“F**king asinine”: The SGA Budget Process

Multi-million SGA budget process rife with confusion
Outside of the SGA office on 4/24/24
Outside of the SGA office on 4/24/24
Kalina Kornacki

Emma Hoffman was going to an E-board meeting for Model UN, where she serves as the President, when she ran into Ryan Darbhanga, a freshman Model UN member who also serves on the Ways and Means Committee of the Student Government Association (SGA). “He was like, ‘Oh no, Emma, like we’re voting on your budget right now.’ I was like great… sounds fantastic. He’s like ‘uhh but it’s not looking good,’” Hoffman said.

Each school year, SGA creates a budget, known as the S-1, for how to use the Student Activities Trust Fund (SATF) – funded by the $266 Student Activity Fee undergraduate fee-paying students pay annually on their bursar bill. The Ways and Means Committee decides how much of the SATF will be allocated to 308 RSOs and 12 agencies on campus. 

RSOs have long expressed frustrations with how their budgets are revised and the lack of communication from SGA, while many SGA members don’t think the process is optimal or efficient. This year, interactions between SGA and student groups in deliberating the budget for next year have illustrated issues in the process, which will culminate in the FY25 S-1 budget being passed by the senate later this month.

Darbhanga had recused himself from voting on the Model UN budget at the request of Ways and Means Chair Pranav Joshi. According to the preliminary RSO Voting Minutes, Darbhanga was counted toward quorum, simply abstaining on each vote– although he was presumably in the room as he confirmed the eligibility of the budget, and commented. Hoffman went on with her night until she got a text from the recused committee member informing her that the Model UN budget had been cut by about 50%.

Hoffman thought that was the end of it, until about an hour after the initial encounter, at 10:18 p.m., when she received a call from Darbhanga: “He then asked me who wrote the budget,” as noted in the letter Hoffman sent several members of SGA after the incident. “I responded that multiple E-Board members had collaborated on it, and he laughed and said, ‘I could tell.’”

The call then took a strange turn when an unidentified man grabbed the phone from Darbhanga. “In an aggressive tone, he asked who he was speaking to. I immediately felt as though I was being interrogated,” the letter read. Hoffman said that she was laughed at and the man repeatedly said, “‘Oh my gosh, your budget was so bad. Like what happened?’” 

“Throughout the entire interaction, I felt belittled and stupid,” Hoffman’s letter read. “While I understand that my RSO may not have followed the budget guidelines properly, I do not believe that this is an excuse for the type of behavior that I endured, nor do I believe that it warrants a personal phone call to tell me how bad it was.”

“I’m still really disappointed about the budget being cut,” Hoffman said. “But then I like, was like, super embarrassed and like very distressed… I just felt like kind of stupid or like they were like kind of abusing their power as being the ones who give us funding… they’re holding that over [us] like ‘haha, you’re so stupid for not following the rules that we made up for you to follow so that you can get money from us…’”

Hoffman was not told the identity of the man until after the call, when Maia Shteyman, another Ways and Means member who knew Hoffman, texted her to apologize for the man’s behavior and identified him as Pranav Joshi, the chair of the Ways and Means committee.

“She said it wasn’t his intention to be rude, it’s just been a long day,” said Hoffman. “But I feel like that’s a very clear admission in my opinion that what happened was not appropriate.”

Following that night, Hoffman reached out to a variety of SGA members hoping to see the incident resolved. Speaker Jackie Fallon was the only one to initially respond.

“She clearly was very, very apologetic, but she kind of made it seem like there wasn’t really anything that they could do,” Hoffman said. 

“I want to reiterate my apologies and embarrassment for the actions taken by these individuals,” read the statement Fallon sent after the two met. “…to hear that members of the SGA are responsible for inflicting embarrassment and unkindness towards one of the RSOs we spend so much time advocating and working for is inexplicably disappointing.” 

“I then went to the Ways and Means meeting on Tuesday and spoke to them for about half an hour about the privilege they have in their seats and how the actions of these individuals disrespected you and the Ways and Means Committee,” the letter continued.

