Despite being responsible for disbursing several hundred thousand dollars to student groups each year, few members of the ASSU Undergraduate Senate have detailed knowledge of the funding requests they habitually approve after little discussion, an issue attributable at least in part to lax funding policies.
Both the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and the Senate have a funding committee that reviews all applications for funding based on a set of guidelines for each type of expense, from food and marketing to honoraria and travel fees. Graduate and undergraduate financial officers are required to meet with their respective funding committee about their funding request, after which the committee makes a recommendation to the legislative body.
Groups requesting funding from the GSC are also required to appear before the entire GSC to answer questions, allowing all of the members of the GSC to more closely examine each funding request and question student representatives. The Senate does not ask groups requesting funding to appear at a general Senate meeting.
While Assistant Financial Manager Stephen Trusheim ’13 M.S. ’14 said that he has never seen either group deny a funding request, funding bills at the GSC are voted on independently and often involve more debate than funding bills at the Senate, which are almost always passed simultaneously and without discussion.
“I think it just speaks to the differences in the two bodies,” Trusheim said. “The Undergraduate Senate pretty much entirely relies on the Appropriations Committee to make decisions. They might as well not vote on [funding bills] at the meetings — they don’t talk about them.”
According to Trusheim, a GSC member once brought up the issue of whether or not groups who profit from ticket sales for a GSC-funded event should split the profits with the GSC. Trusheim called this an “excellent point,” and said that he has never heard an idea like that come from undergraduate senators.
“Graduate students stay very well connected to funds by making people come to explain them and having some sort of debate before approving requests,” he said. “There is a lot to be said for keeping the legislative bodies really thinking about funding at every junction.”
Another recent funding idea produced by the GSC was a quiz for financial officers about funding bylaws, which GSC Funding Committee Chair Anne-Laure Cuvilliez Ph.D. ’18 created this summer. The GSC strongly recommends that financial officers take the quiz, which asks them to apply information from the bylaws to practical funding situations, before meeting with the funding committee.
“It’s a good way for them to check that they know enough to be able to make a good request and be comfortable with level of conversation in meeting,” Cuvilliez said.
The Senate has no such funding quiz, though Appropriations Committee Chair Nancy Pham ’14 said it was a “smart” idea, as some financial officers come to Appropriations Committee meetings unaware of funding policies.
Financial officers for graduate student groups also benefit from the GSC’s policy of requiring group representatives to appear at general GSC meetings, according to Cuvilliez. These meetings give the groups an opportunity to appeal to the GSC as a whole and receive more money than the funding committee recommended.
Cuvilliez noted that, although the funding committee uses their guidelines to evaluate each request, groups can bypass the guidelines with the approval of the GSC. According to Cuvilliez, this occurs most often with the rental and programming expenses on funding requests.
“The guidelines are just guidelines, and the final call is by the GSC,” Cuvilliez said.
By contrast, Pham said that her committee “just goes with the funding policies.”
According to Trusheim, the GSC’s direct use of proprietary funds to put on events means GSC members are more engaged with the funding process compared to their undergraduate peers.
The GSC spends about half of the $300,000 they collect each year from student activity fees on in-house programming, giving GSC members the ability to propose and organize their own events or sponsor event ideas generated by other students. The Senate is prohibited from spending student activity fees on their own events.
While Trusheim acknowledged that senators have fewer incentives to be involved with their funding process, as they cannot host their own events, he argued that that detachment shouldn’t preclude a more critical and knowledge approach to funding requests and policies.
“I think that both bodies should be really deeply considering all of their funding requests and all of the money that exits from their accounts,” Trusheim said. “They’re basically taxing students to provide funding.”