Some thoughts on Senate Money Requests

I’ve never written a post for Innermost Parts before, and I’m not sure why I am now. Mostly it is because I did not get a chance to air out my ideas at the Senate meeting last night, and I think that a good number of people who care about Brandeis read this blog, either to compliment or to critique. The bylaw to change the way the Senate gives SMRs was defeated by a wide margin, in part due to the impassioned defenses of Rachel Graham Kagan and Andrew Brooks, who were there under the system as it stood before the constitutional changes in how the SAF was apportioned. And they were right to warn us away from that path, because it sounded like utter chaos. However, the fact that those who supported the bylaw change were swayed by those arguments is a confirmation to me that I had a fundamentally different view of this bill from my co-sponsors. So I write this to ask this community of people who care, do you think that the system as it stands is the best it can be? Because I don’t, and I think that if that bylaw amendment was not the best way to go about reform, we need to find a way that is.

The first point I’d like to make is whether the Senate spends its entire discretionary fund has an impact on whether the administration decides to cap the SAF. So (as a more senior Union member has explained to me), in order to ensure that clubs are getting their due, it is the Senate’s duty to spend its fund. As Justin Sulsky pointed out last night, the Senate often has much more money to spend than it knows what to do with. So the first stop in this train of thought is do you think the Student Union Senate is the best place to put all this money? If you don’t believe it is, the answer is simple: change the Constitution to give more money to the F-Board. The clubs sure would love to have it.

If you do believe the Senate is a good allocator of funds (and I’m not sure that I do), the question becomes how to allocate those funds in a manner that is just. The system now has problems, and a lot of those problems were mentioned last night by those opposing the bylaw. They were criticizing the reform but also exposed weaknesses in the system. For example, those who knew senators would get a huge advantage in obtaining funds. If this is a problem with the reform, then the current reality is even worse. One or more (probably more) senators must prove substantial involvement in order to qualify an SMR. So the Senate fund is limited to whatever Senators come up with, or whatever constituents bring to committees and get the Senate involved early. But this system is unlikely to be attractive to or even get the attention of anyone not already heavily involved in the Student Union. Even if someone were to know that the Senate existed (many don’t) or wanted their ideas (most assume otherwise, probably rightly) they would not even be able to find out present committee members and meeting times from the Student Union website. Meanwhile we have the Student Union projects, which range from the rare innovation (DeisBikes) to the ultimate Bread and Circus (Midnight Buffet). The Student Union is a body that everybody is sure does not have a monopoly on good ideas, but everyone is equally sure that they won’t be the ones to solicit ideas from others.

What we have then is a problem, in either outreach, allocation, or both. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have a question for you who try to watch out for Brandeis’s welfare: what are we going to do about this? Because I want to do something about it, and I want help.


4 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Senate Money Requests”

  1. The 2005 By-Law amendment (creating the current SMR system) as well as the 2006 SAF amendment was designed specifically to take the Senate out of the club funding business. The Union already has the Finance Board that has the responsibility of deciding on how much funding an event gets. The Finance Board has the ability to look at everything for the whole semester and determine the best way to allocate club funding.

    With a Student Activity Fee of almost $1.1 million dollars, the Senate discretionary is a very small percentage of the total. The idea that the Senate has a “large pool of money” to play around with is more a Senate-centric view than anything else. Senators should look for projects to work to spend the money. If all else fails and the money is not spent that year, it will role over to the Finance Board the following year and the Finance Board will make sure it is spent by chartered clubs in the best way possible. As for concern about needing to spend everything, the administration is concerned when you have $250,000 rolling over on a yearly basis, not $10,000.

  2. I would strongly disagree that the current SMR system creates a sort of Senate “monopoly of ideas.” When you account for the SAF as whole, almost all is distributed to chartered clubs. Most of the great ideas and events on campus happen through these clubs, and having a restricted Senate discretionary does not hinder this at all. The current system came about with a significant reduction in the discretionary, which actually reduced the power of the senate by allowing clubs to go to F-board for more of their funds.

    In short, I think the system is fine as it is. Maybe senators need to do more projects, and maybe university committees should utilize the funds more often. There is just no reason to open this up to clubs. ANYONE can still collaborate and create a union project that is eligible for the funds.

  3. Alex I think you’re right to point out that the SMR process as it now stands gives a significantly (for the Senate) more power to the Senate as a body than it did before or would under the amendment.

    With the current SMR process (the Senate can approve money for projects only if a Senator is involved in it, more or less), the Senate has a substantial pool of money to play around with. It’s one of the most cash-flush “clubs” on campus. There’s an organizational incentive not to give it up.

  4. Alex,

    I want to be a little bit more clear on the whole thing with the cap that some people (even the more senior Union members) might not understand fully. The reason the cap was placed on the SAF this year is because of a rollover built up over a number of years. Now, any money not spent in a given year rolls over to the Finance Board. In the past this was not the case and that is why the huge rollover was created. With the Union Government Fund now only approximately $52,000 there should be no problem with a cap if only a few thousand dollars go to the Finance Board.

    The Midnight Buffet is itself an excellent program that Union runs. I think it is an event that I actually appreciate more having graduated than I did when I attended them. If not for the Midnight Buffet many people would barely ever leave the library during the finals week.

    In terms of trying to push for reform, it is important to place things in perspective. The Union budget is $52,000 for the year. The Union provides certain things to clubs (computers, photocopies, signs, ect.) that it would not be able to provide without some of the money in its budget. Additionally, the Union pays for the election system, the student newspaper program, and other important things. It is pretty much a bare bones budget. The Senate itself may have more money than it knows what to do with, but that is only about $10,000. Even if you do not want Midnight Buffet to take place, you are still talking about only cutting a small amount in the grand scheme of things, and it takes a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment is a tough thing to get passed and it might not be worth the effort for $10,000.

    The current SMR process was put in place specifically because the Senate used to spend hours on SMRs. Typically meetings would got to till 1 or 2 AM, with the majority of the time spent debating money resolutions. Additionally, most club leaders came out of the process hating the Senate. It was worse than chaos – it was a circus. Additionally, clubs would come to Senate when the F-Board did not give them enough money (like what happened with the Ayers event). The change in the SMR process (which actually occurred in 2005 before the SAF amendment) was made because the Senate had become a second F-Board.

    Please let me know if you have any questions, as I would be pleased to help you in any way possible.

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