Hoffman also experienced difficulties knowing who to reach out to following the incident. When she emailed her third SEL advisor of the year, the advisor first referred her back to SGA and then said he wasn’t able to take it higher than Sid Ferreira, the Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life (SACL) and the interim SGA advisor, who “asked [him] to wait on having a meeting as he conducts an investigation.” Ferreira said this was a misunderstanding with the advisor.

Almost two months later, Hoffman has not heard back.

Four days after the incident, Hoffman received a mysterious email from a fake Yahoo account. 

“This person, (alias) James Smith, claimed to be like another senator in the Ways and Means Committee. And they were kind of encouraging me to speak out about this but like they said it in a very dramatic fashion.”

“And at this point I was just like I don’t want to be involved in your drama anymore,” Hoffman recalled.

Hoffman said that she spoke to Darbhanga about a week after, and the person said that the incident was not an “unusual kind of behavior and conduct to have been happening in that committee… we’ve been having a lot of issues with him anyway.’”

“I understand that [SGA has] standards to follow and that [Model UN] didn’t follow them and that’s honestly not even what I was like the most upset about at that point. I was mostly just upset at his conduct and behavior,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman did receive an apology letter from Joshi, along with an invitation to meet. “I would like to wholeheartedly apologize for the immaturity and, frankly, unkindness I inflicted upon you following the conclusion of the Model United Nations budget review,” the letter read. 

“I take complete responsibility for my wrongdoings and I am committed to making amends and ensuring a more positive and respectful collaboration moving forward… I do not excuse my actions on any level, but wish to express that through the final months of my term I will hold myself to a higher standard. I will dedicate additional hours to attending RSO events, volunteering for the SGA, and remain on a probationary period overseen by Speaker Fallon and our advisor, Sid Ferreira.”

When asked for comment, Joshi referred back to the records request of the letter he sent. Darbhanga and Shteyman have not responded to a request for comment.  

Joshi has remained on SGA payroll in the weeks since the incident. According to a statement by Fallon, “A probationary period entails increased accountability and oversight of a chair. The SGA does not set a procedure for probationary periods.” The only behavioral reprimand outlined by SGA bylaws would be expulsion from the senate.

Fallon also said that the period would be perpetual, and the course of action resulted after conversations with Ferreira.

When Hoffman and another member of Model UN met with Joshi, Hoffman said the interaction seemed forced. “It didn’t seem like he would have apologized to me had he not gotten in trouble for it. Or it doesn’t seem like he would have regretted his behavior if he hadn’t been called out,” Hoffman said.

The incident provides a look into the inside of SGA’s budget process, a process that affects thousands of students but is often invisible to most. In recent years, rising wages and prices, the student union renovation, and an increase in the amounts RSOs ask for have laid the flaws of this process bare.

“I just don’t feel like it should be so hard for a Model UN club to get funding to go to Model UN conferences,” said Hoffman.

“I feel like the main thing that in my experience that SGA even does is the budgeting process,” Hoffman said. “They’re just kind of up there making these decisions and no one really knows what goes on down below” 

SGA met at the Cape Cod Lounge at the Student Union on 3/13/24. (Dylan Nguyen)

Ways and Means

The group within SGA that has the most power over the budget is the Ways and Means Committee, who review budget requests to help allocate funds. 

In part due to a large balance left over from the previous year, SGA allocated a total of about $8.1 million in the FY24 Budget last year. Not including the $410,000 spring concert fund, $4,066,712 was allocated to Agencies and RSOs by the Ways and Means Committee. $2,129,233 went to RSOs specifically.

“If it’s a long budget, we split up the budget into different sections and we divvy it up,” Ryan Darbhanga, a freshman member of Ways and Means said. “We would wait for everyone to be done with all their parts. And if there’s any issues, we would go up to the whole committee, like, ‘Hey guys, I had an issue with pencils.’ And we would all look at it together.”

