by GRACE WINFIELD
Since 2016, the budget of the UMW Finance Committee (FC), which allocates money to Tier 1 clubs on campus, has dropped significantly from previous years.
As a result, almost all clubs have seen a decline in funding.
However, a few clubs have seen an increase. These include many clubs related to diversity, as part of a school-wide effort to increase inclusionary activities on campus. The most significant increase, however, has been in the budget for Class Council.
The Finance Committee is an independent group of elected students whose mission is to objectively decide how to fairly distribute funds to Tier 1 clubs, meaning clubs that must be non-exclusive for both members, leaders and officers.
In 2018, the Class Council spent a total of $115,810. This funding compromised 47 percent – nearly half – of the $243,000 FC budget.
This calls into question whether they’re making their decisions fairly.
SAE Serves as Umbrella Organization for Elected Student Leaders
The Student Activities and Engagement (SAE) works with all student organizations in the planning of campus-wide concerts and/or shows and traditional events. According to the Student Handbook, SAE collaborates with students, faculty and staff to promote programs and opportunities for campus entertainment, and it assists students in developing interpersonal, organizational, leadership, and citizenship skills.
Within SAE is the Inter-Club Association (ICA). The 2018-19 ICA is led by President Benjamin Masse, and consists of the Executive Board and the Constitution Review Board (CRB), as well as the general members who are a part of the Assembly of Student Leaders. Essentially, it is the umbrella organization over all Tier 1 and Tier 2 clubs. Among the ICA’s duties are organizing and funding leadership summits, and chartering clubs. The SGA President also partakes in the chartering process.
All affiliate organizations of the Student Government Association are a part of the SGA Advisory board, which advises the “President on student concerns and offering recommendations on proposed legislation and SGA actions,” according to the SGA webpage. Those include Association of Residence Halls (ARH), Campus Programming Board (CPB), ICA, Honor Council and several others. There is also the legislative branch of the SGA, the Senate. The final two components of elected student leaders is Class Council and the CPB Executive Board, according to the SAE webpage. Some students hold positions in multiple administrative clubs, resulting in overlap between leadership roles.
Expensive Spring Formal Draws Few Students
According to its constitution, “Class Council will coordinate and maintain all traditional class-wide events. This non-profit organization’s intention is to provide inexpensive social activities for the student body” (art. III, sect. 2). These traditions include Grad Ball, Lip Sync and Devil Goat Day and are met with anticipation by many students. The funding for these costly events comes from the FC.
Class Council’s intent is to represent all undergrad students. One of Class Council’s most expensive events each year is the Spring Formal. While the formal is open to all students, like all events hosted by clubs funded by the Finance Committee, there are limitations.
The council sells tickets over the span of three days at the rate of 100 tickets per day. Out of the 4,300 students that attend the university, only 300, or 7 percent, of students receive tickets. Tickets are offered at the price of $35, though the cost per student in attendance is $114. To cover each student’s attendance, the cost averages to about $23,700 dollars. This amount is nowhere near the event’s total cost, a number which includes entertainment, venue pricing and transportation—the 7 buses costing
$6,964, as confirmed by SAE director Sandrine Sutphin.
Chartering and Funding Requests
Each club must go through a chartering process to become officially recognized, and not all clubs meet the criteria. In the cabinet minutes of February 14, 2019, the Super Smash Bros club was denied official club status. The reasoning from FC said that the Super Smash Bros club were “too related to [the] video game club,” and were “just a group of friends who didn’t need a club.”
Even after a club is chartered, funding requests are not guaranteed approval.
Clubs have been denied funding for various reasons and have been informed that cuts must be made to clubs in order to fund Class Council events in which all students can participate. However, the trend in over-scrutinizing clubs appears to be those that are classified as programming by ICA—aside from programming club Class Council.
One programming club that has been subjected to funding declinations is the WMWC, the campus radio club. In 2018, the club was granted $125, which comprised .05 percent of the $240,000 FC budget. This year, they requested $4,000 to host one of the first-ever radio club events. They received $600. The FC’s reasoning was unclear.
“It was frustrating because their reason was that they didn’t think we could achieve the goals we had set, even though we had already been in contact with all involved parties,” said WMWC President Alexander Rudenshiold.
2018-19 Finance Committee President Alyssa Ruhlen directs student inquiries pertaining to the hosting of events to the FC criteria, which is made public on Presence. The listed criteria for event funding include recognizing the diverse needs of the student body, spreading the benefit of the funds to the largest number of students and ensuring that the organization is capable of doing what is requested.
