Swarthmore is the rare school which puts all control over group funding into the hands of a student run committee. Each year, the Student Budget Committee distributes $319,000 to 104 student groups–and funds the student vans, pays for Movie Committee, distributes funds to bring dozens of speakers to campus, and even funds all major parties. For many students, the fund seems enormous.
This year, however, SBC is facing a massive budget crunch. Less than $20,000 remains in the fund–half of where the fund was at this time last year. There are many causes for the shortfall. Students groups are requesting (and using) significantly more money than they had in past years, which encouraged SBC to distribute more money during the 2007 Spring Budgeting sessions. The Chartering Committee also recently finished chartering thirteen new groups, including the Ping Pong Club, Mock Trial, Quiz Bowl, and SOFI. Since groups, on average, request approximately $500, these groups are demanding thousands more dollars. SBC recently devoted $3,000 towards funding Senior Week, at the request of the Deans. Finally, many SBC sub-groups, including SAC, Movie Committee, and FFS are asking for significantly more funding each year.
Historically, Swarthmore has had 97 groups. The current 104 groups is extraordinarily high.
This funding crunch means that, for the first time in four years, Student Budget Manager Giannina Esquivel ’08 requested an increase in the activity fee. At the last Board of Managers meeting, an increase of 6% was approved, which means every student will be charged $16 more next year. This increase should mean that $27,000 in additional funding will be available next year.
A 6% increase was, according to Esquivel, “the ceiling we were given from the College Budget Committee.” SBC was also concerned that, if the Committee requested but did not use all of an increase, it would appear wasteful. “Our goal is to reduce rollover,” explained Esquivel.
This increase might be enough to solve the Committee’s budget woes. However, according to Student Groups Advisor Paul Apollo ’09, one group that has requested a charter might cause funding to be tight next year. A group of students have requested a charter for a new photography and art magazine called Punc/tum!!!. The magazine would be full color, glossy, and thirty pages long. The organizers are requesting between $11,000 and $15,000 to publish the magazine twice a semester. If the full funding request is approved, it could take nearly 2/3 of the increase.
Most likely, however, the Charter Committee will tentatively approve a once-a-year publication. “We think it would be popular,” he explained. “But it would cost as much as an expensive club sport.” Publishing once a year would cost a little less than bi-annual cost–$5,000 to $7,000.
The Charter Committee also, as part of its normal operation, tries to trim back defunct clubs. Members of the Water Polo and Aikido groups requested to be de-chartered, and the Men’s Volleyball team is on probation because they used funding distributed for a ball cart to buy jackets.
In some ways, SBC is awash in money. The Capital Replacement fund contains nearly $480,000. This money is used to pay for vans, Rattech, WSRN’s studios, SCCS equipment, and to supplement The Phoenix‘s budget. This money is tightly restricted however: It can only be used for major equipment purchases, not for smaller or short term purchases.
The exact operation of the Capital Replacement is a bit of a mystery, even to Esquivel. Every year, most excess funds are sent directly to the fund–even if the fund is already large enough to cover any foreseeable costs. Esquivel is unsure of how to move the funds back into the unrestricted poll that is available to most student groups.
More shockingly, however, the Activities Fund receives no interest on any of its saved money. Considering that, during the 1999/2000 fiscal year, the College’s endowment saw returns of 9.64%, and returns have been even higher in recent years, it could be that SBC is missing out on tens of thousands of dollars every year. When asked, Esquivel admitted she did not know why SBC did not receive returns on its funds.
The tight budget does not help the Committee’s relationship with the student body.
“The student body, as a rule, hates SBC,” said Apollo bluntly. Since the Committee is the gatekeeper, it is forced to be the body that says no to student ideas. Aware of its less-than-sterling reputation, SBC has been taking steps to be more open. “We’ve tried to be more transparent,” said Esquivel. “We’ve put up a sign welcoming people in, we’ve added more chairs, and we are making an effort to explain why decisions are made.”
Most problems arise because student treasurers have not read the information put out by SBC, and the Committee forces itself to be strict. “We are ruled by precedent,” said Apollo. “Because of this, we can’t stretch the rules–even for really small mistakes.” Thus, Apollo encourages any students unhappy with SBC to appeal, and get their requests heard by Student Council. Student Council does not have the same precedent-restrictions that SBC maintains, so they can overlook small errors.
“Otherwise, I’m not sure what we could be doing,” admits Apollo. “As part of our job, we’ll be turning people away, and this is going to cause hard feelings.” At least for the rest of this semester, any students requesting funding should keep the Committee’s budget crisis in mind.