Ways and Means members first deem if a budget is eligible, then look at the eligibility of each individual line item. They then look at three criteria: quantity, the number of the item being requested; cost breakdown, the total amount requested for that line and the math to get there; and evidence, proof of the per-item cost. If one of these is not deemed to be adequate, the item’s allocation is halved. If two or more are not, the item is set to zero.

The Ways and Means Committee relies on precedent, or a decision previously made to clarify the meanings of guidelines to help weed through the complexities of each budget request.

“A lot of precedents have been set to determine what is eligible and what is not eligible,” Darbhanga said. And if we set a precedent, we have to vote on it, and it’s in the minutes… The precedents are always for this year, right?… Next year, the bylaws change again.”

Although precedent is based in the current year’s guideline, the sections it clarifies are often carried over year to year, even if the precedent is not. Precedent is one of the few ways the committee is able to make policy decisions, implicitly choosing to be lenient or harsh to an RSO, as precedent is not always retroactive and often may not be noticed previously.

As an example, both this year and last year Ways and Means established precedent that phrases like “a toaster” assign a quantity of “one.” As RSOs are not corrected on it, they don’t know to not keep doing that for the future. If the precedent was not created in a later year, RSOs, who often model their budget after past budgets, will be caught out with no explanation for the change or indication it would have been changed. This is because precedent does not carry over and is not contained in the Funding Guidelines. 

The committee holds themselves to a standard known as viewpoint neutrality, which was laid out by the 2000 Supreme Court case Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, which regarded public universities that collect mandatory fees to fund student groups. The Southworth doctorate states, although all groups do not have to receive the same amount of money or have a counter-viewpoint group, groups cannot be denied funding due to the viewpoint of a group.

This means that there must not be “unbridled discretion” over funding decisions from decision makers. Later rulings, mostly at lower-level courts, have clarified that funding processes must have “written, definite, and objective criteria.” This heavily binds how the funding process can function, but certainly does not mean there are no adjustments that can be made.

SGA’s current interpretation of viewpoint neutrality is made in coordination between SGA’s attorney general and the Student Legal Services Office, an agency funded by SGA that also serves as their general counsel.

“So, you know, if you’re in Ways and Means and you like the College Democrats, you can’t vote against the Republican budget just because you like the College Democrats…” said Attorney General Ian Harvey, who served as the Ways and Means chair last year. “We aren’t allowed to take our own personal beliefs into account when we are making financial decisions.”

Several members of Ways and Means, past and present, have also been responsible for compiling their own RSO’s budget during their service. While this is not explicitly a violation of viewpoint neutrality, it blurs the lines and may give committee members a significant advantage. “I was actually the treasurer of the chess club (last year) so there’s this weird situation where I actually submitted the budget to the committee, but during that I recused myself and I yielded my chair to my vice chair who ran that portion of the meeting,” said Harvey.

“You’ve captured the king of budgets!” read the minutes from the chess club budget application last year.

“The guidelines are, what, 26 pages long? No one wants to read through all of that sometimes,” Shteyman, a member of the Ways and Means committee who is also the vice president of Students Alliance for Israel, said.

“When I had to submit my budget, I didn’t want to read through all of that. And I was so happy I was on Ways and Means, because of that. I really knew what sections to look into when I needed to put in certain things,” Shteyman continued. “But for other RSOs, for instance, when they’re looking, they have to look through all the funding guidelines and you need to be careful when you’re requesting, mak[ing] sure everything is an eligible line-item request.”

Although committee members like Shteyman and Harvey say they always recuse themselves, it’s possible that their names on the budget could influence the stringency at which the budget is looked at. Many members of Ways and Means, or other committees that deal with various parts of the budget, are also general members, or have close ties with RSOs. While they also attempt to recuse themselves, this can occasionally interfere with keeping the four-person quorum Ways and Means requires.

“Even if we’re not even on the board [of the RSO], if we just help them or if we’re involved with them somehow, we try and abstain…You have to keep quorum as well. So, balancing those two, I think, is a struggle sometimes,” Joshi said in an interview.

