SGA closes door on student interest

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • April 13, 2017

At issue: Students are left in the dark on the FAB budget

Our take: This is how to get students to care about SGA

Last week, Student Government Association decided to literally leave the doors open during their joint session meetings; an invitation to the student body to get involved. That’s a good step. But this commitment to communication doesn’t show in the area of SGA that student leaders may care about the most: The allocation of the SGA budget amongst recognized organizations.  

Every spring semester, all SGA-recognized organizations submit a budget proposal to SGA’s Financial Advisory Board, or FAB, for the following school year, complete with a detailed breakdown of all expected expenditures. The full packet includes a lot of paperwork, including a cover letter, an org constitution, and fundraising goals.

Decisions are made by a small group of students behind doors, year after year, the joint session votes to close. In all, only seven students vote to “ensure each organization’s financial needs are met,” with the SGA treasurer there to break a tie. Access to information about how this group of students make these financial allocations will hold this small group accountable for their decisions. 

That’s the financial fate of all SGA-recognized orgs in the hands of a few students, selected by a small fraction of the student body (139 students voted in this month’s elections—3 percent of undergraduates).

The money that SGA gets to allocate to clubs and organizations all comes from your (or your parents’) pockets. Along with tuition and room and board, every undergraduate student pays a "student services fee." This year, it’s $382. But next semester, it’s bumping up to $400. A portion of that fee goes to SGA—think of it like a “club tax.” Whenever any org buys new equipment, prints publications, or flies cross-country for a conference, you as a student are indirectly subsidizing that. 

Public awareness of our government’s budget is an integral pillar in maintaining this delicate balance of power between the rule of law and the very citizens it’s meant to protect. The fact that Emerson students are largely left in the dark on FAB’s budgeting process is not only irritating for student organizations in need of funding, but more importantly poses a threat to the fundamental purpose of SGA. Students should at least have the opportunity to review FAB’s budgeting decisions. Even the White House is required to share its budgeting proposals with the general public. So why doesn’t FAB?

We aren’t suggesting that FAB meetings become completely open—understandably, that situation would be hard to manage. It could quickly turn into a counterproductive shouting match. But if we’re being real, based on how many non-members currently attend meetings, not enough people would show up for it to be a screaming match. And there is a way to compromise: The meeting could be open only for observation, with an audience comment period at the end. 

If SGA wants to increase student involvement, they need to let the community in on how they make some of their most important decisions. Students deserve to know how SGA is allocating their money for organizations with which they spend their time.