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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students paying double for events

Published: October 18, 2013
Section: Opinions

Every member of a club executive board at Brandeis can tell stories of the mythical P-Card. A P-Card is a debit card that allows students to pay for club events straight out of Student Union’s bank account. These cards are meant for small purchases, such as office supplies, decorations, food and the like. There is no middle man; it’s paid for by Student Union from the start. Individual clubs can apply for their own P-Cards, or they can apply to use one for a specific instance. P-Cards are supposed to be available for each club to use to pay for an event; as most executive board members will tell you, however, P-Cards are nearly impossible to get access to.

There is an alternative for those who don’t possess the ability to magically summon P-Cards. For clubs that cannot get to P-Cards, students can pay for events out of their own pockets. Then, they submit the receipts to the Student Union Finance Board and wait to be reimbursed. In theory, this process should take about three to five weeks, but things don’t always go as planned. The process usually takes months, and some students have to wait until the following year to be reimbursed for events.

By this point, it’s necessary to ask from where the Student Union gets its money. Each student pays a Student Activities fee as part of their semester tuition, and this is what the Student Union uses to fund clubs. Students pay for events through this fee, so the students who have to pay for their events out of pocket have effectively paid for their event twice.

Needless to say there are problems with this system, the least of which is simply the amount of time it takes for a student to get reimbursed. The system is broken if students who have already paid for events must wait months to be paid back for money they spent paying for it a second time. It’s inefficient and unfair to make students wait that long to be paid.

There’s also the problem of expecting students to pay for it out of pocket at all. Even students whose families have the means may not have the ability themselves to pay for events. It is unreasonable to expect students to spend hundreds of dollars on club events, no matter how involved they are in the club. Under this system, every time a club plans an event, it runs the risk of not having a student who is able to pay for it.

Expecting the students on an executive board to pay for their own events and then wait to get reimbursed creates the risk of a de facto membership fee to be on the executive board. In clubs that are heavily based on costly events, students may feel that if someone cannot contribute monetarily to a club, they should not participate on its executive board.

There are alternatives to this system. A basis for a new system exists within the possibilities that P-Cards offer. Instead of having an extremely limited amount of P-Cards for clubs to apply for, the Student Union could give a P-Card to each club with a monetary limit of what the club was allocated. This system has a risk of students using these cards for personal purchases, but in this case, the Student Union could charge the student’s Sage account for the cost of the personal purchase, possibly with interest to penalize them.

Another possibility is to simply make the Student Union P-Card easier to access. It should be possible for a student representing a club to go to the Student Union and borrow the P-Card to purchase supplies for an event instead of paying out of their own pocket. Again, personal purchases could be charged to the student’s account with a penalizing fee. In this case, a reasonable system already exists. It’s just a question of enacting it.

The system, the way it works now, puts pressure on students to be able to pay for club events up front when it is the Student Union’s responsibility, and it shames students who don’t have the means to do so. Brandeis University gives a lot of power to its students, and this is something the university should be commended for. The club finance system currently works in an unfair way, and as Brandeis students, we have a responsibility to fix it.