It’s unclear where the line ends up being drawn. The Model UN incident also suggests that there may occasionally be some level of involvement by recused members.

In its current form, the Ways and Means committee only focuses on the narrow parameters of weeding out ineligible line items and ensuring each item has a sufficient description, cost breakdown and evidence. This, along with financial constraints of the SATF, fundamentally retools the goals of allocators from finding reasons to fund things, to finding reasons not to.

Shteyman said that obtaining food through the budget process can get “tricky,” if it does not meet the budget requirements. “For instance, is it beneficial to the campus community?” Shteyman said.

“Sometimes we need you to mention that, especially if you’re entering murky waters of this may or may not be something that we can get funding for.” It is unclear what objective criteria can be applied when determining if an event is “beneficial to the campus community.”

Members of Ways and Means detailed their frustrations with common criticisms against the process, chief among them that they weren’t being transparent enough.

“But we sent out this email,” Shteyman said. “We told you there were changes. The office hours were held. That was publicized and the funding guidelines are right there… And I think that’s also something we’re working on as a committee, trying to see how else can we be more transparent? What other information could we possibly provide?”

Shteyman noted the intensive budget process schedule as an impediment to change. “From our standpoint, we’re giving them all we can. But I think the first step… is listening to RSOs and their wants and needs and what is lacking. And I think once we do that, I think we’ll get somewhere. Unfortunately, we can’t do that right now because we’re in voting season.”

“Most of our nights we spend in the office, we’re probably there from 7 o’clock till midnight every day voting and trying to get those budgets out as soon as possible.”

“I think sometimes we will extrapolate what a student might be thinking in an RSO because most of us have never been in an RSO or maybe went to like one or two because we’re too busy in the bylaws, right, or we’re too busy thinking, ‘Oh what do you think an RSO might think about this?’” said SGA Vice President Joshua Gauthier.

The current process is not without its critics within SGA. 

“So, for example, I could start an RSO tomorrow called UMass Travel Club and our mission statement is we are going to travel the Caribbean on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines,” Gauthier, a former member of Ways and Means who served as the secretary of finance, said. “I could then say this benefits the University by being able to make us interact with other Caribbean cultures or whatever and understand capitalism through Carnival Cruise Lines’ business model and I could apply to Ways and Means and say I need five tickets to go on Royal Caribbean for three weeks… 100% Ways and Means cannot say no to that because of the way that our guidelines are formed.”

“Like for me that’s asinine, like that’s f**king asinine,” Gauthier said. “It’s a system that is both highly complex and yet extremely inefficient at allocating. It’s like the most over-designed mousetrap ever that doesn’t actually do a good job at what it is.”

Because Ways and Means doesn’t look at the efficiency of funds spent, and almost every budget is given an across the board cut regardless of the quality of their budget, most members of SGA believe the current system incentivizes RSOs to request as much as they possibly can.

“budget requests are deeply gamified,” read the club sports report

“The system that we’ve designed for RSO’s incentivizes them 100% to add line items to their, to their budget and it awards RSO’s that ask for more money based on the system,” said Gauthier.

Joshi said that he begged groups not to inflate their budgets at the RSO Budget meeting. “The issue is that if one does it, it like [it] messes up for everyone.”

Clubs, however, have had to contend with rising prices and an understaffed SEL advising, which has coincided with a lack of stability arising from COVID and the new Student Union to give RSOs very little direction.

“We do one workshop at the beginning of the year and we say, ‘This is how you prepare our budget, here’s one presentation and here are office hours,’” Gauthier said. “It’s failing at the SGA level; it’s failing at the advisor level and it’s failing at the training level for the students …. A lot of this is SEL has not been staffed, a lot of this is SGA has not been on our ball in redesigning the system.”

“If I was an RSO leader I’d be bashing my head and being like what the f**k is this like system that’s like trying to file my taxes with,” Gauthier continued. 

