Representatives of student organizations expressed their concerns and criticism about the communication of the current Student Senate budgeting process.
They spoke to Senate Treasurer Andrew Liput, junior, at a forum in the Trustee’s Room of Alumni Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Liput, who noted he has also been meeting with student media heads about budget reform, expressed his hope to improve the budgeting process through gathering student feedback on what has not worked. He intends to create a formal budget reform proposal, which would be voted on by the rest of Student Senate.
Nine students were present at the meeting besides Liput and junior Matt Milewski, who was at the meeting in his role as a member of the Senate Finance committee.
Some clubs with students at the forum such as ABLE expressed frustration over a lack of clear information from Senate. The club did not receive a budget despite believing they completed the process correctly, never getting a clear explanation as to why and not being informed before the start of the school year.
While not able to explain what happened in specific situations like ABLE’s, as he was not treasurer last school year, Liput agreed that there were issues with communication that needed to be addressed.
However, Liput attempted to redirect the forum’s conversation away from rehashing the issues with the past year’s budgets, saying that ultimately there was no money to be given back, as Senate had started the year with a $5,000 deficit. Clubs expressed a desire to have issues like the club funding deficit directly communicated to them.
Liput stated that active efforts are being made to improve communication, such as making to add the rules and forms for the current budgeting process accessible on the MyKnox page.
Liput wants to schedule open hours during the spring budgeting process where he would be available to meet with club heads, and create a system where complaints about the process could be submitted to someone above the treasure to ensure accountability.
Clubs noted the issue of confusion over whether to discuss budgeting issues with Senate or Knox’s Office of Campus Life. Students at the meeting described Campus Life as difficult to work with due to not allowing much flexibility from clubs, but being unclear on how to get in contact with Senate on issues.
Liput agreed the lack of a direct line of communication was a problem. While clubs expressed interest in having student representatives who would be specifically assigned to stay in contact with clubs about finances throughout the year, Liput stated that this idea was problematic because they might not be able to rely on a general assembly senator fulfilling their responsibilities.
Another issue seen as leading to confusion during the spring budgeting process is the fact that many clubs are in the middle of leadership transitions at the same time. The students present at the meeting discussed the possibility of having it be uniform for organizations to elected their new exec at the end of the Winter Term.
Liput expressed his dislike of the current budget cuts system, in which clubs’ proposals are searched for minor mistakes to justify making cuts to reach a balanced budget. He stated that in one year, a budget was rejected simply because names were not underlined.
What Liput stated he would prefer is to accept the budgets of any organization that has completed the submission process, and if more funds have been requested than are available, simply make equal cuts to all clubs in order to avoid a deficit.
Liput also put an emphasis on making the budget process less complicated, such as by simplifying the template clubs must follow when they submit their budget. Liput also wants to improve the budgeting process by not necessarily having funding tied to specific events.
In Liput’s potential plan, the amount of funds a club is given would still be based on the events they intend to hold, but they would be budgeted a certain amount for a term, and any cuts would be from this overall funding for the term rather than cutting specific events from the budget.
Liput also foresaw the possibility of budgets being directly fixed to funding from the Student Activity Fee.
Multiple students at the forum expressed that beyond issues with the budgeting procedure, it seemed as if there was an issue of Student Senate not fully fulfilling its responsibilities, with there seemingly being a lack of checks on senators who fail to do their job.
Liput agreed that there was an issue of a lack of oversight of Senate in the budgeting process. Liput and Milewski admitted that at one point last year a chairperson of a Senate committee other than finance had gone in and made cuts to a club’s budget, which Liput said he viewed critically but technically did not break Senate’s bylaws.
For now, Liput hopes that his proposals for improving communication would serve the purpose of making Senate and its finance committee more accessible to clubs, and make it easier for them to register their criticisms.
As students present at the forum expressed interest in a follow up, Liput stated his intention to hold a second forum sometime in the next few weeks, in which he would present a full proposal for reform to the budgeting process.
Students at the forum were also interested in having a representative of Campus Life present at a follow up meeting to discuss the issues with their part of the budgeting process, but Liput was unsure it would be possible for this to happen.