A Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) resolution to make WSA Projects budget allocations more transparent was tabled by the WSA General Assembly (GA) on Feb. 16 due to disagreements on who should approve requests. The Projects budget, which is allocated $15,000 per year from the Student Activities Fee (SAF), funds WSA projects at the approval of the WSA President, Vice President, and Student Budget Committee (SBC) Chair. The WSA will vote on the resolution on Sunday, Feb. 23.
The resolution was originally sponsored by WSA Student Life Committee Chair Huzaifa Khan ’22, WSA Academic Affairs Vice Chair Ben Garfield ’22, WSA senator Katelin Penner ’22, and WSA Chief of Staff Adam Hickey ’22.
While the current Projects budget request process mandates that all allocations are posted on the website, these allocations have not been made public. Projects budget money has also been used to fund food for multiple events in the past, despite restrictions in the budget bylaws that only allow funding for food at the Leadership Board (LB)’s fall retreat. (The LB is comprised of the WSA President, Vice President, Chief of Staff, and all WSA committee Chairs.)
Shaya Tousi ’22 attended both the initial proposal of the resolution and Sunday’s meeting after hearing about the resolution through a friend on the WSA. They were especially concerned with the significant amount of money from the SAF, which all students pay into, being spent without accountability or student input.
“I think that the WSA needs to be more conscious of how little engagement they receive from the majority of the student body while deliberating this proposal, and try to overcompensate for that in their efforts to be inclusive and transparent,” Tousi wrote in an email to The Argus. “That’s the core of this whole issue with the Projects Fund: I’ve asked so many of my friends what they think of the proposal, and none of them even knew what the Projects Fund was—neither did I, before I heard about this resolution. It’s student money, and there’s not even an explanation of it on the WSA website, let alone documentation about what proposals have been accepted or rejected and how much money is in it at a given time—which is what’s supposed to happen, as written in the Bylaws!”
Currently, senators interested in submitting a Projects budget can email either Justin Ratkovic ’20 or SBC Chair Aditi Shenoy ’20, who will then handle the request. One exception to this practice occurred last November, when Ratkovic brought a resolution to the GA to contribute $5,000 of the Projects budget to the Resource Center lending library. The resolution was passed unanimously by the 22 senators voting.
The first draft of the tabled resolution, presented at the Feb. 9 GA meeting, proposed that all Projects budget requests be presented in front of the GA in the form of a resolution. Unlike other resolutions, which are voted on one week after they are presented, Projects budget requests would be voted on that same day. As the GA is a public forum, all students would be able to come into GA meetings and comment on funding requests if they wanted.
During the initial proposal of the resolution, senators disagreed on who should vote on Projects budget funding requests. Some senators were hesitant about having the GA vote on requests, and raised concerns about how comfortable senators would be with proposing a request in front of the whole GA. Senators also questioned how feasible it would be for all GA members present at a meeting to agree on funding decisions.
A straw poll—an informal vote to gauge the GA’s opinions—during the Feb. 9 meeting asked senators which body should vote on Projects budget requests. Eleven senators voted for the GA, three voted for the SBC, seven voted for the LB, two voted for a new body, and six abstained.
While the GA was supposed to vote on the resolution during the Feb. 16 meeting, the sponsors did not change the process from the initial proposal despite the divided opinions present in the straw poll. This prompted further debate about the best body to vote on Projects funding requests.
As a compromise, Khan proposed an amendment that would have all Projects budget requests go through LB, and if a request was denied, the senator proposing the request could appeal to GA.
“This was a difficult meeting because there clearly wasn’t the 2/3rds majority needed to amend the bylaws and adopt this transparency mechanism,” Khan wrote in a message to The Argus. “As someone who helped write this resolution in order to properly disclose how the student body’s money is being spent, the possibility of this resolution failing concerned me. I proposed a compromise that would allow the WSA Leadership Board to process project budgets request and report decisions to the GA, and if someone was denied, they could appeal it by bringing the matter to the GA. This amendment solved the practicality concerns many senators had about requests being processed by a 36 member body.”
In a subsequent straw poll during the Feb. 16 GA meeting, senators were asked again about which body would be best to approve Projects funding requests. In this straw poll, 24 senators voted to have the LB decide (with the GA as an appeals option), two senators voted to have just the GA approve requests, and three abstained. In an interview with The Argus, Tousi expressed their disappointment with the proposed amendment.
“I was pretty unhappy with the proposed amendment, because to me it seemed that it compromised the original principle of the resolution, which (as I understood it) was to increase the non-existent transparency of the Projects Fund by making sure that non-WSA students had a way to give input on potential funding decisions,” Tousi said. “Keeping the decision-making process centered in the LB doesn’t give students the opportunity to participate in that process like they would if decisions were deliberated in General Assembly.”
After hearing the results of the straw poll, Garfield motioned to table the resolution vote to Feb. 23 to give the sponsors enough time to rewrite the proposed budget request procedure. While Khan objected, arguing that the resolution could be rewritten during a short break during the meeting, the motion was passed by a clear majority and the resolution is scheduled to be voted on during the Feb. 23 meeting.
“I do have to say that I’m bummed that the LB has exerted enough pressure to contain their ability to make these decisions behind closed doors, even if we streamline it as much as possible,” Garfield wrote in a message to The Argus. “Even with the ability to appeal decisions, I find that it continues the routine of LB holding great amounts of power over what happens in the WSA, something I’ve been concerned about since I was first elected. I think that the amendment will make changes, but we need to do more to promote an environment that ensures that no senator takes up more than their fair share of space and that no one holds more influence/power over the decisions made.”
Ratkovic supported the compromise in the amendment and the extra time Garfield wanted to rewrite the resolution, following the meeting.
“I was impressed by the sponsors’ willingness to make a positive compromise and table the vote in order to workshop the resolution this week with more voices included,” Ratkovic wrote in an email to The Argus. “I expect that the workshopped resolution, with the proposed amendment, will be welcomed by most senators, and I hope that the rest of the student body will see this as a step toward increased transparency with our finances.”
After the meeting, Hickey rescinded his sponsorship of the resolution after hearing the amendment and the intentions of the sponsors to implement it.
“I’m disappointed that most of the WSA voted for the amendment, which leaves the initial funding decisions involving the Projects Budget in the Leadership Board,” Hickey wrote in a message to The Argus. “Although the ability to appeal rejected funding requests is a welcome improvement to the current system, I’m still very concerned that funding decisions will continue to be made inside a group not open to the student body, especially since the amendment does not offer a way to appeal approved funding. The Projects Budget is student money, and if students are not able to contribute to funding decisions or challenge all the decisions that the Leadership Board makes, then I don’t think the problem is resolved.”
Hickey highlighted that the vote pushing the resolution to next week gives students who are not a part of the WSA the opportunity to voice their opinions on the resolution at the Feb. 23 meeting.
“I’d like to emphasize, however, that the resolution has not yet been voted on and its contents are not yet final; any student who would like to encourage the WSA to vote for or against it should come to our next meeting,” Hickey wrote. “The WSA should not be able to spend student money on itself without a public decision and vote.”
Tousi also encouraged other students to come to the next meeting to speak on the resolution.
“Overall I’d really encourage students to go to the next WSA meeting even if they don’t feel strongly about this resolution, just to see how the meetings function and how the senators debate issues that involve transparency to the student body regarding our money,” Tousi said. “I’m pretty dissatisfied with the state of the resolution after last night’s meeting, but I do plan on going to the next meeting to see what the ultimate decision is.”
Jocelyn Maeyama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.