A lack of reasonable flexibility within the guidelines and precedent also leads to some odd results even when a simple mistake is made. Last year, line items for “Boxing Gloves ($45/pair) 20 ringside”, “Head Gear” and “Uniforms” were zeroed as without a specific note that they were uniforms, due to precedent qualifying them as clothing that could not be funded.

SGA also refused to allow Surf Club funding for a CPR/AED training as it would result in a certification that could “be used outside the context of the RSO,” and would be considered a giveaway. Both cuts affected the ability of RSOs to safely participate in activities.

SGA met at the Cape Cod Lounge at the Student Union on 3/6/24. (Dylan Nguyen)

SGA’s Internal Budget

Although most senators are unpaid, all named positions and several committees are paid. SGA allocated itself $267,965 for payroll for FY24 and $387,064 for internal funds, which includes campaigning funds, Finance Committee Funds and copyright fees.

Each paid member is on minimum wage and given a maximum number of hours depending on the role of the position. This ranges from five hours for the Chief Justice and Associate Chief Justice to 20 hours for the president, vice president, speaker, associate speaker, and Ways and Means (during the budget voting period).

Over the past few years, the total wage bill has risen drastically, outpacing the rise in minimum wage. Much of this is due to the growing amount of hours and positions being budgeted for.

“We break down each position by their specific role and their capacity, said Secretary of Finance Maxim Lee. “From my understanding it’s based off the responsibilities and how much time is estimated for each position because of those responsibilities.”

Paid members self-submit their hours to the SGA Central Accountability Log, while logging their hours on the Timeclock system.

Agencies funded by RSOs have to present evidence for the importance and relevance of activities being allocated hours. Although the example given to Agencies, a sample line item for a mock Ways and Means Chair position, says that the request would need to have evidence like “an attached excerpt of the SGA Bylaws that enumerate this position,” detail given on the accountability log don’t always fit into the enumerated role of the position.

“The hours submitted are held accountable by oneself. Similar to a real job, most of the vetting of honesty is held before the person gets into the position such as interviewing or being [bound] by the bylaws of the position… Members are paid for all hours they are using to support the mission of SGA,” Lee said in an email.

The standards laid out by Lee don’t match the agency payroll examples SGA makes, which require paid activities to have evidence and be laid out in the role description. Some members include senate meetings, while others do not. Some items members have paid themselves for include “Friendsgiving,” attending a teach in, attending the presidential debate, “golf carting” and “think(ing) of a tangible project to get done.”

SGA allocated $291,175 for payroll for Financial Year 2025 this December, an increase of $23,210 over the current year.

Long-term planning

SGA often struggles with long-term planning due to a variety of factors, the most obvious being the fact SGA members are students. According to Fallon, leaders usually leave campus after four years, and much gets lost in the turnover.

Planning “can be at times a weakness for the SGA because you know, if you were changing our priorities all the time, it’s hard to get a continuous long-term project done,” Fallon said.

“There needs to be better documentation of the thought processes behind these things so when we go to continue them, we understand where they were coming from rather than being like, ‘oh no, that doesn’t work,’” Fallon said. “People have had those conversations before, but there’s just no documentation.”

Secretary of Finance Maxim Lee disagreed: “I definitely would not say that there is an institutional knowledge gap and I kind of came to this realization when our Academic Affairs chair… started organizing the records.”

He continued: “We started organizing so far back that they became paper records in different places. I think that just goes to say the organization and the documentation of SGA is very thorough, which is really great, but also really not great because it takes a lot of time to dig through all those paper files and digital files as well.”

Gauthier pointed to a lack of consistent leadership as a force hampering long term planning. “I mean two years ago we had Prabhu and Ben Katzman. I like Ben, I like Prabhu as people but… they literally torpedoed SGA and set us back multiple years. We’ve had people like Timmy Sullivan who came in who decided to make SGA about embezzling money… and like, ‘great,’ but that’s not what our core strategy should be.”

