Administrators use special funds for students, departments in need

In February, University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg offered to loan the daughter of late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke money for tuition to be paid back after she settles a dispute over her father’s estate.

While some were startled by this proposal, this is not the only time Trachtenberg has offered to help students using his discretionary funds.

Indeed, some students go straight to the top when they are in need of funds, visiting Trachtenberg and other top administrators during office hours to ask for money for a variety of reasons.

As budget crunches annually loom over departments, the use of this fund can be a life-saver to some departments. But Trachtenberg said most of what he doles out for students from his discretionary finds goes to cover small problems, like emergency travel.

“I use them to put out small fires and crises during the year,” he said. “Sometimes $100 here or $1,000 there can make a difference in a person’s life. It’s the kind of thing you do under extreme situations.”

Trachtenberg explained that the funding comes from University benefactors, but declined to comment on the amount present in the fund.

Administrators do not have free rein to spend the money. Director of Student Financial Assistance Daniel Small said if a student asks Trachtenberg for financial assistance, Trachtenberg will check with Small before he offers aid from his discretionary funds to see if the offer does not violate any financial aid guidelines.

For example, financial aid cannot exceed the student’s demonstrated financial need. Small said Trachtenberg would not have to check with him before he offered a student a loan.

Money from the fund is many times given to aid student organizations. In the past, Trachtenberg has given money to the mock trial team and the men’s ultimate Frisbee team for travel to competitions, as well as $5,000 to a student voting initiative, GW Votes, he said.

Students are not the only people going to administrators for financial help. Academic budget cuts have caused some departments to depend on the discretionary funds of Robert Chernak, the senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services.

Leslie Jacobson, chair of the theater and dance department, said the department’s production budget has been strained in the past 10 years, especially following budget cuts three years ago. She said theater rental fees, like the fee to use Lisner Auditorium, can be difficult for the department to pay for without outside assistance.

Jacobson emphasized the academic importance of performance for theater and dance students, comparing it to a science lab for science students.

“In the arts, performance is a kind of creative lab,” she said.

The music department has also experienced cuts in its academic budget, which have led to a decrease in the number of beginner music classes and one-on-one instruction offered this year.

But funding from Chernak will possibly help to improve perceptions of the University’s attitude toward supporting the arts. In May, the University Singers, a group of 53 undergraduate and graduate students, will be going on tour to Croatia, Slovenia and Venice, with partial funding from Chernak.

“It is in the University’s interest to give money for this type of tour,” wrote Gregory Camp, a member of University Singers, in an e-mail to The Hatchet. “Most importantly, it spreads knowledge of our University around the world. It is also beneficial to the students to travel in a way that is often more enlightening than a simple vacation. By singing with people from around the world, we broaden our experiences and we can take our new knowledge back to GW.”

Chernak said the SASS VP discretionary fund was established when he first arrived at the University in 1988 and decided to designate his annual personal gift to GW for this purpose. He said parents and alumni have also contributed to the fund.

Chernak added that he has also co-sponsored a disability studies symposium and the Colonials Weekend jazz lunch.

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