USG Debate 2014: VP of Finance

Candidates: Chippy Kennedy and Ali Mahmoud

Chippy: “I am a sophomore computer science student at CWRU. I’ve been in USG for one year now, the first semester as finance committee and engineering school rep and the second semester as an appointed position as treasurer. Essentially, I’m running for VP of Finance because I see it as the next step up from my current duties and responsibility to student organizations at CWRU. I’ve had my hand in finance at CWRU for a year, and I see this as a great opportunity to take ideas and actions I’ve had working for me all year and implement them in a larger scale. My biggest goal is to strengthen USG’s connection to other organizations. I think it takes a lot more than changing the SAF allocation to connect to other SEC organizations. I want to give a lot more non-financial resources to student organizations.

Ali: “I’ve been involved in USG for three years now, the first year as a commuter representative and the last two as a College of Arts and Sciences representatives. The last year I’ve served on the finance committee, which has been my favorite time in USG. I’ve made the most impact and I’ve gotten to talk to the most students on campus. My biggest goal on finance committee is to connect USG with other student organizations. Currently, we see other organizations as a piece of paper and a name on a finance request. I’d like to see them more in person.”

Some student organizations, such as Footlighters, are all but guaranteed the maximum allocation possible from USG. Recognizing that USG has just received an allocation increase from the Student Executive Council and most likely won’t be receiving another one for a while, how will you work to ensure all student organizations have an opportunity to be adequately funded?
(Note from staff reporter Julia Bianco: The SEC, or Student Executive Council, is a group including USG, University Programming Board (UPB), University Media Board (UMB), Greek Life, the Residence Hall Association (RHA), the Class Officers Collective (COC), Senior Week, Springfest and Thwing Study Over (TSO). The SEC manages the allocation of the Student Activities Fee (SAF). The SAF is a fee paid by all undergraduate students in addition to tuition. The exact amount changes every year, since it sits at 0.8 percent of yearly tuition. Currently that total amounts to just over $155 per student per semester. A recent vote within the SEC increased USG’s portion of the SAF by 2.85 percent, which amounts to an estimated additional $20,000 per semester. )

Ali: “I think the system we have now works great, where we look at our data lines and fund student organizations based on that. We currently just ran out of funding, and we had to cut down on funding by 18-20 percent. Now that we have more funding we can fund more student organizations. I think if we stick with the guidelines we currently have we won’t have any problems with that.”

You have some organizations that always receive everything they ask for, and others that barely receive anything. How do you close that gap?
Ali: “I’d look at why those student organizations receive all that money. The money they receive might be used in a more efficient way than other groups. There are some organizations that have been on campus for a long time, and they know what they’re doing, so they may receive more funding. There are some new organizations that might not know what they’re doing as much. I want to have more workshops where treasurers can come in and see what resources they have available to them.”

Chippy: “To the questions of unfair allocations, what I would say is that I agree with my opponent in that our mass funding and rolling funding guidelines are in place to assure a fair process for all student organizations. I disagree that we should stop there. Our current guidelines are a great start, but those end pretty quickly into the debating process. When we meet as finance committee, we take a guidelines at face value, but we’ll then debate on that guideline for 10, 15 minutes per line item on one request. I want to put in heavier guidelines, and guidelines that work for student groups. I want to make things much more well defined for student groups. I also want to make the guidelines change much more often. I want to make sure that changes are going in every single semester, so as the needs of student groups change, so do the funding guidelines.”

With available money being tighter for student groups should there be more guidelines for funding decisions?
Ali: “I don’t want to rely on guidelines too much, because they are not set in stone rules. As the finance committee, we debate each line item of a request. I don’t want to look at a guideline and have a sheet of paper determine whether we fund something.”

Chippy: “In defense of increased guidelines would be the simple fact that if a student organization comes to me, they need very specific answers as to why they did or did not receive funding. I don’t believe it’s a strong enough argument for me to tell them, well we talked about it, and we decided sort of abstractly that your group didn’t deserve funding for this. It puts finance committee on the same page as student organizations, and, once that process has happened, they then know how to ask for the money in a more specific way. They aren’t just in place for us to debate when to give money, but to give student organizations a very clear picture.”

Currently the number of USG organizations rests at over 200, with many organizations having only the bare minimum of members. Should we have a limit to the number of student organizations on campus?
Chippy: “I believe we should not. as a lot of you may or may not know, finance committee with in USG is responsible for recognizing all new student organizations. The burden of the recognition process falls almost solely on the finance committee. It’s my belief that it’s not our place to limit what students want. We should fully trust that students have done their research and looked into the other options, and when they come to USG with a new idea for a group recognition that they truly want it. We have a process in place that ensures that students are doing paperwork and their research and have a small but solid base of members, as well as faculty and student support, before they even come to us with an idea for a new group. If students want student groups, let them have it.”

Do you think that hurts USG’s ability to help student groups?
Chippy: “Looking at this past year, there was a huge increase in recognition of student groups. I commend the VP of finance.With the increase in student groups, he appointed me as a third treasurer. I can see that since I took the position I did alleviate the entire process for the other treasurers. As we increased students, we saw that in the fall our mass funding process didn’t cut it for students. An SEC USG funding request was created and just recently passed so now we have a better ability to fund those groups.”

Ali: “I agree with Chippy. I think that every student should be able to create a student group if there isn’t one that fits their needs. I’m involved in a lot of different organizations on campus, and I think that every student should have the opportunity to be involved in thing as I have.”