The difficulties of SGA’s long term planning can be seen through the Club Sports transition. The process of placing the support structure for club teams under Campus Recreation began in 2020. After a long and fairly dormant process, SGA produced a Club Sports Report documenting what Gauthier referred to as systemic failures with the current system.

“Our club sports are not even close to where the bar is, like we’re not even exceeding anything,” Gauthier said.… A lot of this has been administrative and systematic failure (from UMass administration) to perform for these RSOs.”

While this has started to get the ball rolling, the transition will look very different even from what was promised a year prior.

In an interview with former President Shayan Raza last year, Raza said he wanted the costs of Club Sports to be undertaken by Campus Recreation to allow club sports to be funded at the amounts they want, to reduce costs for students and free up funds from the SATF.

According to Gauthier, however, the transition is unlikely to have a large effect on the SATF due to its limited nature. $903,470.22, or 42 percent of the funds spent on RSOs, went to club sports in the FY24 budget. The total amount spent on RSOs, however, is less than the committee-funded amount of $2,140,789.43 for club sports before across the board cuts.

“Hopefully it will be able to reduce or keep the same amount of money that SGA is spending on club sports,” Gauthier said.

“Part of it too is on club sports…. Because they’ve had the unlimited money faucet for so long, they’re selecting events that are like across the country when there might be ones right here, right?” he continued.

SGA will still foot the bill for travel costs and funding the non-support staff elements of club sports. Campus Recreation will pay approximately $400,000, funding support services that SGA currently provides, or is unable to afford, with no cuts. This is less than the $500,000 Gauthier said was spent on Spring Blast, so Gauthier said it will have little impact on the pockets of students.

Gauthier also thinks the adjustments will help incentivize fundraising. “A lot of the presidents will probably disagree with us and say, ‘We don’t want to fundraise’, and ‘We fundraise a lot,’ but like I think incentivizing that and codifying that into a policy so that it becomes a part of the way that a club is run I think is really helpful.”

Fallon is currently working on a long-term strategy committee to better coordinate projects. “If I can create a more streamlined way of working on these projects, I think that would be great,” she said.

The SGA council sit-in and listen to presenters at the lastest SGA meeting in the Cape Cod Lounge on 11/08/2023. (Kalina Kornacki)

Across the Board Cuts

As the Ways and Means committee cannot look at the amount available to RSOs during the budget process, the total funded allocation after review by Ways and Means is much greater than the amount available. In the FY24 budget, $6,563,472.02 was requested by RSOs, $4,537,418.88 was approved by Ways and Means and $2,129,233.31 was able to be funded. $2,396,334.04, a value higher than the total possible amount of eligible budget funds had to be cut to keep the SATF within limit.

Across the board cuts exceeded both the total amount given to RSOs and the amount of money not funded by Ways and Means.

To reach a cut, RSOs are ordered by their initial allocations and sorted into groups in-between certain dollar values. The higher the group, the larger the percentage taken from them will be.

The across the board cuts administered don’t function like tax brackets, with cuts for the funds within each bracket. Instead SGA applies cuts across all club funds evenly.

Many RSOs initially allocated slightly more than the cutoff, are funded at lower values than RSOs initially funded at lower values, at the top of the below bracket. Because of this, 41 RSOs received less than a club initially funded less than them.

“I think the reason that it wasn’t done last year is because it hadn’t been considered,” Harvey said. “Honestly, I don’t have a reason for why we didn’t do it last year.”

Harvey said that he and Joshi were considering implementing such “a system like that where it’s not the entire budget that gets taxed… at that upper percentage it’s the first X money gets 10 percent and then it’s 20 percent like how the actual tax bracket system works.”

The differences can be sizable. The Asian American Student Association was originally funded at $50,460.78, right below the arbitrary cutoff of $51,000. This put it in the 50 percent cut bracket, so they were left with $25,230.39.

The Pakistani Students Organization, on the other hand, was originally funded at $51,465.80, right above the same cutoff. This put it in the 54 percent cut bracket, so they were left with $23,674.27. Therefore, despite being funded at $1,005.02 more, the Pakistani Students Organization was left with $1,556.12 less than the Asian American Student Association.

