Column: The bloated student government

It was a lovely affair. There was a strict dress code in effect. We had a delicious meal together. We wiped our mouths and spilled our drinks on beautiful linens. There was even a slideshow. If you were drunk, they let you speak. The event was held at the Four Seasons Hotel to celebrate passing power from the old to the new Student Association. Last year, I had the honor of attending the SA transition dinner. These events are held every year in the name of representing students. That is why invitations are almost entirely restricted to members of the student government. Transition banquets provide SA leaders with the confidence and ego necessary to fight for students.

Just like everything at GW, the SA is raising the cost for students. With a nice budget increase, the SA will have enough money for a transition banquet and office assistants. This year, SA President Omar Woodard requested over $110,000 from the Senate Finance Committee. Booyakasha! We are lucky they only gave him $70,000.

The SA is funded through a separate fee on your tuition bill. This money, which totals around $450,000, is placed in the SA general fund. All student organizations and their activities are funded through it. Each year, the SA president also receives his budget through this same allocation process. Whatever money goes back into the hands of the Student Association leadership is money that is being taken away from student organizations. This year, Woodard is set to collect $70,000 from the general fund.

It is worth noting that Executive Vice President Anyah Dembling was willing to recognize that her budget was too high. When approached by senators concerned about under-funded student organizations, Dembling agreed student groups need the money more than she does. Dembling should be commended for supporting and withstanding a 25 percent reduction in her budget. On the other hand, when Senator Eli Mazour attempted to challenge the proposed budget for the SA president, particular members of Woodard’s administration attacked him. Since then, senators trying to secure more money for student organizations have been threatened with some sort of ambiguous “backlash.” The question becomes: does threatening people over student government make you more of a tool or a bully?

I wanted to know how much money $70,000 really is in the world of student government. Apparently, it would be enough money to fund around 450 new student organizations. Woodard asserts that his money is going to programming enjoyed by the student population, but his own budget plans to use more than half of his allocation for the fancy dinner and maintaining the SA office. The Student Association does not need a transition banquet to which students are not invited. Moreover, students do not need their senators and president having paid office assistants. It costs a lot to throw banquets and maintain a paid staff. It does not cost very much to fight for students. Last time I checked, a meeting with administrators is free.

I can’t help but think Woodard is getting caught up in the old culture of the SA. During last year’s election, we had all hoped Woodard would represent a turning point for student government at GW. He still has the credibility and charisma to be an effective advocate for students, but his proposed budget is a bad sign. There is no doubt that Woodard requested such a tremendous budget with noble intentions. That is not the point. Student organizations desperately need money for programming and funding. Student groups should be more of a priority than transition banquets.

The Student Association is sending the wrong message to the administration. When student leaders use student money frivolously, how can we ever expect the University to take us seriously? It is hard to make the case that the administration wastes our money when the SA president requests 20 percent of student funds for himself. To the Student Association: stop spending our money and start representing us.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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