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Recent history in the distribution of the SAF

Published: March 17, 2006
Section: News

In a multi-part series, The Hoot examines the issues that have compounded over the last few years, and which have led to an outcry demanding change to the distribution amounts of the Student Activities Fee (SAF). In Part 1, last semester, The Hoot examined the historical growth of the SAF, of which the current system is an outgrowth. In Part 2, The Hoot began to recount significant events from the last five years that have lead to the cries for change. In Part 3, The Hoot finishes recounting these events.

In October 2003, an amendment to drastically revamp Union finances was proposed by Union officers and passed by the student body. This amendment, which was in the works since 2001, was circulated for over a year and revised numerous times before the final version was settled upon. Despite keeping some pre-amendment discussions secret, all results of these discussions were ultimately made public before the amendment was passed. A financial audit conducted by Associate Vice President for Students and Enrollment Brian Walton was released, as well as a financial review conducted by Ron Goldstein 89. Numerous drafts of the amendment were also circulated to solicit opinions of various students, club leaders and interested parties.

The proposed amendment which, among other things, standardized how chartered groups keep track of fundraising, formally established the process for writing and obtaining checks, and changed the name of the Allocations Board to the Finance Board (F-board) passed, receiving 76.8% of the vote. Despite creating increased accountability within the Student Union and its organizations, the amendment did little to change the distribution of funds, leaving the Union with the same funding difficulties that it had before.

Slip me a non-profit $20 under the table
Besides finding that a former treasurer may have pocketed some Union funds, Goldsteins review and Waltons audit found that clubs within the Student Union may have been violating tax law. At that time, many clubs and secured groups paid instructors, advisors, coaches or other people for services rendered. By not reporting to the IRS more than $600 in annual payments to an individual, or by not withholding 30% from a resident alien, the Student Union, the clubs responsible and, by extension, Brandeis, were in breach of tax law.

A payment made to a Brandeis University club which, in turn, pays an individual is also a tax issue, Walton wrote in the audit. The club uses the Universitys not-for-profit tax identification number to create bank accounts locally. The Internal Revenue Service reporting requirements apply equally to the club as it does to the University and any other organization.

One other troubling note found in the audit was that most of the spending on coaches and advisors was unchecked. Sometimes students got paid as coaches;

other times it was unclear if any services were even rendered. Walton noted that a reimbursement to a student was recorded with the notation of political gift. Political gifts may endanger Brandeis non-profit standing.

The 2003 financial amendment and rules the F-board later imposed were aimed at correcting this. Clubs now hiring coaches are required to do so based on an outlined procedure that follows the tax code. The Union treasurer and the F-board are supposed to oversee this process and make sure it stays within the proper bounds.

Pay us to watch you
Both the audit and the review stated that Student Union finances had grown too large too quickly, and lacked oversight.

The skill set needed to reconcile a bank statement to a checkbook is not a prerequisite for winning election to the position of Student Union Treasurer. Additionally, the amount of effort required to keep clubs and organizations financially viable is daunting. The Treasurer, a full-time undergraduate student, is involved in SAF-mandated group budget review and approval, disbursing of funds, and other fiscal responsibilities. The bank account reconciliation often times is sacrificed to ensure that funds continue to flow, Walton wrote.

To this end Goldstein suggested the hiring of a fulltime administrator to oversee the SAF.

One specific suggestion included within the Auditors Report involves engaging an individual affiliated with the University to perform administrative functions of the Union financial system, Goldstein wrote. The specific responsibilities of this individual are yet to be fully defined, but they would include the issuance of checks and balancing of accounts, as well as ensuring Union compliance with relevant rules and regulations.

Goldstein wrote that his suggestion is based on how unreasonable it is to expect a full-time Brandeis student to almost single-handedly administer a fund of nearly $800,000 that is disbursed to hundreds of clubs and requires the issuance of thousands of checks.

Goldstein recognized that such a suggestion would be controversial because of the persons affiliation with the University.

To whom would this individual report? Would this allow for University control of Union funds? Would the University seek to restrict funding of certain clubs or otherwise impose its agenda through the funding processes? These are important questions, and with a fair and open dialogue between the leaders of the Union and the University administration, these issues undoubtedly can be resolved, Goldstein wrote.