The only thing involved in across-the-board cuts is the number an RSO is funded at. According to Joshi, “There has not been any consideration of including the number of students in an ESO in the across-the-board cuts as that would violate viewpoint neutrality.”

The cutoffs of brackets are also vaguely convoluted. While every other category cut on the thousand seems to end at that number plus one (for example, $20,000.99), the divide between the 50 and 54 percent categories seems to occur at $50,999. This only affects one RSO, AASA, and as demonstrated, these arbitrary choices can have massive effects.

The across-the-board process is often deemphasized in internal SGA budget discussions, emerging as a decision by the Ways and Means Chair and SACL Finance. When the FY24 S-1 budget was presented to the senate, little indication of the amounts or brackets of the across the board cuts were shown, despite that information existing in a larger document. Past S-1’s dating back to FY20 also don’t include this, even in the larger document.

This poses a viewpoint neutrality question, as the cuts may not constitute a set of “written,” or  “definite,” criteria.

Changing the Process

Many public universities’ SGA funding processes work differently. UCONN caps the amount of money any individual RSO can receive at $15,000, FSU operates on a “as we go” basis and UCLA only provides funding for specific types of content activities allowed under the Southworth Doctrine. UMass Lowell reviews applications multiple times a year, limiting clubs to “one special grant per semester, with one travel grant for the academic year.” While these options may not be better, it demonstrates a wide range of setups for fee allocating bodies.

There’s one example, however, that’s closer to home: the Graduate Student Senate. GSS operates at a much smaller scale, only allocating about $70,000 to Graduate Student Organizations, along with a substantial  allocation to Agencies. GSO receives funds from the $80 graduate senate tax, along with $27,982 from the SATF General Operation Fund. 

There’s a small amount of overlap with SGA, with GSS long having contributed funds to agencies including the Student Union Art Gallery and the Student Legal Services Office directly, instead of through the SATF.

GSOs first submit lists of events and state the amount they want for each event. GSS Finance committee members look at various factors, including the number of events and how beneficial the event is to the campus community. Each member then submits an amount to be funded, and those are then averaged to get the final number. A modest cut is then made to every club, at one rate, to keep the budget at the allotted allocation. Much more focus also seems to be given to specific content-based projects compared to SGA.

So how, then, should the SGA budget process change?

Many members of SGA said that if RSOs don’t agree with funding decisions or the funding system, they should show up to SGA meetings to change it. The anonymous emails Hoffman received recommended the same.

“If we had 20 RSOs sitting in every meeting… telling us that our ways and means system sucked, I tell you it would be changed tomorrow,” said Gauthier.

Joshi concurred: “All Senate meetings are open to the general public. It’s called the open meeting law… Should they wish to speak, a senator just has to make a motion to allow a non-voting member to speak. And at that point, the non-voting member can make their case.”

“If people do have concerns with the process, appeal to AA (Administrative Affairs) and they will, if they feel like it’s serious enough, they can launch the rules and ethics subcommittee,” said Fallon. “If what you want is your money and you feel like you’ve been wronged… there are means to do that before that nuclear option, you know?”

What the response to this would be, however, is more complicated. The main oversight over the process itself is the senate’s vote to approve the S-1 budget, which takes place at the end of April. In its current form, opening the S-1 would be a long and complicated process.

“The joke amongst the Ways and Means chairs and the Ways and Means committees is that if the S-1 is opened, every single member of the Ways and Means committee stands up, puts on their backpacks, puts on their coats, opens the door, leaves that room, and lets everyone figure it out,” said Joshi. “Because what opening the S-1 means is that what the entire Ways and Means committee spent months doing is done in one senate session. So that like 10 weeks of work, 12 if you count agency voting as well, has to be done before that Senate meeting can adjourn.”

