Following a 30.8 percent increase in funds requested and changes in documentation protocol, the Student Assembly Finance Commission reduced the fall 2011 funding cap for approximately 400 student groups from $5,000 to $2,700.
According to Student Assembly Vice President of Finance Adam Nicoletti ’12, 71 new groups applied for funding this year, leading to substantially reduced budgets for all groups as the SAFC spreads its resources thinner.
Nicoletti added that, in addition to the increased number of applications, the SAFC allowed groups a “second chance” to hand in documentation if the committee found the documentation to be inadequate or incomplete, rather than rejecting the application.
“In the past, the biggest established groups on campus could weave through this documentation process with ease, and the groups that weren’t familiar with the process would just hand in incomplete documents,” Nicoletti said.
This time around, Nicoletti said, “old groups got it right and new groups got it right on the second try ... New groups are taking money from old groups, and there’s just not enough to go around.”
Many representatives from SAFC-funded groups said they felt inconvenienced by the lower cap and they would have to severely cut back the regular operations of their organizations.
Matt Koren ’12, treasurer of Habit for Humanity, said that the cap was insufficient for covering the organization’s annual expenditures.
“Reducing funding in any capacity reduces our capacity to send people on weekly trips and even advocate for the reduction of homelessness in the country,” Koren said. “The process some how got screwed up to the extent that we got nearly half of our funding cut.”
Carolyn Chu ’12, president of the Society of Women Engineers, said that her organization would now have to look “high and low for corporate sponsors” to make up for the difference between the money the group asked for and the money it received.
“We’re trying to find another $3,000 to help reimburse us for the costs of attending the conference we are currently at in Chicago,” Chu said.
The SAFC also introduced the option of using an annual budgeting process — in which groups could apply and guarantee their budgets for the entire year — prior to the announcement of the caps. Previously, groups could only apply on a semester basis.
However, the SAFC failed to provide annual funding for student organizations when only a small number of groups applied.
“Basically, only 18 groups applied for spring funding, and with so many more groups expected to apply in the spring ... we didn’t think we were going to have the ability to predict spring caps.” Nicoletti said. Because the SAFC expects more groups to apply in the spring, it had an even greater incentive to be conservative with fall funding allocations, Nicoletti said.
Larry Kogos ’13, chair of the SAFC, added that the process of determining spring semester caps in the fall was impaired by certain University regulations.
“Groups that want to have events in the spring would have to bring in proof of the costs, but the University doesn’t allow groups to schedule spring events in the fall,” Kogos said.
In response to widespread disapproval of the caps from many groups and redaction of the full year funding option, the SAFC announced on Oct. 6 that it would offer an additional funding option — the Spring Advance Option — for capped groups looking for fall semester funding.
According to an email sent by the SAFC, groups that have hit the cap can take up to $2,300 from their spring allocations, depending on how much funding was approved for each group. The option will guarantee a group $5,000 in annual funding. Groups who do not opt for the spring advance will have to reapply for funding in the spring.
“It’s tough because certain groups have already committed to a high amount of fall spending because they thought the SAFC would fund them at the historical level, then they realized it was a lot less than they thought,” Nicoletti said. “[The Spring Advance Option] allows these groups to not be in debt if they need additional funding in the fall.”
Kogos added that the $2,300 advance would put groups at a $5,000 cap for the fall semester — an amount comparable to last year’s fall allocation.
“These groups have the assurance that they can use that $5,000 now,” Kogos said. “It gives them the option to have big events in the fall and anticipate caps will be lower in the spring.”
Koren, who applied for full-year funding, said he would not be using the new Spring Advance Option.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to take the $2,300 for the spring, when we’d still be getting half of the $10,000 we got last year,” Koren said. “We might as well take the risk of applying again and the spring and see what happens.”
Other groups chose to take advantage of the spring advance option, with the expectation that caps would not increase substantially for the spring semester.
“The Hangovers opted to use the Spring Advance Option because we thought it would be easier for us to know our budget for the whole year,” said Dan Kuhr ’13, business manager for the Hangovers, who is also a member of the Student Assembly. “We don’t project the year-long caps being much higher — maybe a couple 100 dollars, but not anything significant that would warrant a whole new application process to the SAFC.”
Raj Kannappan ’13, president of the Cornell Republicans, said his organization found the spring advance option helpful for funding a speaker at the end of October.
“The only money we have requested from SAFC was for this event at the end of the month, and they cut off a lot of the funding,” Kannappan said. “But we were able to request money that would have only been available for next semester.”
Kuhr, however, also critcized the SAFC for the initial lack of communication between groups and the committee in making the decision not to provide a full-year funding allocation as promised.
“There is a big disconnect … There’s no transparency in the organization,” Kuhr said. “They hold us to such a high standard of transparency when we go to them for funding — why isn’t there that transparency for [groups] to look into them?”
While many groups were upset by the low caps, Kogos maintained that most groups have been happy with the SAFC policy changes overall.
“We have had a low number of appeals this semester,” Kogos said in an interview Oct. 6. “We have had four so far and last year there were upwards of 40.”