Nearly midway through the fall term, Editor-in-Chief of Catch Franzi Hofhansel, senior, found herself still without a budget for the award-winning publication she has to complete by the end of the term.
“I have to meet with the publisher, and to even design the book I have to know exactly how much money I have and how much this is going to cost,” Hofhansel said.
Hofhansel was among the student media heads who had complaints with this year’s budgeting process over communication issues and budget cuts, which also impacted The Knox Student.
Hofhansel’s chief concern with the process was the lack of transparency. The first email she received this term about her budget came not from an official source like Student Senate or the Student Life Committee (SLC), but instead was information forwarded from another student media head.
In week five, an official email was sent to media heads with her final budget, and clarifying that she could choose how she wanted to allocate her funds.
“I felt like this all could have been avoided, or at the least very least I could have been prepared a lot more, if they had just contacted me even once throughout the process to get my input,” said Hofhansel.
Student Senate Treasurer Andrew Liput, junior, felt that the communications issues came down to how student media budgets are handled by multiple organizations.
Student publications like Catch go through a different budgeting process than other campus clubs. Liput explained that this year the process was to be overseen by the faculty committee SLC, who faced having to make cuts due to the lack of funding available, but felt unprepared for the task.
While Senate traditionally would not be involved with media budgets, Liput stated that senate was brought in at the last minute at the request of SLC to assist with making the necessary cuts. Liput said the impromptuness of this all contributed to a breakdown in communications.
In total Catch’s budget this year is $26,166, down from $36,376 in past years. While the budget cut will have an impact, Hofhansel emphasized that her ultimate issue was not the budget cut, but the fact that she felt student media was not directly consulted during the budgeting process and left unable to adequately prepare for cuts.
In meetings with media heads, Liput has had it expressed to him that the budget cuts would have been more bearable if they had come in gradually over many years, rather than one large cut in a single year. But Liput described this as not possible due to the short-term focus of Senate and SLC.
Liput further explained that financial issues this year were a result of a combination of the drop in enrollment and more organizations applying for money than have historically.
Senate in now operating under an expected deficit, and working to ration funds to make sure funds remain available later in the year. Liput says Senate has budgeted $15,000 more than the funds available.
Liput stated that in a normal year, $9,000-$12,000 roll over from clubs not fully using their allotted funds. Senate also has reserve funds that can be tapped into, but Senate’s exec wants to limit how much of this is used in order to save for future years.
This situation has forced changes by Liput in how Senate’s funding operates. Part of this effort is a new policy being put in place, in which Senate will review if events funds requests match up with with the events a club lined up in their budget.
Liput believes this should not impact clubs if their requests match up with their budgets, but if a request does not line up, the club making the request will have to go to the finance committee to have it added in as a subcategory of their budget.
Co-Editor-in-Chief of Cellar Door Katana Smith, senior, was also frustrated by the budgeting process, though Cellar Door itself did not receive a notable budget cut.
Smith described the primary problem for Cellar Door was that by this point of the term, she would have already met to discuss price with a publisher, a process she has not been able to start due to budgets not being in placed.
Smith has spent the early part of the term embroiled in multiple budgeting issues, as she also had to interact with Student Senate in her role as treasurer of Caxton Club.
Smith stated that Caxton Club had entered the school year believing its budget had gone through in the spring without issue. It was not until week three that Caxton learned it had been completely defunded.
“It was very stressful because we plan our events like a year in advance. It’s not like I just call someone on the phone like, ‘Oh do you want to come next week?,’ ” Smith said.
After reaching out to Student Senate, it was worked out that a misunderstanding had taken place during the budgeting process. Senate believed that Caxton Club had not responded to comments on their budget, but it turned out Caxton had done corrections on a document which was not looked at.
Smith stated that Senate claimed they had informed Caxton Club of their defunding through a Google Docs comment, but Smith still has not found this comment, and took issue regardless with not being told in person or emailed about being defunded.
Liput explained that the way Caxton Club submitted its budget and its revisions, in the form of a PDF, was allowed but still unexpected, leading to it being missed.
After the miscommunication became clear, Caxton Club was able to have their funding reinstated.
“It was frustrating to have to go through that basically for no reason,” Smith said.
It was when Smith went to discuss Caxton’s situation with Liput that she was first informed of student media budgets having been approved. Liput forwarded her an email of the approved budgets, but she did not receive official notification until a week later.
“So week five of the term, now we know how much money we have,” Smith said.
Prior to receiving her budget, Smith had been made aware by friends in Student Senate of discussions of potential cuts coming, but described not receiving straight answers when reaching out to senate and the student life committee for information.
“We knew these changes were coming, we didn’t know what they were, so it was those two factors together that made it very difficult,” Smith said. “This whole process was something we didn’t really have a say in, and that’s the most concerning thing to me.”
Coordinator for Student Engagement Andrew Salemi described SLC as having been unable to get the budgets done in the spring due to their inexperience with the process and not being able to prioritize it at the start of this term due to the number of other issues the committee deals with.
SLC took over the process after the dissolution of the Broadcast, Internet & Publications Board (BIP). To Salemi’s awareness, BIP was dissolved due it not having enough responsibilities outside of overseeing budgets.
“I think the process will get better as time goes on. It’ll just take time for the new committee to understand their responsibilities,” Salemi said.
Smith and Hofhansel stated that the media heads had been contacted with each other regarding what changes they wanted to see in the budgeting process going forward, with Smith saying this included being able to meet directly with Finance Committee to discuss their budgets.
“We’re not like this pie in the sky kind of people. If they told us we needed to cut $5,000 dollars, we could find it. We just want a seat at that table for the negotiation,” Smith said.
Smith also wants to see BIP reinstated as the committee in control of student media budgets, citing concern over Senate having control over the funding of organizations who should have the freedom the criticize Student Senate within their publications.
“I don’t really have any ill will towards Student Senate. I think this is a system we all kind of inherited together, and this year has really revealed a lot of problems with it,” Smith said. “And I think we should just respond to that aggressively, rather than waiting around, seeing what’ s going to come of this — we need to make some big changes.”
Hofhansel agreed that she would like to see the return of BIP. When meeting with Liput, she described feeling that some of the criticism being made of her budget were unfounded, such as being questioned why Catch had more funding allocated to pay staff members than other organizations.
“I was frustrated that the implication was, ‘Why are you and why are some of your staff members being paid more than some of these newer organizations?’ And I think those newer organizations should be paid as well,” she said.
Hofhansel noted that she worked unpaid through the first half of the term due to no budget being put in place, and how important it is for staff members of publications to be paid given the amount of work these publications require.
Hofhansel is ultimately concerned that without BIP, the media budgeting process is in the hands of people who do not understand how publications operate.
“In order for people to decide our budgets, they need to be talking directly to us,” Hofhansel said. “To my knowledge, no one who had input in my budget has ever printed a book. So I can’t imagine how they could possibly have any idea what it would cost.”
Hofhansel believes the system in place under BIP was superior, due to it meaning that media budgets were overseen by people with years of experience looking at publication budgets.
Liput acknowledged that ideally, there would be some kind of faculty committee overseeing the budgeting process, rather than the responsibility largely being delegated to Senate.
Liput sees three possible directions going forward: the responsibility for media budgets be folded into the Senate Finance Committee with oversight from SLC; SLC reforms itself to be more capable of completing its obligations; or that a new committee be created to oversee student media, as BIP previously did.
Liput said his intention for the next budgeting session was to work on transparency so publications could be more looped in on the budgeting process. Like the media heads, he also would ideally like to have a meeting with them where budgets are gone over.
Salemi doubted that BIP would be reformed, and believes SLC will simply have to improve its process and work with Student Senate on it.
“Clearly what they did this year didn’t work, so they either need to probably do something more like what BIP did, or find something new that works better for them,” Salemi said.