Title II, Chapter 33 of the SGA bylaws specify that motions to recess if the S-1 budget fails must be for no longer than 15 minutes, making the opening of the budget logistically hard given each RSO would have the right to speak for no more than 10 minutes during the process.

Fallon, who would oversee the open budget process, says she does “not personally have a plan.”

“I think because it happens at the second to last meeting, you know, if it was me, I’d be like, ‘you know what? I’m so sorry. I don’t know about that’… It is thousands of hours of work. So, I’m sure we do it and figure it out, but that would be nuts,” Fallon said. “I really hope that at least while I’m here doesn’t happen.”

SGA has long been through the slow process of reviewing bylaw changes, but amendments so far have been reticent to touch the budget process.

Last year when SGA considered the FY24 budget, they only received the broad allocations for each part of the budget, not the “complete breakdown, by account number and object code, of recommended allocations,” required by Title VI, Chapter 10, Section 12 of the SGA bylaws. This raises broader questions about if opening that budget would even be possible if the decision was made that year.

This is relevant to a small amount of controversy last year when Men’s Club Rugby and Women’s Club Ice Hockey made a last-ditch appeal at the S-1 meeting after miscommunications with their club advisors resulted in a negative balance in their fee account–leaving them ineligible for funding. Because the mistake was not included in the narrow list of appealable incidents, they were both denied an appeal to the Administrative Affairs Committee.

According to the minutes, senators present at the meeting seemed to lack a full understanding of the budget process, with senator Hallie Farmer asking if club sports teams were RSOs. Some senators seemed inclined to grant the two RSOs’ requests by opening the S-1 until members who had conducted the process spoke.

“If the S-1 is opened you have to vote to approve every line item,” Harvey, who was serving as the Ways and Means chair at the time, warned the senate.

Secretary of Diversity Tasneem Kelly asserted that approving their budgets would mean SGA “would then have to approve everyone with a negative budget, due to viewpoint neutrality,” while Joshi, who at the time was a member of Ways and Means, said that the committee “didn’t look at the reasons someone had a negative balance in the ways and means process, as that is not [viewpoint] neutral.”

It’s unsure how the new set of RSO guidelines includes a new appeal route for clubs who have had issues with their advisors. SGA that year ended up funding the spring concert after initially denying the University Programing Council’s allocation due to the budget being submitted late.

The two clubs, who showed up feeling like the process treated them unfairly, were denied, as that avenue wasn’t considered a legitimate go-around by the senate.

Although former president Shayan Raza promised to “hold these advisors accountable,” the S-1 budget passed and those two clubs were left with no funding even as SGA acknowledged their mistake by changing the guidelines the next year.

According to the minutes of the financial meeting mandatory for RSOs last December, the entire room of RSO leaders indicated that “they usually wait longer than 24 hrs/a week to receive an email back from their advisors.”

The Future

When Hoffman met with Joshi, she suggested a long list of improvements to the budget process. “I was kind of like, I will not be made to feel like a stupid person for not understanding all of the intricacies of this system that you made up for us to follow to get money from you,” she said. 

Gauthier said that if SGA isn’t functioning well, he hopes it “piss(es) people off enough so that they actually come in and run for these roles, which arguably I think, you know, like that’s what government’s supposed to be like you’re doing sh**ty jobs.”

“There was a moment where…. an SGA member had been unprofessional to someone who was applying for a budget… I don’t remember the specific details, but this maybe happened a while ago, I don’t really remember, but someone had been unprofessional, right,” Gauthier said. “If I was the president of that club, I encourage them 100 percent (to) come to our meeting and ask that person why they treat you that way. I know that that’s like literally the toughest space to do that in, like our meetings are not accessible or whatever, but like come and voice that. When we used to have town halls, no one would show up, right, so part of that’s on the RSOs.”

“If you are pissed, you do not have to join us, you can just yell at us… We are supposed to take the heat or whatever and we do not get enough heat, we make a lot of mistakes and people are really, really polite about it and we do a lot of good things but I think asking us those tough questions is very critical,” he finished. 

Daniel Frank can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *