By Joe Vitale and Laura Sanicola
Michael Bilotti, FCRH ’15, and Benjamin Shull, FCRH ’16, are at a loss.
As the presidents of the College Democrats and College Republicans, respectively, the two imagined spending their spring semesters booking political speakers. Last spring, the College Republicans invited Larry Kudlow, host of CNBC’s Kudlow Report, to speak on campus in April.
The Democrats, who were allocated less than $50 due to a misfiled form on budget, planned to bring New York City Councilman James Vacca. As an elected official, Vacca could not accept speaking fees. This semester, both groups made sure every form was filled out correctly and handed in on time.
Still, each received $100 for the semester. For the first time in several years, no money was allocated for political speakers. They were shocked.
“Bringing in political speakers is the main thing that the political clubs do,” Bilotti said. “Going into budget day this year I had no idea things would be this bad. I didn’t know every single political speaker would be cut.”
“[Political speaker events] have generally been some of the best events on campus, and I’m speaking about the College Democrats, too,” said Shull. “Fordham’s whole cura personalis is really exemplified in these speaker events.”
Along with a large number of other non-referendum clubs, the two must move forward with substantially smaller budgets.
“Last semester we knew going in that we were going to have two speakers and we knew the dates,” Shull said. “But right now we’re really in a period of uncertainty.”
Shull has considered searching for an elected official as a speaker since elected officials cannot accept honorariums. He said it would have been nice just to have something to work with.
“I understand if there’s a lack of resources, and I know we asked for a lot, but to completely gut some clubs,” Shull said. “I don’t understand how that’s necessary.”
Looking for Answers
Bilotti is not only the president of the Democrats but serves on the Budget Committee as well. He was present when the decision was made to cut political speakers.
“Usually we get $16-18,000 to play around with,” Bilotti said. “But we had to cut [across the board] this semester. It is the first time in a number of years not a single political speaker will be paid to come to campus because there was absolutely no money for it.”
As to where the additional money brought in from the increase in the student activities fee this past year went, Billotti named two factors: Fordham University Emergency Medical Services receiving an extra $10,000 this semester and the addition of 10 new clubs requesting money. 89 clubs requested Spring 2014 and 77 clubs requested Spring 2015.
“Clubs have gotten better at asking for money,” Bilotti explained. “They tend to inflate the amount of money they will need for the semester, knowing they will only need a fraction of the amount. The Student Activities Fee increase helped but wasn’t as big as was needed.”
When the idea to cut political speakers was brought up at the Student Life Council, it was not contested.
“Nobody even glanced at it. Nobody even cared, and that’s a shame for the university,” Bilotti said.
Despite the fact that 10 clubs were not allocated funds due to misfiled forms, at the end of the night the budget committee still faced a $45,000 deficit.
“In the end we had to start making…decisions to cut across the board,” Bilotti said. “If the marketing association wanted to send a group of kids to New Orleans to compete in a competition, we had to cut the number of people allowed to go. We had to cut tee-shirt requests. We cut in half every single food request for a cultural club. And we cut all political speakers.”
Doing the Math
Last week, The Fordham Ram reported some of the data revealed by the Budget Committee’s Report for Spring 2015. In all, more than $759,000 was requested, while there was only $413,890 to distribute.
Of all the requests submitted by almost 80 campus clubs and organizations, 55 percent of requests were approved for Spring 2015.
In Fall 2014, only $222,000 was requested, with nearly 70 percent of all requests being approved by the budget committee, which consists of nine students and a non-voting chair.
This year’s chair is Kara Norton, FCRH ’15. The voting students on the committee include Thomas Roemer, GSB ’16, Anisah Assim, FCRH ’16, Melanie Falk, GSB ’15, Michael Billotti, GSB ’15, Aric Sethre, GSB ’18, Cara O’Brien, GSB ’18, Daniel Stroie, GSB ’17, and Michael Akon, GSB ’17.
The last time the request total surpassed $350,000 was in Spring 2012, when clubs requested nearly $490,000.
Then, in 2012, when the Student Activity Fee was $15 less, only a third of requests received approval.
