In the middle of February, representatives for Old Methodist Rugby Club came to the Student Budget Committee (SBC), hoping to receive funding, the same thing representatives for the club do every semester. And, as in the past, the SBC gave them money.
“The meeting was all good,” Henry Miller ’19, the group’s treasurer, said. “There was one thing that [the SBC said], ‘We [can’t] give you [until] next year.’ But then everything else for this season, like registering for a tournament, buses, refs, fees, coaches—they were like, ‘It’s all good.’ Everything…for this season, like registering for a tournament, buses, refs, fees, coaches—they were like, ‘It’s all good.’”
Then, less than two weeks later, the rugby club received an email telling them differently. The SBC, they were informed, had decided to take back the money it had recently allocated. The reason: the club had an $18,000 non-SBC fund, which was meant to pay for scheduling and traveling to games that they might learn about after the point where they could receive SBC funding.
Miller said that the decision was unfair to the alumni who donated to the team.
“Implicit in taking [funding] away for us to use alumni donations means that every dollar an alumni donates means a dollar less from the SBC,” Miller said.
But the decision was also unfair for another reason. They argued the alumni fund from the rugby club had been there for years, and until February, had never been questioned.
“What I’m kind of confused about is we just went from getting funding so many years in a row [to losing funding],” Miller said. “I just wonder why—like I said, I don’t think it was malicious or I don’t know—but I just wonder why it was suddenly like, ‘You have these issues.’”
According to SBC Chair Justin Kim ’19, the SBC rarely runs into cases where it might reassume funds from student groups due to the presence of an emergency fund. Kim could think of only three cases in the last two years: rugby, the Wesleyan University Sailing Team, and, most prominently, The Wesleyan Argus. But it was, Kim said, a standard response on the part of the SBC to the presence of a type of contingency fund.
The SBC, according to Kim, does not support groups having emergency or “rainy day” funds. When it finds out about such funds, as a practice, the committee either takes back or refuses to spend the money the emergency fund is not able to cover. This practice, however, is not written into any of the WSA’s bylaws or any publicly available documents from the WSA or the SBC, something Kim said was due to how rarely the SBC encounters student groups with large emergency funds.
The reasoning for the WSA’s stance on emergency funds, Kim said, is that not every student organization has an alumni network, as Old Methodist Rugby Club does, that can afford to create an emergency fund. Those without alumni funding, he said, should get priority when receiving money from the SBC.
“This rainy day fund or an emergency fund, it’s just a shortened way of saying, ‘OK, a student group has access to a large amount of money that other student groups don’t have’,” Kim said. “And for us to ignore that fact wouldn’t be fair or give justice to the idea that we want to create a more inclusive and equitable campus.”
In the case of the rugby club, Kim said that the group also ran into another problem. Student groups are required to check a box if they receive funding from outside sources; the Old Methodist Rugby Club, Kim said, did not.
When Kim contacted the club, the club apologized for failing to identify that they were receiving outside funding and agreed to return all of its funding to the SBC, Kim said. He also characterized the group as supportive of the SBC’s reasoning for reassuming the funds.
Miller’s account was somewhat different. He said he did not remember whether or not the club had identified receiving funding from outside sources. His reason for giving back the money was also significantly different from the one Kim suggested.
“I didn’t think we had a choice,” he said.
The reason for this discrepancy may have to do with who Kim contacted from the rugby club. According to Miller, Kim contacted Kevin Hutchinson ’16, who was listed as the financial contact at the time. However, according to Miller and other people within the rugby club, Hutchinson is currently doing track and is no longer on the team.
Miller, they said, is currently the treasurer. He is currently listed as the financial contact.
Miller speculated that the decision to reassume the funds from his club was based on the fact that the SBC is running on a low budget this year. The SBC, according to Kim, has $27,000 less to spend this year than it had last year, due to fewer students enrolled in the University this year.
This, as well as an increase in the amount of funding student groups have requested for from the SBC, has meant that the SBC this semester has turned down more requests than it typically does. As of March 21, the last SBC meeting for which funding allocations have been published online, the SBC has only provided 36 percent of the funding groups have requested, based on committee reports, compared to 82 percent last semester. (These figures have both been rounded up to the nearest percentage point.)
In response, the SBC began contacting student groups with more than $1,000 left in their accounts at the beginning of March to reassume the leftover funds, a process the SBC does every year, but which began earlier in the semester than typically occurs. The SBC then uses that money to fund student group requests in the latter half of the semester.
According to Kim, the SBC received requests for funding from between 18 and 20 student groups in the last week. He said that both the reassumption process and the WSA’s practice regarding emergency funds were essential for making the most efficient use of the SBC’s funds.