The Student Budget Committee (SBC) of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) could run a surplus of between $30,000 and $40,000 this year, according to WSA Treasurer and SBC Chair Charlie Kurose ’10. Funded entirely by the Student Activity Fee, the SBC has run a surplus each year since the student body voted in spring of 2008 to raise the fee by $56, according to WSA representative Brad Spahn ’11, prompting some representatives to consider alternate uses for the student-funded surplus, which has previously been funneled into the WSA Endowment.
“It isn’t possible to predict with complete accuracy whether there will be a surplus in a given year,” Kurose said. “This is the case because throughout the year, the SBC faces conditions of uncertainty with regard to how much money student groups will request from the SBC.”
A surplus is usually caused by the repossession of unused funds from student group accounts or by the accumulation of money from the SBC budget that is not spent on student group activities. At the end of the school year, surplus funds are transferred to the WSA endowment, the first student endowment in the nation.
“Once the endowment is large enough, its draw will be used to reduce the Student Activities Fee, thus lessening the financial burden on all Wesleyan students,” Kurose said.
According to WSA President Mike Pernick ’10, the WSA endowment may eventually be used to eliminate the Student Activities Fee. The WSA will likely begin pulling from the endowment within the next 10 to 25 years, but it will be at least 50 years before the WSA accumulates the $15 million needed to completely eliminate the Student Activities Fee, he said. However, he said, the WSA had no interest in generating a surplus to feed their endowment.
“It’s never the purpose of the SBC to not spend money on student groups and activities so we could put that money into the endowment,” he said. “The only money that’s going into the endowment is money that wasn’t asked for. What’s happened in the past is that money would roll into the WSA surplus, which was basically a slush fund for the WSA. Rather than letting the money float around, we’re turning it into an investment that can become something more meaningful down the line.”
Last year, the SBC had a surplus of $41,273 in spite of warnings at the start of the spring semester from former SBC Chair Chris Goy ’09 that funds were already running low.
“To be precise, the SBC currently has $60,000 available for allocation with nine meetings remaining,” Goy wrote in a Wespeak published in The Argus on Feb. 27, 2009. “To put these figures in perspective, until now the weekly allocation total has been in the range of $15,000 to $25,000 […] For the sake of your fellow students, we implore all those considering requests to please be mindful of these circumstances and understand that we are working with very scarce resources.”
The surplus funds were not discovered until the end of the year, according to Goy, when money previously allocated to student group accounts was reassumed by the SBC. By this time, it was too late for many student groups to request funding for their events.
“Primarily, the funds that the SBC has to spend are those that have yet to be allocated—once allocated, even if unspent by the group given the money (which sadly happens quite often), the SBC has to act as if that money is no longer available,” Goy wrote in a recent e-mail to The Argus. “Once the end of the school year occurs and all accounts are zeroed out, it’s very likely to see tens of thousands return to the student body account.”
However, according to Pernick, Goy’s Wespeak last year did not completely stop student groups from requesting funds from the SBC.
“It was my impression that the number of requests didn’t go down, but student were more understanding when we weren’t able to fully fund events,” Pernick said. “There were many times last year when requests were denied by SBC, but after [the SBC was] able to reassume those funds, they were able to contact those groups again and help to fund them.”
Although a surplus has occurred each year since the Student Activities Fee was raised in 2008, Pernick said that the fee could only be decreased through a process which generally involves a study conducted by the SBC, a proposal to the WSA from the SBC, a vote of the WSA, a vote of the student body as a whole, and approval of the Board of Trustees during their February board meeting.
It remains uncertain whether the WSA will pursue lowering the fee to eliminate the surplus, given the unpredictability of student group funding requests.
“Following a year like this one where student groups had an exceptionally high success rate [of receiving requested funds from] the SBC, I expect the number of requests will increase dramatically,” Pernick said. “It is important that we are able to continue to fund all meritorious requests, especially if there is an increase in such requests.”
During his campaign for WSA President last week, Spahn called for alternative uses for SBC surpluses through a Student Leadership Stipend that could pay financial aid students who are involved in extracurricular activities. Spahn, however, lost the WSA presidential race last Friday to Micah Feiring ’11. Feiring said during the presidential debate last week that he opposed the proposal.
“I think that it’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the Student Leadership Stipend, and I believe Micah and I both voted against it last year when Brad posed it initially,” said WSA Vice President-elect Ben Firke ’12. “It’s a very difficult issue because it’s one of the most noble, well-intentioned ideas that the WSA has considered in a while. I just think that the way he’s currently structured the plan doesn’t work for Wesleyan at the moment. I do want to work with Brad to come up with some sort of alternative solution and I think there’s definitely one out there.”
Several other members of the WSA have expressed similar concerns. A proposal for a Student Leadership Stipend was rejected in the WSA when Spahn first presented it last year. Spahn said that it was turned down because the original proposal would only benefit WSA executive officers who are on financial aid.
“I think it is an admirable idea, and the motivations behind it are principled, but Bradley has yet to convince me that there is any chance in hell that it would function from a practical standpoint,” Pernick said. “If you run a surplus one year, it’s a mistake to have a knee jerk reaction and change your budget, because the next year they might not have a surplus to fund everything that makes this campus so great.”