Grappling With Cuts
Fordham Experimental Theatre is one of several groups that did not receive any funding, along with Fordham Flava, Fordham University South Asian Entity, Images, Operation Dreamcatcher, Polish Cultural Exchange, Project Sunshine, Sláinte: Fordham Irish Dance and the Satin Dolls.
FET originally requested $2,318 and was sanctioned 3 percent. It was eventually allocated 0 percent of its requests, according to the budget.
It is one of 12 performing groups on campus, which requested a total of $48,754 for the semester and was approved $34,162, or about 69 percent it requested.
Other groups include Mimes and Mummers — a referendum club that requested and was approved $15,000 — and Ramblers, which requested $3,300 and received nearly 100 percent of that.
“We received an email at the beginning of the semester saying that our budget was approved, but when we went to look at OrgSync, it had been denied for every event,” said Abigail Gibson, FCRH ’16, a member of Fordham Experimental Theatre. “We have been emailing the budget committee since the beginning of the semester to sort this out, but have yet to be funded.”
“We will be pulling money out of our revenue fund for our one slot show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” said Gibson, referring to the fund supported by money received through donations from students and alumni.
“We have begun collection donations at our shows, which have, until now, been free,” she said.
“The group may have to front a lot more money than we usually have to to be able to continue putting on the quality productions we always have,” Gibson added.
Still, she continued, the group plans on going through the appeals process as soon as possible.
Other performing groups, including Fordham Flava and The Satin Dolls, also received no money. They requested $5,550 and $3,484, respectively.
Mimes and Mummers received 44.11 percent of all funding for the 12 performing groups.
Another member of FET, Madeline Hoepf, agreed that running a performance group can be difficult without the necessary funds.
“Working with inconsistent budgets have been difficult at times,” she said.
“We don’t always know if the shows the FET community votes to produce will require hundreds or thousands more than the amount approved,” said Hoepf.
Time for Appeals
Some groups already have been proactive about appealing to the budget committee, which hosts weekly meetings where groups can make appeals for additional funding for programs and events. ASILI, Fordham’s black student alliance, requested $735 during the first meeting in February and received the entire sum.
Other groups were not as successful. Circle K was denied funding for two events (the report cited “event does not exist” as reason for denial).
Other groups, including Psychology Club, Ski and Snowboard Club and Students for Environmental Justice and Awareness also were denied funding.
Some clubs, though they received some funding, are still looking for ways to have a successful semester after getting minor cuts to their budgets.
“Last year our budget was actually less than what we were given now, but right now we still have to make up a large sum in order to have our major event in the Spring,” said Marian Asuncion, GSB ’16, president of Fordham University Philippine-American Club.
“I assumed that we would be given around 90 percent this semester as well,” she added.
FUPAC, which requested just under $1,600 for the semester, received 60 percent. One of 11 cultural groups on campus, FUPAC has regular meetings but also puts on an annual spring event, Asuncion said.
This year it is Barrio, a play that club members will write, cast and produce.
“We even tried to include even more documentation and we are currently trying to figure out what funds we can reallocate to our spring event,” Asuncion added. Like FET, the group has decided to reach into its self-generated funds and is beginning efforts to host fundraisers so that it can continue providing authentic cuisine at its events.
“Because it costs a great deal of money to create this authentic Filipino environment, we tend to generally use all of our funding,” Asuncion stated.
Figuring it Out
Even so, for some clubs, 60 percent would be a welcome sum.
Slainte: Fordham Irish Dance, which requested $1,575, was not allocated any money for the semester.
“I knew we wouldn’t get a lot in our budget, but I was definitely surprised when we got absolutely nothing,” said Kayla Slattery, FCRH ’16, a member of the group.
The group is one of 20 “special interest” groups on campus. These groups earned a 27 percent chunk of the total Spring 2015 budget.
“We are very disappointed that we weren’t allocated any funding when we specifically pay a fee in our tuition for club purposes,” she said. “That money should be allocated more evenly to benefit all students and clubs.”
-Katie Meyer contributed reporting.