It’s past midnight, and 20 plus students have just finished allocating the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will be spent this semester to define student life on campus.
The three plus hour process, not uncommon for the Student Executive Council’s (SEC) allocation meeting, entails the largest umbrella organizations coming together to fight for the Student Activities Fee (SAF), more than $850,000 for the semester.
The key word in that sentence: fight. With only so much money to go around and boards advocating for their own allocations, the process often becomes heated and political. So the next day, as with every week, a group of 10 students, some who sit on SEC and some who don’t, came together to talk about how they’re going to change the system.
In its current form, the SEC is made up of the largest umbrella organizations on campus, including the president and finance chairs of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), the University Program Board (UPB), the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative (UDC), the University Media Board, 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, Homecoming and Thwing Study Over (TSO).
They manage the allocation of the SAF—an approximately $177 per semester cost that each student pays on top of tuition—through a process which involves all of the boards submitting and discussing their budgets before asking for an allocation for the next semester. These allocations are submitted as percentages; typically the total requested from all of the boards going into the process is above 100 percent, meaning that the requests will have to be cut down.
The SEC Reform task force, which has been meeting since September, was put together because many felt that the current method of allocating the SAF was inefficient. In the current system, the process of cutting down requested allocations to 100 percent is taken on by the boards who are requesting funds. This means that boards allocate in their own self-interest, making it difficult to respond to changing needs of the student body as a whole.
Additionally many of the members who sit on the board are not elected by the student body—only USG and COC representatives are directly elected by the student body as a whole. With the new system, the task force hopes to create a process where there is elected student representation deciding on allocations.
“The goal is to include more student voice in the process,” said Andrew Hodowanec, SEC chair and ex-officio member of the task force. “We want to make the room less political and more focused on student needs.”
The new system will involve both short-term and long-term changes. The short-term changes will not include disbanding any board organizations, although that is a potential for longer term changes. The longer term changes, which have not yet been fleshed out, would be the continued responsibility of the task force going into future years.
In the long-term, the new system will be aiming to be “a leadership system that, in good conscience, collaborates, advocates and allocates finances for and by all undergraduate students,” according to the task force’s vision statement.
In the short-term, these changes will be accomplished through the formation of a Student President’s Roundtable (SPR) and a Student Allocations Council (SAC).
The SPR will focus on fostering collaboration between boards to help improve the undergraduate experience. The roundtable will feature presidents from the current SEC boards, with the potential to add on presidents from other groups who fit with the SPR’s mission. The presidents will discuss current campus issues and look at possible ways to solve them collaboratively, as well as providing somewhere for students to go to if they have issues that do not fit in the purview of a specific board.
The SPR will have the ability to propose legislation to the USG General Assembly, a right previously reserved for USG members. These resolutions will be discussed and voted on as any other resolution brought before USG General Assembly.
“The uniqueness in this would be a direct line of access to presenting resolutions before USG with the backing of the largest student organizations on campus,” said Hodowanec.
The SAC, made up of treasurers elected by the student body, will handle the allocation of the SAF. In order to keep treasurers unbiased, a treasurer cannot be an executive officer of any board funded by the SAC. Boards also cannot use SAF money to support the election of a treasurer or to offer incentives to treasurers while they are in office. In addition, treasurers would have to go through implicit bias training. The treasurers would be advised by a faculty member from the Weatherhead School of Management or staff from the Student Affairs Operations Group.
Instead of allocating to boards individually, the SAC would allocate to the funding blocks of programming, advocacy, traditions, media and student organizations.
“It’s like saying this month, instead of saying I will spend $10 at H&M, $10 at Chipotle, $5 at Mitchell’s and $5 at Gas USA, now we’re saying I will spend $15 this month on food, $10 on clothes and $5 on transportation,” said Tara Tran, chair of the task force. “This is so you can categorize spending better.”
Each functional block would have a guaranteed percentage, likely based off of the current amount of SEC alloction that goes to those groups. These fixed percentages have the potential to be changed every two years by review from the treasurers and the SPR; the process of how they would be changed, whether by student referendum or other means, has yet to be determined.
Student groups currently under USG or UDC would fall under the student organizations block; however, it is still being debated whether they would apply directly to the SAC, or if USG and UDC would apply to the SAC and then do mass funding as usual.
The other current SEC boards would divide their own funding requests by what criterion best describes each event or program. Aspects of UPB, IFC/PHC, COC and Senior Week would be included in programming, for example, while traditions would feature aspects of COC, Springfest, TSO, Homecoming and UDC.
In addition to the functional block allocations, there will also be available reserve funding which can be allocated by the treasurers to fill additional funding requests by boards and student organizations. This allows the system to still be responsive to student needs. The current plan is to have the amount of reserve funding be low at first, to help guarantee some stasis with the current system, but with the potential to increase at a later point as the system develops.
The task force will be taking feedback on this, as well as other student issues, at the SEC open forum on March 3. Based on that feedback, they will revise the proposal before presenting a final draft to the SEC at their March 31 meeting. Then, the SEC will vote on the proposal, and, based on the outcome of that vote, the plan may be put to student referendum at the same time as USG/RHA joint elections in April.
Editor’s Note: Julia Bianco is the secretary for the SEC and the SEC Reform Task Force. Her job includes taking notes at meetings, but does not entail contributing to plans or discussions.