SAF reform amendment receives mixed reviews

March 24, 2006

In two weeks, the Brandeis student body will have the opportunity to vote for the Student Activities Fee (SAF) reform amendment. The Student Union has spent the past two semesters working on the amendment, which in its final form drastically changes the way that both secured organizations and chartered clubs receive funding. In order to pass, the amendment must be approved by 60% of voting students.

The major change to the distribution of the SAF is that secured organizations, such as WBRS, the Archon, the Waltham Group, and BTV can only receive funds to cover reasonable operating expenses, according to the proposed Constitutional amendment, and when deciding this amount, the Finance board (F-board) can take into consideration the unspent funds allocated in previous years that these organizations hold in private bank accounts. Previously, secured groups received a percentage of the SAF every year and simply held onto the money that they did not spend.

The Archon, for example, has $150,000 in their accountSAF fees that they havent used, according to F-board chair Harrison Chizik 07. Under the new amendment, secured groups must submit a budget to the F-board before receiving their funding. These groups also have the right to request funds from the F-board before other chartered groups.

There are these baseline budget figures that we put in the Constitution, said Chizik. The Finance Board wont need to fund anything [below the baseline figures]that is not a reasonable operating expense.

Another change is the elimination of the Secured Organizations Board, which has not met in years even though the Union Constitution states that it should convene once a semester and it has the power to redistribute F-board money. Also, the F-board will have the right to authorize stipends for club leaders.

The proposed amendment also removes from the Constitution the Union Treasurers right to hand money directly over to clubs without any accounting documentation. However, the Treasurer would have the power to initiate an investigation into the finances of any Union organization.

Still in place is the Unions proposed Capital Expenditures Fund (CapEx). The CapEx fund is money held by the F-board and distributed to clubs faced with emergency costs, particularly those dealing with the repair or replacement of important equipment. Any club on campus, with the exception of the Justice, will have access to the CapEx fund. The F-board will place $20,000 into the fund each year, and the fund has a cap of $150,000.

Reaction to the SAF amendment has been mixed. BTV President Ari Schnitzer 07 commented that some change definitely needs to happen. The system obviously is not so good. Some clubs have gotten way too large, but I really dont love the way this new system shakes out.

He believes that the amendment, which is designed to give more money to campus clubs, will actually cost BTV between $3,000 and $4,000 dollars a year.

[The Union] decided to return to us the same amount of money we had already had, which will in fact be less, because now its a hard number instead of a percentage, and well lose our co-sponsorship, so its going to cost BTV a great deal of money, said Schnitzer.

Schnitzer expressed concern over the hard numbers assigned to secured groups. If the SAF is growing, if enrollment is growing, if tuition is increasing, if our school is becoming more reputable, shouldnt our big five clubs have the money to grow?
Cassandra Chamallas 06 of the Waltham Groups Budget and Steering Committee said that the Waltham Group already has a system of financial oversight, and that the group is happy with the amount of money we get. Its enough to run our programs, but added that we understand why there was a need for change.

Chamallas called the process of reform very difficult for us, in the sense that until this past week We really hadnt been well informed of what was going. However, she did add that the group recently met with Union President Jenny Feinberg '07 and that we feel a lot better now, because the changes to the Waltham Group arent going to be significant.

Both the BTV and the Waltham Group representatives stated that they did not feel involved in the SAF reform process. They both mentioned that members of the Student Union met with them early in the year and subsequently left the groups out of the discussion.

I told them that we needed way more money to operate, said Schnitzer, referring to meetings he had with Union officers. They seemed to acknowledge this point and then they just completely went behind closed doors and made all these decisions without, seemingly, any real input from the [secured] groups.

Chamallas said that Waltham Group had one meeting with the Union and that was the end of it. We were kind of just left to the rumor mill [to gain information].

WBRS General Manager Julie Craghead 07 stated, I believe SAF reform was necessary. I do not believe that all groups were as fiscally responsible as WBRS and, as always, there is room for saving money, such as having print media use the same printer or share resources to cut costs.

She added, I think it is important the [secured] groups share their information with [Budget Analyst in the Office of Students and Enrollment] Steven Costa. It is time that we have an accountant that pays attention to what groups are spending their money on and to help them make wise choices.

Another change under the amendment is that the Justice no longer receives funding from the F-board. It will instead receive money from The Justice Printing Expenses Fund (JPEF), which was created in the interest of preserving journalistic independence, according to the proposed amendment. The Justice will be required to be in compliance with all necessary financial reporting guidelines and at least once per academic year [solicit] quotes for printing and accept the lowest responsible bid. According to Chizik, the Justice has not yet submitted their financial records to the F-board.

I am extremely concerned, said Schnitzer about the proposed amendment. Not only do I worry about what it will do to clubs going to the F-board, but I worry about what it will do to the F-board too, because I think it will be a real burden for them to have to go down line item for all of our organizations. To add the extra burden of the secured groups, to me, does not seem like a reasonable proposition.

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