Tue Sep 14, 2010
I assumed office as the Chairman of Finance Board on April 21, 2009 after an official swearing in ceremony at the Student Government Association Senate meeting after winning the SGA’s executive board elections. I joined FB because I did not know how the board came about their decisions and figured there must have been some sort of bias or spiteful thinking during their closed sessions, after which their highly anticipated funding decision letters became the make it or break it for student organizations. I joined the board to change this “wrong” and to make it ultimately easier for organizations to get money. This goal has culminated in my soon to be over term in office, and it is up to the student body to determine if I have achieved it. Traditionally, (at least what I saw as the trend when I entered the university) biweekly petitions were made to obtain funds for events. As a result, there were lots of late Tuesday nights and too many insufficient timelines, resulting in many organizations hardly having enough time to get their request details well organized. Finance Board also felt this constraint, many times falling short in fulfilling all responsibilities. It was almost a lose-lose situation. Student organizations became increasingly frustrated with an organization that was demanding a lot more than it was able to show for itself. People must have realized there was a problem, and it was through the same vein that the idea of student organizations putting together budget proposals, as opposed to per item requests, was entertained and became a reality. It was a huge change then, but probably a very good one, since processes are much more streamlined now. Over time, poor retention on the board was one of the biggest issues and it needed to be fixed for consistent progress and improvements to take hold. The people involved with the board are instrumental in making anything work, and we needed truly dedicated board members who were appreciated and trusted to do their jobs. Since the beginning of this academic year, we are proud to not have lost any of our new members, with only one person leaving the board to study abroad. Besides those changes, we have been constantly working to establish ourselves as a responsible organization, accountable to the entire student body and capable of handling the responsibility that we have been charged with. That in mind, I started out my chairmanship with a goal to understand a situation that I had never fully understood. At a certain point during my term on the board, it seemed to me through communication with the chairmen and through the increasingly stringent rule enforcement and guideline creation practices of the board, that there was a worry that we would run out of money in the SAF if measures were not taken. In fact, a previous chair, Ian Roe, made a presentation to the SGA Senate, urging an increase in the Student Activity Fee from $60 to $75 in order to sustain the needs of the student organizations. The change was not made, and student funding seemed greatly impacted as more requests were getting denied based on the limited funds. A year later, at the beginning of my term, the Student Activity Fee was eventually raised to $70. All surface evidence in this went to support Ian’s presentation and efforts were effectively doubled to make sure the suggested fee increase was made a reality. What really bugged me was that the numbers that I kept hearing in relation to what was in the SAF did not make simple mathematical sense. The dollar amounts I heard that we had to work with did not add up to the expected numbers. A little bit of inquiry into the situation fed me a few possibilities that sounded to me like conspiracy theories, but this was a search for concrete facts as opposed to mere assumptions. Some more official inquiry left me thinking that the newly implemented banner system was not as efficient as it claimed it would be, hence there was some confusion about how to figure out the standing balance. But then, with a little bit of persistence and support from the then Chief Financial Officer, Susan Wallace, I was able to get in touch with a fine gentleman by the name of Ken Johnston, the Deputy Controller, who helped me allay my concerns and satisfied my curiosity about the SAF. With this information, one could then say that the SAF has been operating under its capacity. Let me try to elaborate how obtaining funds will work through an ideal process. First of all, an organization (let’s call it TechMate) realizes that it may want to host activities in order for it to properly pursue its objectives. At this point, TechMate should figure out that they will need money to do these, and thus look to the SAF to obtain funding. To obtain funding, an organization needs to go through FB’s process. Once they are on this path, there are procedures to follow, and there is also a lot of information available (through the Office of Student Life, FB Advisers, fb.iit.edu, posters, etc.) to help them out. So ideally, TechMate will go to our website (fb.iit.edu) and navigate through to our calendar to find out the dates of our next workshop, budget submission deadline, and hearing. This is to be a benchmark for them to start planning their activities. After at least 2 members attend a very detailed but efficient workshop, given most likely by our workshop coordinator, Kevin O’Leary, TechMate should go sit down with their responsible members and put together a budget for their planned activities over the semester. With their draft budget in hand, they contact their FB Adviser, who could be anyone on the board right now from Bernardino Mendez, our webmaster, to Sweta Gurnani, the vice chairperson. One of us will then get the pleasure of working with TechMate and making sure their numbers are in order. We will also guide them through the next steps, which is to get their Faculty/Staff Adviser (a requirement of every student organization) to look through their budget and sign off on an authorization form. All this done properly, TechMate will turn in their on-line form proposal by the due time and attend a hearing if requested by Finance Board. Assuming their funds are approved, which is done via a closed session of the board, they are then free to go ahead and hold their events, the Office of Student Life always available to help when needed. In fact, no money can be released without the Office of Student Life specifically approving it. The only other requirements TechMate will have to meet for FB will be to adhere to the events they asked for and/or notify us about major changes, and to fill out their Follow Up Budget (FUB) according to its most updated policies by FUB Coordinator Patrick Zhu, also available on our website. Throughout the process listed above, a lot of restrictions were put in place due to the fear that funds were running low. These roadblocks have not yet been changed because, “that is the way it has been done in the past,” which is never a good enough reason. Things must be reevaluated to further improve the quality of student life on campus, which is, after all, the purpose of the SAF. This reevaluation is now taking place and could not be done before, because there were things more important than just pumping a lot more operating money into the system. Improvements to the board itself have been made as well as ensuring better managed and sustainable practices of the board. The buzz that was generated as a result of the article published last week in TechNews is not wholly misplaced, and I would say is somewhat useful as a check of the due processes in place to manage what truly is a sizeable budget, even though some of the information in the article could have been unrepresentative of the situation and individual opinions. We need to engage more students through involvement with student life than presently show interest and the available funds can help make that a reality. There have been inefficiencies in the processes involved, which are being accounted for, and we believe more people should be made aware of the opportunities and potential. Ultimately, this money is for students and student input has always been requested and welcome.
2010 - Spring - Issue 7