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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Elections draw attention to change in Union finances over past two years

Published: March 21, 2008
Section: Front Page

In the fall of 2006, Choon Woo Ha ’08 was elected Union Treasurer in a special election after Harrison Chizek ’07 was forced to leave the university. Ha’s tenure has marked significant change in the position of Union Treasurer.

He has overseen the application of the SAF amendment passed in the spring of 2006 and more recently instituted a policy wherein clubs funded by F-board cannot charge students entrance fees for their events. Ha will step down upon his graduation. A replacement will be elected this spring.

The SAF amendment, drafted in part by Ha’s predecessor, Chizek, changed the way secured clubs are funded and prevented clubs from retaining rollover money.

The SAF amendment marked the beginning of an evolution in Union finances, including this year’s creation of the Office of the Treasurer. These recent reforms were aimed at increasing financial organization, accountability and finally, manageability.

The popular rumor that Brandeis saw 10 treasurers in five years is untrue, Union Advocate Brian Paternostro ’08 explained, citing budget records dating back to 1998.

“In the last six years,” he said, “there has only been one treasurer who has been elected who did not finish his term.”

Nonetheless, Aaron Gaynor ’07, who served as Union Treasurer during the 2004-2005 school year, explained via e-mail, “the single biggest problem during my tenure was the amount of work associated just with the day-to-day. This ‘extracurricular’ became more like a job and was simply exhausting.”

When Budget Analyst in the Division of Students and Enrollment Stephen Costa, was hired in January of 2006, he too noticed the Treasurer’s overwhelming load. He remarked, “there were so many transactions going through and it was just one person. It was getting to be too much.”

Costa’s position is “something of an internal” auditor, he said. It is his job to ensure that clubs are handling their finances in accordance with university policies. Costa’s position was created several years ago after a former Union Treasurer embezzled funds.

In addition to the excessive amount of work expected of the Treasurer, Costa cited organization as a problem plaguing the Union treasury. “I arrived to find a desk full of envelopes of bank statements” belonging to various student clubs,” he said. Student finances, Costa commented, were “in disarray.”

When former Assistant Vice President for Students and Enrollment Keenyn McFarlane arrived at Brandeis in the fall of 2006, the Union was without a Treasurer. The problem of disorganization was compounded by the problem of off-campus bank accounts. “There was a lot of rope lent to students,” McFarlane explained.

“No one knew what was in off-campus bank accounts,” said McFarlane. As it turns out, various secured organizations had thousands of dollars sitting in off-campus bank accounts.

Paternostro commented, “back in the day, you used to be able to write a check from accounts payable to an off-campus bank account to stockpile money.”

In this way, Archon was able to accumulate upwards of $150,000 according to Costa. Costa estimated that $400,000 worth of club money was kept in off-campus bank accounts before it was retrieved and “back on campus on the books.”

In order to address the problem of disorganization, Costa, McFarlane and Chizik began an effort to standardize financial procedure. After Chizik left the university, Ha joined the project.

Now, instead of “trying to cobble together disparate bank statements,” Costa explained, “every transaction for an undergraduate club or organization will appear in [the university’s accounting system].”

In addition, as part of the SAF amendment, every club has “a bank account with F-board and F-board has an account with Bank of America,” Paternostro said.

Along with improving organization and reining in off-campus bank accounts, Costa cited Ha’s codification of Treasurer procedure as an important development in the system. “In the past,” he said, “nothing was written down.”

Ha explained one of his goals as Treasurer was to “let club leaders know how things run. The best example of this is the Treasurer’s Manual,” created in January of last year.

Among many problems, part of the challenge facing the treasury was the lack of continuity caused by the yearly Union election cycle. “There’s so much information to know but they get overwhelmed and they quit. And then you have to go to the next person and learn it all over again,” Costa added.

“Now that you have the Office of the Treasury, you have a group of people who know a lot more about what goes on,” Costa commented.

According to Assistant Treasurer Justin Kang ’09, the Office of the Treasury, created at the beginning of this school year, is necessary due to the demanding nature of Ha’s job.

The Office of the Treasury is a group of students appointed to assist the Treasurer with daily tasks as well as policy formation and implementation. Along with helping Ha with his various tasks, the Office of the Treasury ensures a level of sustainability, said Kang.

While the treasury has seen a great deal of improvement, it is not perfect, Costa remarked. “Now that we have something good in place, we can build up from there,” he said. “In two years, we’ve gone from the Wild West to really a professional style of organization.”

Paternostro felt it important to recognize the effect the SAF amendment has had on the current state of Union finances.

“Almost every change you’ve seen over the past two years has come from the think tank that created the SAF reform,” he said.

“Pretty much everything that’s happened was an evolution of the SAF amendment,” McFarlane said, “[Ha] interpreted the direction of the SAF amendment and beyond.”

He continued, “[student finances] have had a much more professional and organized development because of the changes that [Ha] has implemented.”

“There’s still a lot to be desired,” said McFarlane, “no one person is going to come in and solve it all.”