Wednesday, August 21

USAC fund allocation process questioned


Claims made that budget committee politicized, gives out money unfairly

The recent release of a document alleging unfair funding on the
part of the undergraduate student government’s budget
committee has raised concerns about the legitimacy of the funding
allocation process.

The document, filed by a student councilmember, states that the
base budget funding process created by the Undergraduate Students
Association Council’s Budget Review Committee was
politicized.

The document was filed in support of the Jewish Student Union as
it appeals to the Judicial Board following a denial of the
JSU’s petition requesting additional funds.

According to the document, groups supporting the Students First!
slate received more funding than groups who supported the Students
United for Reform and Equality slate.

Slates are coalitions of students with similar ideologies who
help each other win seats on council during elections. This
year’s council has a slate majority of SF!

This year, the two original S.U.R.E. councilmembers ““
General Representative Josh Lawson and Financial Supports
Commissioner Erica Husse ““ received the lowest amount of
funding. Lawson left the slate in October, and Husse remains the
only member of S.U.R.E. on council.

Having received the most votes of the three general
representatives last spring, Lawson is designated the first general
representative; historically this designation has meant more base
funding than the other two. But, this was the first in several
years that this designation received the least funding of any of
the general representatives.

Priscilla Chen, Finance Committee chairwoman and member of the
Budget Review Committee, said the reason Lawson received less
funding was because his budget proposal was not well done and
included budget requests for items such as T-shirts, which USAC is
not allowed to fund.

“I think we tried really hard to make the process
fair,” Chen said.

The allocation of funds to student groups has also been called
into question. Groups who endorsed SF! candidates during the spring
elections received the most funding out of the 48 groups that
applied.

Members of the BRC said decisions were based on the quality of
the proposal and not on the group’s slate designation.
Members also said politicization could not have occurred because
they believe the committee is diverse in ideology.

But the composition of this year’s BRC is heavy with SF!
affiliations. Two of the committee’s councilmembers are from
SF!, and two members were appointed by USAC President Anica
McKesey, a member of SF!. The remaining member has no slate
designation, but has a voting record leaning toward SF!.

BRC members are supposed to remove themselves from voting for
the groups they have affiliations with to prevent a conflict of
interest.

But General Representative and BRC member, Linda Lam, and Chen
both voted for the funding of the Asian Pacific Coalition, a group
in which Lam was previously involved and in which Chen is still a
member. Similarly, Facilities Commissioner and BRC member Tutram
Nguyen voted in the funding of the Vietnamese Student Union, a
group with which she is still involved.

“Those individuals were clearly looking out for their
groups,” said Jewish Student Union President Gideon Baum.

Nguyen said because the base budget is used for day-to-day
operations, such as telephone usage and not for programming, she
did not see a conflict of interest. But the proposal for the base
budget funding contains a section about programming for each
group.

The question of unfair funding arose when Lawson submitted an
amicus curiae ““ a “friend of the court” brief
““ last month to support JSU’s appeal.

Council denied JSU’s original appeal of USAC’s base
budget funding during the summer. JSU has now brought its appeal to
the Judicial Board, hoping to revamp the funding process and get
more money.

Baum, the petitioner, said slate politicization of USAC, and
especially the BRC, contributed to the low funding JSU received for
the 2003-2004 year.

With base budget funding, the BRC allocated a total of
$233,058.69 to 74 groups for 2003-2004.

To assign funding, the BRC gave each group a point value based
on factors such as programming, retention, outreach and community
service. The points determined which group was given priority in
funding. Groups who received a high number of points received more
money than groups with a low number of points.

According to Lawson’s brief, the total point value for the
USAC sponsored groups that did not endorse SF! was 1260 while the
total point value for USAC sponsored groups that endorsed SF! was
1223. Despite having fewer total points, the groups endorsing SF!
received more than half of the funding given to USAC sponsored
groups.

In his brief, Lawson also noted the amount of money given per
point was not uniform. Thai Smakom received $39.89 per point,
whereas Le Cercle Francophone (The French Club) received $4.79 per
point. These clubs are both non-USAC sponsored organizations.

In response to Lawson’s complaint that different groups
received different amounts of money per point, Lam said the points
were not meant to be a direct representation of how much money the
group received, but were instead a general starting basis for
funding.

“It wouldn’t really make sense (to have each point
correspond to a particular dollar amount) because we’re
really looking at the needs of each organization,” Lam
said.

This year’s disagreement over base budget funding is a
recurring conflict with council, regardless of which slate is
dominant. In 2002, a S.U.R.E.-controlled BRC implemented a base
budget funding process that was heavily criticized by the opposing
slate’s groups as being favorable toward S.U.R.E.-supporting
groups.

Prior to this year, criticism regularly accompanied the process
during the multi-year period in which SF!’s predecessors,
Student Empowerment! and Praxis, controlled council.

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