Student Association seeks new financial policies for graduate students

The Student Association’s finance committee is tackling concerns from graduate student groups who claim they were shortchanged by a new policy implemented this fall.

Student Association Finance Committee chair John Bennett, U-At Large, is working to mitigate a rule change that combined funding pools for graduate and undergraduate activities, forcing graduate students to compete more broadly for funding and to pay for programming they say doesn’t benefit them.

In past years, the University’s largest graduate organizations were automatically given 100 percent of their student fee contributions – which charges students of all levels $1.50 per credit hour with a 50-cent match from the University – and the fund was split among several hundred groups with limited oversight from the Student Association.

This year, their funding was left entirely to the discretion of the finance committee.

The policy dividing money raised by graduates and undergraduates was scrapped this year, Bennett explained, because it had “allowed graduate students to benefit disproportionately from the pool of funding that the SA gets every year” by letting them keep money without competing for it like the 500-plus undergraduate organizations do.

But graduate students are concerned that their student fees now “end up subsidizing campus-wide programming that their constituents rarely attend anyway,” like Fall Fest or Fountain Fling, Bennett said.

The junior is collaborating with leaders from graduate groups and staff in the Center for Student Engagement to forge a compromise that will make the process more favorable for graduate groups.

With the baseline, Bennett said “graduate umbrella groups who interact minimally with the SA could be assured some sort of financial certainty.”

Bennett, who declared a bid for Student Association president last week, said he hopes to implement a new policy that would guarantee a base level of funding for the many graduate student umbrella groups on campus, which are responsible for the budgets of dozens of branch organizations. The move is likely to bring Bennett graduate support – which has proved to be a key voting bloc in past SA elections.

This year was the first in which organizations received their funding up-front rather than applying for co-sponsorships throughout the year, putting the onus on organizations to carefully allot money for events and operational costs.

Most graduate organizations were unaware of the changes to their funding pools or the allocation process in general, Bennett said, blaming last year’s senate for not preparing student organizations for tighter budgets.

“None of the people who sponsored or signed the bill last year bothered to tell [graduate groups] what had taken place,” Bennett said. “So they were essentially left unaware of the changes, which prompted totally justifiable concern.”

The “underlying culture” of graduate groups has historically kept them separate from the Student Association, Bennett said, though the body includes representation from graduate students.

Last year’s finance committee included only three graduate students. Out of the 11 members on this year’s finance committee, graduate students hold seven spots – a figure that had some worried about the group’s ability to fairly allocate the SA’s $950,000 budget to student organizations.

Their heightened presence also means that graduate students could have a greater impact on changing finance policies.

The GW Student Bar Association, an umbrella group that oversees 60 law school organizations, received about $20,000 less in allocations this year compared to last year.

“The biggest problem for us is that we are now forced to be stingier at the outset with regard to student group budget requests. We’ve had to make tough decisions as a result,” Nicholas Nikic, the organization’s president, said.

This story was updated on Feb. 7, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Student Association senators James Bonneau and Jake Chervinsky served as senators last year. The students were members of the Joint Elections Committee, not the senate. The Hatchet regrets this error.

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