By Ben St. Clair
When Erika Schwartz submitted a budget request for Smart Woman Securities last semester, she thought the club would get the funding they had received the previous year. Instead, the Gabelli senior and chief operating officer learned that the club had received less than two thirds of what it had requested for its annual initiation dinner.
According to documents available online, the Budget Committee, which is composed of seven to 11 undergraduate students and a non-voting student chair, voted unanimously to allocate less than the club requested.
The decision reflected the committee’s guidelines, which are available online and set a $20 per person limit for sit-down dinners. Smart Woman Securities had listed too few expected guests to justify its full request. Budget records show that the club’s dinner had also received less funding the previous year for the same reason.
This type of decision was not atypical, according to United Student Government (USG) Vice President of Finance Elizabeth Crennan, FCRH ’19. “The majority of decisions come down to judgment calls about whether or not a specific element of the appeal meets the standards set by the guidelines and because the guidelines are specific, most members share similar opinions,” Crennan said in an email.
While some committee members say they see the guidelines as straightforward and have consistently reached a consensus on their meaning, some club leaders say they struggle to figure them out.
In interviews with The Fordham Ram, which receives funding from the committee in addition to revenue from ad sales, club leaders and both former and active committee members expressed frustration with what some see as an adherence to overly strict and confusing rules that can make club programing difficult.
“Sometimes club leaders are unsure of what the budget guidelines and committee are asking them to provide,” Jasnaam Grewal, FCRH ’19 and former Budget Committee member, said in an email.
In some cases, mistakes by club treasurers make approving their requests almost impossible for the committee. On Budget Day last semester, 49 requests were denied because the corresponding event date fell outside allowed programming dates, and 75 requests were denied due to inadequate or missing backup documentation to verify the requests. Both requirements are listed in the committee’s guidelines.
“If there wasn’t proper documentation, then there really isn’t much you can do,” former Budget Committee member Thomas Roemer, GSB ’16, said.
The committee’s rules, outlined in the Student Activities Budget Committee Guidelines, govern how the committee can allocate funds to clubs. Each semester, Rose Hill students at Fordham College and the Gabelli School of Business pay a $135 Student Activities Fee. The Budget Committee oversees the fund, which it initially bases on an estimation of the upcoming semester’s enrollment.
Last semester, the funds available to clubs totaled $480,674 after allocations for the Office for Student Involvement and miscellaneous club and programming expenses.
Most funding decisions are made at the end of each semester on Budget Day, where funding is allocated for the upcoming semester. But clubs are allowed to appeal the committee’s decisions and resubmit funding requests during the following semester. Mid-semester appeals take from leftover funds from Budget Day and from new funds added after enrollment numbers are finalized.
The guidelines stipulate what backup documentation clubs need to submit in order to verify their intended purchases and explain how clubs fan use funds for food, bake sales, and T-shirts, among other things. The committee is then tasked with reviewing and allocating funds in a fair and ethical manner, as required by its guidelines.
With total club requests on Budget day exceeding available funds by 14 percent last semester – and as high as 83 percent for the spring 2015 semester, according to budget records – the committee cannot meet every club’s purported need. In at least one semester, a lack of funding forced the committee to make cuts even to clubs that had adhered to the guidelines.
Most times, though, former and active committee members say that the vote depends on how well clubs submit their requests.
“It’s an application of the rules as they are because that’s what their [the committee members’] job is,” former USG Vice President of Finance Muhammad Sarwar, GSB ’14, said in an interview. “Everyone has the same set of rules and you apply them.”
When the Classical Music Society submitted a funding request for a concert during the spring 2016 semester, the Budget Committee denied its request two times in unanimous decisions. “It seemed like endless appeals over technicalities,” said Nick Haggerty, FCRH ’16 and former president of the club.
According to budget records, the club’s first request lacked proper documentation noting the performer’s availability and the performer’s biography, as the guidelines require. After the club resubmitted the request, the committee tabled it one week and deferred it another week before denying it a second time – again for inadequate documentation verifying the performer’s availability. When the committee accepted the budget request on the club’s third attempt, it had been four weeks since the club initially applied for funding.
Both Haggerty and Schwartz acknowledged that the committee is in a difficult position. “It’s their job to make sure that they enforce kind of the standard for all clubs to follow,” Haggerty said.
“I know that they’re also doing the best that they can,” added Schwartz.
Former USG Vice President of Finance and current Executive President of USG Daniel Stroie, GSB ’17, says that mistakes stem from clubs not knowing all the rules. Both he and Crennan pointed to trainings the committee holds to educate club leaders and expressed their desire to help clubs navigate the guidelines and receive funding.
Even club leaders who have had success submitting budget requests expressed confusion with the budget guidelines. According to Theatrical Outreach Program Treasurer Elle Rose, FCRH ’17, the rules can be very difficult without the guidance of a former treasurer.
Committee members also acknowledge the guidelines’ shortcomings. “I think they [the guidelines] could be explained a little bit better,” Stroie said.
Last semester, the committee formed the Guidelines Adjustment Subcommittee, which is set to submit proposed changes this semester. Any changes to the guidelines would have to be approved by the committee, USG, and the Student Life Council, which meets monthly and is composed of student leaders and administrators.
“We are actively searching for places throughout the guidelines that can be clarified,” Lauren Piccolini, GSB ’19 and member of the subcommittee, said in an email. “The subcommittee is striving to minimize any confusion club leaders may have based on vague or unclear guidelines.”
In the meantime, the committee continues to meet weekly and review appeals as it has in the past.
After appealing for more funding this semester, Smart Woman Securities was denied a second time last week, according to Crennan who said that the committee again had to restrict the event’s funding based on its projected attendance and on the $20 per person limit for sit-down dinners. Schwartz worries that the club will not be able to host the event the way it had planned and remains “very frustrated” by the process.
Ultimately, committee members say their goal is to maximize available resources and help clubs put on events. We try to “make sure that we’re creating activities and creating events that can benefit the entire student body and allow everyone to find a home at Fordham,” said Roemer.