After students held negotiations with administrators, the final version of the amendment introduced an administrative assistant to help manage the SAF. It would be required that all policy regarding the distribution of the SAF be placed with the Student Union. However, it also required that the administrative assistant work for the Office of Students and Enrollment, and that the assistant would utilize student input. Students were also expected to contribute $40,000 per year of the assistants salary from their SAF. To offset this, an extra fee was added to student tuition bills.

Although this administrator oversaw the funds, he had no power to deny funding for any reason if the funding was properly allocated through the SAF. Also, secured organizations were still allowed to manage their finances free from this administrator, if they so chose.

Recently, it has again come to light that since 1993 Student Events has chosen to use Accounts Payable rather than this administrator to pay its bills. Nothing in the Union Constitution currently forbids them from doing so. However, with the amendment, the Constitution now gives the treasurer the power to set a limited policy as to what secured groups must do to receive their money. For some time now, secured groups have been mandated by the treasurer through this policy to submit a detailed budget to the Treasurer prior to gaining access to their funds.
By giving Student Events access to their secured funding prior to them submitting a budget, the administration and Student Events were in breach of the Union Constitution.

When is not-voting a no vote?
After the amendment passed a student-wide vote, several senators in collaboration with members of the Brandeis Orthodox Organization (BOO) challenged its passage due to abstain votes not being counted towards the total vote. They filed a Union Judiciary case claiming that if the abstain votes were counted towards the total votes there would not be enough votes for the amendment to pass.

Some BOO leaders were opposed to the amendment because they feared that it would require them to disclose names of donors who partly support the organization through their contributions. Its unclear if BOO has since been required to disclose this information.

Ultimately, after several hearings and lengthy arguments filed by both the Union and those apposed to the amendment, the UJ held that an abstention is not the same as a no vote and that the Union Constitution requires that they not be counted towards to total votes. The amendment passed.

And the Pendulum keeps swinging
In the end the Rollover fund surplus mentioned in Part II of this series was used to build a new game room. The bookstore moved to the Shapiro Campus Center, and The Nest (the new game room) was born. After the bookstore moved out, students were forced by the administration to use a vast majority of the money allocated to the game room to replace the carpet in the room, and to fix the ceiling and the electricity. Very little from the rollover fund was actually used in securing games or other equipment for the room.

Lorretta Shagoury was hired as the administrative assistant soon after the amendment. During her two years at that position, student leaders often secretly complained that due to her offices location, (the Bernstein-Marcus administrativebuilding) she was often distracted with administration-related matters rather than overseeing Union finances. Loretta has since been promoted to another department and Steve Costa 99 was hired this semester to take her place.

Union finances have been somewhat stabilized as almost all expenditures are now entered into the QuickBooks accounting software system and all checks are printed through the administrative assistant.

Despite all the changes, Union finances remain on the constant road of reform. Soon after the amendment passed, Union leaders realized that the SAF grew substantially over a ten year period and that secured groups were now accumulating a small fortune while only needing a fraction of the money. Administrators also realized that most of their interactions with students revolved around moneythat despite the SAF growing to just over $900,000, students were still complaining that some clubs or activities were greatly under funded.

The administration has been funding some of these activities through a $40,000 retention fund. Members of the administration pointed out that the way the SAF is currently split up among a few secured groups leaves many groups under-funded.They demonstrated this by singling out Student Events, which alone receives more than a tenth of SAF, on the tuition bill.

Students, in the meantime, had already formed a commission to study the way money is distributed via the SAF. The commission, called A More Perfect(AMP), was revived by current Union President Jenny Feinberg 07 and to this day continues trying to create a constitutional amendment to change the way the SAF is distributed.

Several students suggested that the administration was attempting to commandeer Student Events money for its own purposes by changing the way it is billed and distributed. Both Walton and Sawyer in separate September interviews with The Hoot denied this, saying that students should have the ultimate say as to how their money is being spent. Sawyer said the reason that Student Events was separated on the bill was to illustrate to the students how much it really gets, because he believed that the money could be spent differently.

Goldstein also told The Hoot in a September interview that he did not believe the administration was trying to infringe on student autonomy, saying that if they really wanted to do that they had a perfect opportunity after the review and audit came out showing many problems within the Union. Instead he said they worked with the Union to help fix it.

Editors Note: This feature was written for a series that began last semester, but due to space constriants could not be printed until this issue.