Letter to the Editor from the SGA executive treasurer

by John Depa / SGA Executive Treasurer • April 18, 2017

Dear Editorial Board,

I am writing in response to your April 13th piece discussing the Financial Advisory Board and budgetary decisions. Having served as the SGA Executive Treasurer for two years now, and with the end of my term (and graduation!) rapidly approaching, I wanted to try to address the concerns raised by the Editorial Board surrounding the Financial Advisory Board’s budgetary allocation process as promptly as possible.

Each year, the Financial Advisory Board convenes to review the budgetary requests submitted to us by student organizations which are recognized by the SGA. The board’s voting membership currently consists of the four class presidents, the Organization Recognition and Review Board (ORRB) chair, and a student body representative. In addition to these members, the SGA Executive Treasurer, incoming Executive Treasurer (if applicable), SGA Vice-Treasurer, SGA Chief Justice, and SGA Advisor (the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs) sit on the board. 

The FAB is tasked with reviewing and forming recommended budgetary allocations for SGA recognized student organizations, based on the goals of each organization, with respect for the financial limitations of the student activities fee. When reviewing each budgetary request packet, the voting membership is tasked with representing the interests of their constituencies (for presidents, their classes; for ORRB, all organizations; for student body rep, all current and incoming undergraduates). 

Contained in the packet include: the names of who sit on the board, the timeline of the process, an articulation of what FAB looks for and how they make their decisions, and an invitation to organization leaders to meet with the SGA Executive Treasurer before submitting requests. In addition to this, each group is invited to attend a hearing to provide information and context on their requests to the voting members of the Financial Advisory Board, so they may be better informed of the specific needs and priorities of the organization. These recommendations are then presented to SGA Joint Session, and are further questioned and modified before being passed.

These decisions and conversations are intentionally made behind closed doors for a few critical reasons. 

Above all, we wish to ensure that the financial dealings of each organization remain wholly under their purview. One of the most uncomfortable moments I have faced in my time as SGA Executive Treasurer was when I received a report from a student organization that they were receiving abusive emails from another student, because a member of that organization had shared their operating budget with other students. In order to maintain the privacy of the organizations, we review requests in a closed meeting.

It is also important to articulate that the requests are just that– requests. Student organizations may not be comfortable in sharing a full outline of their organization’s plans until they know that they have the resources to support them. We hear that, and respect that.

In addition to this, the voting members of the Financial Advisory Board often make decisions within the room that are in the best interest of the student body— but might not be ideal for the organizations that they are a part of, or run by their friends. For example, should a FAB member be faced with deciding if an organization run by their friends should receive funding for a trip, I do not want this decision to be influenced by the pressure of their friends seeing how they voted. Our Advisor, Chief Justice, and Joint Session additionally serve as multiple checks against conflicts of interest in deliberations– to prevent the voting membership from favoring organizations they are a part of, as well. 

Considering that all students do pay the student services fee, it is fair to call for an explanation of how those funds are spent. But to say that these processes are not transparent is false; the process we follow, how we make our decisions, and who is making these decisions are all public information. Many of the questions raised by the Editorial Board could have been answered in looking through these documents, or contacting the SGA Executive Board with clarifying questions.

A solution that I believe that is both responsible and holds the SGA accountable is the annual publication of our categorized spending, along with other generalized facts and figures that provide the organizations with the privacy they deserve. I hope that both the SGA and the Berkeley Beacon can work together in the coming years to publish these figures— as the Beacon has an incredibly large reach and has called for increased transparency from the SGA. 

Of the student services fee that Emerson charges to undergraduate students, the Student Government Association receives $190 per full time undergraduate student to distribute to our organizations. This figure does not raise annually— and it was last raised in 2014, as reported here by the Beacon

Categorizing our student organizations into groups, last year, we allocated the following: $52,098.90 to nine intercultural organizations; $79,935.71 to nineteen performance organizations; $176,968.48 to fiffteen media organizations; $15,938.67 to five political, service, or advocacy organizations; $9,300.09 to programming and special event organizations; $132,658.52 to sixteen print/publication organizations, $42,669.18 to five professionally affiliated organizations; and $51,244.69 for SGA Joint Session, Class Councils, and Senior Week. In addition to these figures, over $200,000 in appeals funding has been distributed to thirty-two organizations this year.

Because enrollment fluctuates throughout the summer, the FAB allocates funding based upon an estimated minimum enrollment level [est. minimum enrollment x $190 = allocations pool], with excess funding from further enrollment being pushed into our appeals account. In addition to this, we transfer $95 (half of the full-year fee) for each student attending Kasteel Well or ELA to those campuses for programming, each semester. 

I hope in the future that the editorial board, and any community member, will reach out to the SGA Executive Board asking questions about our processes.

Until the end of the semester, I can be reached with questions at SGA_Treasurer@emerson.edu; in May, this account will transition to the incoming SGA Executive Treasurer, Ian Mandt. Following FAB deliberations in the upcoming week, I will compile updated figures and provide them to the Berkeley Beacon for publication.

In your service,

John Daniel Depa

SGA Executive Treasurer, 2015–2017