Corruption. Plain and simple. I have now officially joined a growing number of students and faculty that is concerned with the state of Student Government Association (SGA), in particular the Finance Board’s, methods of operation. These revelations come as I believe it is important to finally blow the whistle on things that should be totally public. In the six months I have been a part of SGA, it amazes me how little I knew about our own operations, let alone what the student body knows, about how our student activity fees are being spent.
Know that when I write this article, I have been directly involved in some of the backroom discussions that have caused this to reach a boiling point of sorts. I would recommend anybody speak with Finance Board themselves regarding some of the things that I discuss in the coming paragraphs.
What if I were to tell you that approximately 1.5 million dollars was being spent every year on student activities? What if I were to tell you that this 1.5 million dollars is being allocated by approximately 10 (unelected) students? If you look at your bill for each semester, you may notice a fee of $125 allocated towards activities. That’s right, each semester you pay $125 into an activity fund that you have little say of how it is allocated, and less of a solid understanding of how and why those decisions are being made.
As a student government, we are supposed to represent the student body and its interests to the school’s administration, as well as manage the state of all student organizations in conjunction with the Office of Campus Life (OCL). It is my belief that SGA should retain control of how this money is allocated. I mean, in a representative democracy, it only makes sense that elected officials have the power to make wide ranging decisions that directly affect their constituents, and when we fail, our check is that we can be voted out of office.
The simple problem with this philosophy is that as stated earlier, Finance Board consists of 10 unelected officials that are simply appointed and confirmed by the Senate. I suppose to an extent it is our fault for not doing our due diligence in ensuring that the Finance Board consists of well-rounded, members that understand the extent of their jobs, and we keep up on their day-to-day operations. For everybody’s understanding, SGA does not consist of three, coequal branches. As it is written, Finance Board and Judicial Board operate under the permission of the Senate, or more clearly, under the constitution and bylaws we (the Senate) write.
Finance Board has taken their powers to mean they operate as a coequal branch of government that does not have oversight. They are an unelected bureaucracy that has claimed sovereign power from the rest of SGA. I do not believe that Finance Board completely acts in bad faith (though a certain lack of professionalism may be argued), but the allocation of approximately $750,000 a semester deserves a certain level of oversight, to which there is none.
Saturday, March 9, I attended the Finance Board hearing, to gather a better understanding of some of their operations, as well as give them the benefit of the doubt regarding some of the concerns that I have heard. Let me say, some of those concerns were unfortunately confirmed. Firstly, there is a blatant lack of professionalism regarding some of their members. A quorum (the minimum number of people present to hold the hearing) was barely met, some members showed up late and left the hearing early, and what appeared to be insults or phrases meant in bad taste were hurled at other members of the Finance Board in other languages.
From more of a policy perspective, many of the decisions they made were loosely interpreted based on their personal opinions of the organization up for discussion. One organization had requested funds regarding one of their projects, and the decision was made by a few members not because they acted in good faith towards the purpose of the Student Activity Fund (SAF), but because they believed they were a trustworthy organization. Other policy guidelines that create confusion were those policies which were not directly written down in Finance Board’s guidelines. Finance Board, which holds its hearings about once a month, gets to determine if your organization spends too much on T-shirts or per person on conference registration. Mind you, that would totally be in their power, but the problem is that these policies are not posted anywhere in their guidelines. So after you or your organization makes a budget request, you wait approximately a month to find out you spent $3 too much per T-shirt when the guideline was never made official in the first place.
It is my belief that it is high time for the elected members of SGA to do their due diligence and oversee the actions Finance Board takes with many of their decisions. In correspondence with Judicial Board, there is no reason why the Finance Board could not record audio transcripts of their hearing to be made public later. There is no reason why Finance Board guidelines should not have prior Senate approval. There is no reason why student organizations who win Judicial Board appeals against Finance Board should not be awarded damages the following semester regarding events that could have happened but cannot now because the semester is over.
I cannot say I have all of the answers, but I can say this is a conversation that the Senate needs to be having. I am tired of the pettiness displayed by certain members of Finance Board. I am tired of the Senate being walked all over. I am tired of Finance Board fighting Senatorial actions at every turn. I look forward to leading SGA and the Illinois Tech community to a brighter more transparent future and I hope that this article does more good than evil.