By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
The anger that awoke in the Sept. 12 Students’ Association meeting is nothing new when it comes to dealing with the students’ money. Over the past several years, accusations during budget debates have been the rule, rather than the exception.
From president Jeremy Smith’s decision last year to remove approval of the agenda from a routine agenda item to a move that must be requested by Congress to the near-collapse of the Student Request Fund two years ago, the thousands of dollars, it seems, always has been hotly contested.
“It’s one of the issues where each semester, there’s a lot of discussion, a lot of debate,” said executive president Jonathan Wilkerson. “One of the ways we serve the student body is by allocating to so many groups.”
SA’s budget has been shrinking since its high of $107,000 in the spring of 2002. At $85,000, it’s now the lowest since 2000, a victim mostly of flat-to-declining enrollment.
Congress traditionally had approved the budget as a matter of business placed on the docket by the president. But last year, Smith said he would not present the budget for approval; if Congress wanted to approve or reject it, he said, the governing body could so move.
The move enraged senior class officers, among others, who insisted Congress had a constitutional right to approve the budget. Congress never approved the Fall 2002 budget but did approve the next semester’s allocations at a contentious retreat meeting.
Potential approval of the budget was called into question after the SA Constitution was once again used to oppose portions of the budget.
Several members of Congress objected to administrative officer scholarships, although a scholarship for the chief financial officer was tacitly approved last spring and was not opposed a year ago, when the budget was neither approved nor rejected.
Wilkerson used those non-objections as precedent to award scholarships to the newly created chief development and communications officers. And the money for them already has been spent, he said.
That statement unsettled several members, who privately expressed concern that student money was spent without congressional knowledge. Meanwhile, parliamentary technicalities and technological difficulties kept the budget from being voted on last Wednesday. If Congress so wishes, approval will be discussed tonight.
“So you mean the student groups’ money can’t be talked about tonight because the computer wouldn’t work?” Rep. Elizabeth Alvarez, Administration Building, asked as the meeting last week closed.
The budget was presented after official business had closed because of a delay caused by troubles hooking up treasurer David Shinn’s computer with the meeting room’s projection system. The presentation had been scheduled for a time prior to official business.
The question-and-answer period appeared to visibly frustrate Shinn, and Wilkerson did not discount the possibility that Congress could decide to reject at least a part of the budget.
“I don’t really know what will happen next week,” he said after the meeting, “but I’m sure it’ll be good. If they want to change it, it’ll be the voice of the students, and I’ll welcome the changes.”
Each semester, however, has featured a major budget fight. Last semester, Congress unanimously passed a budget at its spring retreat, partly as a message to members whose absence made a unanimous vote necessary for passage, but only after an hour of intense debate.
Absences again played a role in Fall 2002, when a second vote saved Essence for Ebony from leaving the meeting with nothing, even though a vast majority of those present had voted in favor of granting the group funds-the sheer number of absent Congress members required a supermajority for passage.
In the spring of 2002, the Student Request Fund came within several dollars of running dry after a third of the fund was allocated to the Welcome Week steering committee for a Third Day concert the committee ultimately did not deliver, settling for Jars of Clay instead.
Wilkerson said hours-long debates and heated exchanges are partly a product of larger budget totals, which came from a student activity fee increase several years ago.
“The first time that we ever saw that was trying to figure out how do we properly allocate $95,000 when previous years’ budgets had been $55,000 to $60,000?” said Wilkerson, who served as executive treasurer last year.
Other debates have focused on balancing present needs with future requests, with some members complaining of “nickel-and-diming” student groups and others warning of extravagant spending that could short-change groups later in the semester.
One particularly memorable debate lasted four hours and centered on a proposed amendment to add a liaison from the International Students Association to Congress. The amendment was proposed partly to eliminate the need for ISA to request money from the Appropriations Committee.
Congress probably will bring up this semester’s budget as old business in tonight’s meeting, which will be conducted at 5 p.m. in Room 114 of the Biblical Studies Building. All students are members of the Students’ Association and are invited to attend each of its meetings.