It’s a drama that is perennially rehashed and reframed. Registered student organizations come away from the Student Association allocations process disgruntled and disillusioned. Every organization feels entitled to more money than it receives, and the SA responds by requesting a student fee increase.
Though some within the SA would argue otherwise, an increase in the student fee is not a cure-all for SA and student organization budget woes. Systematic problems inherent to the allocations process still exist regardless of the budget size. Until there is full transparency within the SA, sustained cuts in internal spending and reform of the allocation process, students should not support raising their activities fee.
The student fee, $1 per credit hour up to 15 credits, is assessed each semester. It funds both the internal workings of the SA as well as the hundreds of registered student organizations on campus. In order to raise the fee, students must vote in a referendum, usually during SA elections in March. Traditionally, the SA has mishandled these student funds through questionable purchases such as expensive dinners for members of the executive branch. In addition, successive finance committees have overfunded certain groups, such as the College Democrats and College Republicans, while leaving other less politically savvy groups to pick at the scraps of the SA’s budget.
The SA has an inherent proclivity to mishandle funds because there is a lack of interest among students to call for oversight or better management. In this regard, President Audai Shakour deserves some commendation for significantly cutting executive branch spending this year. Whoever assumes the presidency next year should follow his lead and voluntarily limit their spending to provide more money for student organizations.
Even Shakour, however, is not free from financial miscues. He was recently sued in the SA’s Student Court for refusing to fully release financial records from the summer, giving the impression that there might have been mismanagement of student funds prior to the start of the academic year.
Certain SA administrations offer some hope that the situation will improve, but the nature of student politics ensures each year brings hope and disappointment. The candidate running against excesses in the spring becomes embroiled in financial controversy in the fall, as was the case with former SA President Omar Woodard.
Thus, it is incumbent upon students to break free from dependency on the SA. Student groups should utilize the SA allocation process, but supplement their allocations through innovative programming that will educate, entertain and raise money.
The concept behind the student fee is one of collective responsible. Because we are all responsible for fostering student life on campus, we should pay into a fund that is divided up among all student organizations. Some groups, such as mock trial and club sports, necessitate a collective funding structure because they utilize student funds to travel around the country building GW’s prestige at various competitions. Other groups, however, could easily supplement their funding through a renewed commitment to individual fundraising.
Rather than hand over more money to the SA and be disappointed with the outcome, all student groups should consider charging minimal dues from their members. That way, every student can make individual choices about which group they choose to support. Students would also be willing to pay a small amount to enter events. A copella concerts on campus consistently raise money by charging a few dollars at the door. Requesting a small donation from students going to see a popular speaker is not unreasonable.
Students need to have a sense of entrepreneurship rather than welfare entitlement. Instead of dumping more money into the SA’s coffers, students should responsibly spend their money supporting the student groups with which they associate. Accordingly, student groups should provide the type of programming which would engender a sense of involvement among their own members and other students, while raising the money necessary to operate.
This article appeared in the October 31, 2005 issue of the Hatchet.