applaud Kennedy and Gladys for their vast amount of peer institutional research.

Additionally, we have qualms on making such drastic changes to the current USG structure, especially their special linkage to a reformed SEC. Integrating SEC with a legislative structure has the feeling of USG presiding over the other campus groups.

Robinson’s proposal on the other hand creates positions which could look at funding from a holistic perspective, while limiting the impact of groups campaigning to elected representatives. Additionally by creating the Community Engagement Committee, it would force collaboration between the current groups in the system, USG and RHA, instead of replacing them.

However our support comes with a catch. Instead of those elected individuals needing nominations from campus leadership, we should elect one sophomore, junior and senior to serve in a voting capacity. Two freshman could sit on the SEC in a non-voting role to voice their concerns, but this delay would afford them the time to learn about the complicated system. Why two? It creates competition starting sophomore year.

Yes, changes are needed, but let’s fix them with the minimum amount of reforms as possible so that we don’t have unintended consequences down the road. Robinson’s proposal does just that.