RHA accused of abusing funds

Media Credit: Erica Christian | Hatchet Photographer
Freshman Casey Syron, a presidential candidate in the Residence Hall Association, lashed out Monday at RHA leaders for lavish spending over the past academic year.

The Residence Hall Association spent about $1,300 on upscale dinners and apparel for a newly elected executive board, prompting its president to resign Saturday after attempting to disband the organization.

Freshman Patrick Wohl said he stepped down after University officials ignored his concerns that the student-run organization, which deals with facilities issues in halls, was abusing funds from its $30,000 budget from the Center for Student Engagement. He stepped down just weeks after accepting the post, after learning that the group’s executive board had used funds on outings to Outback Steakhouse and Carmine’s Restaurant, Starbucks coffee runs and hoodies for the executive board.

“I was sick of being a part of an organization that wastes student money so recklessly, and I hope that this will change,” Wohl said. He said he pushed to cut travel costs for a national conference in Pennsylvania this summer, which will likely cost thousands due to travel expenses. RHA spent about $7,000 this year on travel and conference tickets for a handful of executive board members. Wohl called RHA’s use of funds inefficient, because many of its responsibilities could overlap with the Student Association cabinet’s. The RHA also runs annual events such as Martha’s Marathon and Target Takeover, which Wohl said could easily be merged with Program Board’s duties.

CSE director Tim Miller shot down Wohl’s call to revoke the organization’s charter and move its role of overseeing residence hall life under the Student Association, he said, adding that he will continue pushing top administrators to disband the RHA in future weeks.

“I think people ought to know what their money is going to and how organizations are spending it, so students can hold them accountable,” Wohl said. “While RHA has a purpose, it’s inefficient and could be done in better ways.”

Miller said his office has reviewed RHA expenses for the past year and said staff members “feel really good about where the RHA is for the remainder of the year.” He added that they have “significant funds to continue their planned end-of-the-year programs.

“In addition, the decision to attend the national conference will not dramatically impact the remaining funds or the organization’s ability to support life on campus,” Miller said.

Executive board members are given debit cards to pay for the organization’s expenses, which mostly go toward planning events in residence halls. The president gets a personal stipend of $6,000, compared to $15,000 scholarships for Student Association executives.

Former RHA President Jacob Thayer said Wohl’s power as president was limited, because presidents do not have voting power within the organization. He seconded the freshman’s concerns about funding and said RHA should upgrade parts of residence halls, like buildings’ basements, to make better use of the money. Wohl’s sudden resignation, announced to hundreds of members, sparked presidential candidates to stress frugality and financial accountability in their platforms.

RHA, which comprises students from every residence hall who have been elected by their hallmates, does not receive funding from the SA, which doles out an average of about $3,000 to each of the University’s about 400 student groups.

All three candidates at the organization’s meeting Monday promised to trim expenses and improve financial planning. Freshman Casey Syron said RHA has been “shamefully run,” and said he was disgusted to learn that his hard-earned tuition money was used to fund lavish leadership dinners.

“I am sick and I am tired of how irresponsibly our funds are being managed. Every single dime needs to go to our residences. Every single dime needs to go towards advocacy,” Syron said during his two-minute election speech. Syron got two votes in the race after a pros and cons debate that skewered his speech for not taking the position seriously.

While running for RHA president, Wohl pledged to cut down the group’s $7,000 conference expenses. Still, Miller defended the leadership training that conferences provide.

Three members of the organization are scheduled to attend the National Association of College and University Residence Halls Conference in Pennsylvania this summer. Several members were flying in from the West Coast, and Wohl said they pushed to scrap the plans in favor of using the funds for more residence hall events.

RHA Vice President Matt Scott said the amount of members going this year will not change, adding that he is excited that GW’s RHA is up for two awards at the conference.

“This experience will allow us to refine our ideas and learn from successes and failures at otherUniversities – something we feel will be extremely beneficial for the campus community,” Scott said.

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