Do you think that hurts USG’s ability to help student groups?
Ali: “Well as more students come to campus, I do believe that USG gains more representatives in the colleges. That would mean that I would have more people on finance committee become treasurers and help alleviate that.”

You said you believe every student has the ability to be part of an organization. How do you differentiate between a hobby and an organization?
Ali: “The current rule that we have is 10 members. If 10 students want to get together and form a group, I think that is a great way to differentiate between a hobby and a club. A hobby is something you do on your own time, while a club is something where you get together with similarly minded students.”

Chippy: “I would very much like to answer the hobby or club question. A lot of students we currently recognize you might call hobbies. These student organizations, with USG’s support, have the opportunity to go to competitions, host conferences. In the vein of recognizing all students who want to have their own organization, it may start as seeming just like a hobby, but since I want to provide non-financial support, that involves taking ten students with a hobby and giving them those added opportunities to go to competitions and hold conferences.”

Other institutions fund their student organizations different than CWRU, giving each group a flat amount of money each year to spend as they see fit. Given this, should USG fund at the organization level or the event level?
Ali: “Definitely at the event level. If an organization has more events that are likely to be successful, I would like for all those events to happen. Some organizations only have one event. I do believe that we should fund requests on an event basis.”

Do you think groups should be given a lump sum at the beginning of the semester, or should the be managed on an event basis?
Ali: “I think the system we have now where we look at each event individually works. I would rather look at individual events and decide as a committee if we should fund them.”

Chippy: “Although the validity in the way other universities do that does make a lot of sense, and it is a very appealing option as treasurer getting down on paperwork, but I really stand by the way we do it currently. Providing lump sum for groups would give the opportunity for student groups to spend less money. If we provide a lump sum and a small group doesn’t spend all of it, then that money doesn’t get spent that semester at all. Our rollover is very important internally, but I believe it should be as small as possible.

Matt McKee (current USG internal development chair): On a similar note, we do currently give groups $100 each lump sum off the bat for expenses they want to use. Is $100 an ideal amount, too low, too high?
Chippy: “Currently, our automatic allocation is introduced as money they’re allowed to spend for anything. However, in my time as treasurer, I’ve seen it implemented more as overflow, to make sure that no group is using more money than they’ve been allocated. It’s frequently used for purchases they didn’t see coming, printing costs, small capital purchases. I support the current $100 allocation because I don’t see it as a lump sum, I see it as a safety net.”

Ali: “I agree. The $100 allocation is used for things like allocation, table cloth covers, printing costs, small things. When we look at requests in USG and we see that they asked for printing money, we tell them to use the automatic allocation. Some people don’t know about it.”

USG treasurer Emily Assaley: USG has a lot of outward pubic relations through finance, almost more than PR as a committee. A lot of it has USG seen as a bank. How would you as VP of finance make USG less something that people can apply to get money and more of a place to go to for support?
Ali: “Instead of just having student organizations apply on paper or online, I would encourage them to come into one of our finance committee meetings and talk to us about their event and why they need funding and how we could help them.”

Chippy: “I agree that face to face time is extremely important, because the finance committee is so outwardly facing. A lot of the goals I have come from what I’ve done this semester as treasurer. Recently, finance committee had a mass funding workshop where we asked students to come in, talk to their treasurers, talk to finance committee members. I was really excited that that worked out. As treasurer, I’m spending 10-15 hours a week processing requests and 4-5 hours per week sending emails and meeting with student organization leaders personally, and not just getting automated response that their funding is or isn’t there.”

Class Office Collective executive president Gabby Chandra: As a member of SEC, what role do you see yourself taking outside of being USG finance representative?
Chippy: “One of the great opportunities I see being VP of finance is having a voting position within SEC. I’ve loved going to SEC meetings this year as a finance committee member and seeing how that process works. A very important role I would have as VP of finance within SEC would be to oversee, not change, other organizations’ budgets. We’re very interested in seeing what they’re like in relation to USG’s budget. The VP of finance spends weeks crafting our budget, deals with the executive committee, and then presents it for voting to the general assembly.”

Ali: “As VP of finance I would love to work with SEC to increase SAF allocations for USG, and to make sure SAF increases with tuition. I would also like to increase the percentage that goes to USG. We fund 200 student organizations on campus, and I think that we have the biggest impact on campus, and we deserve more than we’re getting right now.”.

What line items would you have changed on USG budget if you were VP of finance?
Chippy: “The number one thing I would change is to allocate more money for rolling funding from the student organization’s budget. Simply because we appropriate most of our student organization money for mass funding, and the rest is for rolling funding, and the last two semesters we’ve run out halfway through the semester, causing issues for student groups.”

Ali: “I would increase money for mass funding, because that tells us most about events on campus. I would decrease the amount USG subcommittees get, because I don’t think USG should get things funded in full while organizations who rely on us don’t get what they need.”

Give a tangible, non-finance based idea you would bring to the table of the SEC.
Ali: “I would work to make SEC a little bit more transparent. Before this year, I didn’t know what SEC was, until I found out that they control the amount of money allocated to student groups. I would make sure that every student has the opportunity to learn about SEC and get involved if they want to.”

Chippy: “I want to bring SEC more accessibility to administrators. USG is unique because we deal with administration almost daily. As VP of finance I’d have those resources available that other SEC members might not as much. I want to increase administration interaction with SEC.”