Student groups requested over $100,000 more from the Student Budget Committee (SBC) this year than last, according to the SBC, a division of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA). While student groups requested $35,834 in September of 2007, they requested $149,359 this past September.
“Because of the rise in the Student Activities Fee [SAF] two years ago, the SBC’s annual budget is a bit bigger,” said SBC chair Chris Goy ’09. “This, in large part, has been the catalyst in change in culture with regard to what students feel is an appropriate amount to ask for, and in some cases, what they think they are entitled to.”
The WSA sets the SAF, which provides the SBC’s entire budget for a year. During the 2006-2007 Academic Year the SAF was raised from $214 to $270. As a result, $230,000 was added to the SBC’s original budget of $580,000, according to the WSA website.
This year, the SBC had a surplus that carried over from the end of last year. According to Goy, the surplus consisted of money that was initially allocated to student groups but was ultimately not used and therefore returned to the SBC. The SBC will now reassume student groups’ leftover money biannually, at the end of each semester.
The Underdog Music Collective was allocated $7,805 this year, compared with $3,117 last year. According to co-chairs Dana Matthiessen ’09 and Sam Ottinger ’09, the SBC surplus did not factor into their decision to request more money, as they did not request more money per show than they have in past.
Matthiessen suggested, however, that the group’s request increased because they are planning more shows than other, less active groups.
“As far as I see, [the SBC’s] goal is to use what money they have for the year,” Matthiessen said. “I haven’t been going into the SBC with the surplus in mind. They are a resource, a place we go to get funding.”
Goy explained, however, that the SBC has a substantial responsibility to control the budget and so naturally, it may act somewhat defensively.
“The money the student body has entrusted the SBC with is so vital to student life at Wesleyan that most events and groups couldn’t exist without it,” Goy said. “Given that heavy task, naturally almost anyone would become protective of it. The most difficult aspect of the job for SBC members, I think, comes when that instinct is contrasted with the sentiment many share that somehow the SBC is one step away from taking away [a student group’s] ability to function.”
Student groups echoed this tension, realizing that the SBC—because of its responsibility to allocate large amounts of money—may become wary of these groups’ requests.
“They are in the position where [they] have kids who ask of [them] and it makes sense in that overseeing money means they have to protect it in a certain way,” Matthiessen said. “I can see why they might suspect students may be trying to subvert them.”
Despite wanting to attain an adequate amount of money for their groups, Matthiessen, as well as other student leaders, acknowledged the need to compromise, noting that they understand the SBC’s occasional need to cut requests.
Jon Booth ’12, a member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), has requested money for two speakers from the SBC. Last year, SDS was allocated $1,550, but this year they received $2,750.
“I had to negotiate, but the SBC is generally reasonable,” Booth said. “One thing they could do is just say how much money they are willing to allocate so they could shorten the process. I think students aim high and see what they can get and what the SBC will give them.”
Goy noted that the SBC would prefer that students requesting money first pare down costs more efficiently and find fiscally prudent ways to host an event. Goy also suggested that these students remain cognizant of the fact that the entire student body uses the SBC budget.
“Requests have gone up, and there are incredible new ideas flowing in,” Goy said. “That said, less importance is being placed on groups finding ways to cut costs before they come in. It feels like groups have dumped that responsibility to the SBC. It’s pretty simple actually; groups are having more difficulty distinguishing needs from wants than last year or the year before. But in doing so they are only hurting their fellow students.”
During the spring semester of last year, the SBC was allowed to spend up to $25,000 per week. Due to the amount of money already spent by the SBC, however, they are now limited to spending $9,000 per week, according to Goy. Thus far, the SBC has spent $69,194 more than it had spent at this time last year.
Nevertheless, student groups believe that the job of the SBC is to allocate money to student groups when they present a reasonable proposal.
“I think they should never have a surplus and should always give money when students are organized and have an idea that sounds feasible,” Ottinger said. “We do use a lot of the money but I believe it is completely worth it.”
Despite the new ideas coming in, Goy suggested that requesting more money from the SBC is counterintuitive in light of the current economic crisis.
“It is important for us as a campus to realize that just because we haven’t witnessed [direct results of the economic crisis] here at Wesleyan, does not mean we don’t have an obligation to change our behavior,” Goy said. “Collective action is absolutely needed.”
According to Goy, the surplus from last year will be invested. This will eliminate the need to raise the SAF again and possibly, in the long term, eliminate the fee altogether.