The WMWC initially planned on having a small music festival—much like Class Council’s Rocktoberfest. This event would potentially broaden WMWC’s establishment on campus. However, the club was declined a substantial amount of their proposal.
Rudenshiold and WMWC are aware that the club doesn’t have a history of event planning, yet they were disappointed to find that they weren’t given the opportunity to put together a bigger event to showcase their clubs potential. “I realize that we haven’t had an event in a long time, [if ever], but as I said to FC at our meeting, planning music events and tours (domestic and international) is what I do outside of school, and have been doing outside of school for the better part of 7 years now.” Rudenshiold continued, “FC just didn’t give us enough money to make it actually happen… I don’t know if the reasons for us getting such a small amount of our requested funding had to do with the lack of money they have at this time of year or another reason, but it still severely impacted our plans.”
Last year, programming club and UMW’s student-run newspaper, the Blue & Gray Press, found itself on the verge of a legal battle with the Finance Committee when the club’s $13,763 request for the 2018-19 school year was declined.
Editor-in-Chief Lauren Closs didn’t anticipate SGA President Matt Good to be present during the FC meeting, or for her club’s concerns to be referred to him.
“As a club leader, I am continually confused at the roles of various students in administrative clubs like Finance Committee and SGA, and where their jurisdiction lies,” Closs said. “I don’t know why the SGA president was in our Finance Committee meeting or why my questions were directed to him if he wasn’t supposed to be part of that decision.”
“I found it confusing and unsettling that so many separate parties had been making plans for my club for months without contacting me or anyone in my club. I was given different answers from different people, without knowing how they were even involved. In the end, I was thankful that I was able to have a discussion with Finance Committee and reach a distribution-related solution. I appreciate that since then, we have been able to communicate more directly with the correct people.”
Richelle Holnick, listed as CPB’s co-president, was open in her response to a Free Lance-Star article covering the funding dispute via a public Facebook post. “Most students I know only read the school newspaper when an article is shared online, the print editions just sit in un-open and undistributed stacks around campus, wasting both money (which this school is always short on) and paper.”
However, according to Closs, the Blue & Gray Press has been tracking distribution rates for the entirety of the 2018-19 year, proving that the papers are being read.
Finance Committee member Hannah Goad said, “we’ve had to make a lot of cuts to make sure we can fund stuff like Devil Goat Day and Spring Formal, and we wouldn’t be as stressed if we had the money that usually goes towards printing out the Blue and Gray,” as reported in The Blue & Gray Press.
The Blue & Gray Press comprised 4.7 percent of the 2018 FC budget, in comparison to Class Council’s 47 percent.
Campus Programming Board Only Appears Independent
Although CPB markets itself as being unaffiliated with other student leadership organizations, according to Sutphin, it is an entity of the SGA. In 2015, the three campus programming boards – the University Programming Board, Giant Productions and Cheap Seats – were officially combined into one organization to form the CPB. Both Giant Productions, which coordinated campus entertainment, and Cheap Seats, which offered campus movie viewings, were formerly considered clubs and received funding from the FC. Both of the groups comprised 21 percent of the FC’s $388,000 budget in 2015 before the move. With the emergence of the board, a separate pot of money became available to fund CPB events. For 2018, the club’s budget was $158,225, and they spent $163,665.
The creation of CPB allows the three costly organizations to budget from a separate pot of funding, according to Sutphin. She also said that clubs are able to co-host events with CPB to save funding and benefit from CPB’s separate budget, one example being Class Council and CPB’s Rocktoberfest.
Class Council and CPB have similar objectives. As Finance Committee receives more funding requests, they have to balance the budget amongst over 150 clubs, and majority of the funded clubs are facing cuts. Student leaders of Tier 1 clubs conclude Class Council has an undue amount of influence in fund allocation, at the expense of numerous clubs. The Class Council comprises nearly half of the FC budget, and remains closely intertwined with SGA, SAE and student-elected leaders.
*Grace Winfield is a member of The Blue & Gray Press editorial staff.
A previous version of this article featured a photo of SGA senators. It has since been removed as many of those student leaders are not directly tied to Finance Committee.
A previous version of this article stated that the buses for spring formal cost $10,000 each. This was false information; the total cost for 7 buses was $6,964. It has since been corrected.