S.A. policy change stirs student organizations

Student Association implemented an old funding rule that forbids two or more clubs to apply for funding for the same event.

Some student organizations are upset the Student Association’s finance board has decided to enforce an old policy that prevents them from collaborating financially to bring speakers, entertainers and artists to campus for events.

The decision jeopardizes events already in the planning stages.

“There are a great deal of students that are not pleased with this. I have been reaching out to several organizations to ask their opinion and get their support on getting it overturned,” said Kelvin Sherman, president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). “I met with the S.A. president and he gave me suggestions on ways to get it done. I am currently drafting a bill to get it overturned.”

NABJ and Sex S.Y.M.B.A.L.S, a student organization that empowers black students on campus to have healthy sexual lives, were planning to collaborate on Sex S.Y.M.B.A.L.S’ annual banquet in spring 2015. Their target speaker was Hall of Fame basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and a legend with the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson was supposed to speak on his H.I.V. status and help bring awareness to the Syracuse University community about the devastating effects of the disease among African Americans.

However, those plans are now tentative, said Shaniqua Headley, the president of Sex S.Y.M.B.A.L.S.
The consequences of S.A.’s decision have been sinking in since late January, when S.A. Comptroller Patrick Douglas first let student organizations know about it in an email sent to the executive board members of more than 350 recognized student organizations via orgsync.com, a system that enables communication among the university, students, staff and organizations.

Currently, more than 350 student organizations can request funding from S.A. for events individually. Each organization is situated in a tier based on the success of its events and can request money up to a capped amount.

There are four tiers. Tier one can request up to $7,500 for an event, tier two organizations can request up to $15,000, tier three can request up to $30,000, and tier four can request $30,000 and above. Organizations can move up in tier with successful events.

Student organizations collaborate financially, pooling their funds so they can attract pricey guest speakers, artists and entertainers. Organizations that book a big-time speaker can draw bigger crowds, praise from students and more members to their ranks. Student organizations use successful events as evidence when they request that S.A. move them up in the tier rankings.

When an organization holds an event, it has the option to sell tickets at the Schine box office or hold the event for free. Ticketed events are a much more efficient way to prove success to S.A. and to possibly make a profit. Oftentimes these proceeds are divided among the organizations involved; sometimes they are donated to a charity of the organizations’ choice.

But financial collaboration is an abuse of the system, and a problem, Douglas said. “It was circumventing the tier system,” Douglas said. “It was allowing organizations to have events that were above their tier. It was a loophole.”

In the email Douglas wrote, “Hello Student Leaders: The finance board has decided to implement a policy regarding multiple organizations applying for funding for the same event. From the current Spring 2014 semester onward two or more organizations are not eligible to be funded for the same event. Thus, meaning only one organization can request funding, while the co-sponsoring organization(s) are only able to assist with the planning and running of the funded program. The finance board has decided to create this policy as way to uphold the tier system and promote the appropriate distribution of funds.”

The policy did not have to be approved by Director of Student Activities David Sargalski, although he was informed. “The decision was strictly the finance board’s,” Sargalski said.

Organizations collaborating financially caused a number of problems for S.A., Douglas said. “At least 40 or 50 percent of events were being held in this manner. It caused the accounting department problems on how to split the proceeds,” Douglas said. “The proceeds could have been split down the middle, but if one organization did most of the work it is not fair if they share equally. Organizations were trying to piggyback off of bigger organizations to try to move up a tier when they didn’t do any of the work.”

When two or more organizations collaborate on an event, it can cause other problems as well, Sargalski said. “You can’t have multiple groups applying for money for one event. A lot of these groups report to different people. When you are dealing with events that have contracts, you can’t have money in different areas. Now that there is a tier system in place for student organizations, they are trying to expand the tier that they are in by getting more groups in their tier to apply for the same amount of money. If tier two organizations’ cap is $15,000, there is a reason for that. They are put in that tier from past experience with programming. It doesn’t make sense for four other organizations to apply for $15,000 for an event that’s over their head,” Sargalski said.

Douglas said he’s heard complaints, but nothing formal.

This could change in upcoming weeks, Sherman said. He said he’s talked with S.A.’s president, Boris Gresely, about taking formal action to reverse the policy because of its effect.

NABJ and Sex S.Y.M.B.A.L.S are both tier two organizations. NABJ has a general body membership of 60, and Sex S.Y.M.B.A.L.S includes 15. In order to bring Magic Johnson to campus, the two organizations would have to pay him $30,000 to speak, so they planned to pool $15,000 each from S.A.

The event was going to be held in Goldstein Auditorium and was expected to sell out, Sherman said. Those plans, however, will have to be reworked and have not been discussed since the policy was put in place, said Headley. “This will definitely be a hardship and setback to have this event, but there has to be a way to get around it,” she said. 

“It is a disenfranchisement to a lot of organizations in tier one and two, and it hinders collaboration,” Sherman added. “The majority of organizations are in tier one and tier two. If an organization is tier one, they are limited to what they can do most times. It gives more power to organizations that are tier four status. Organizations look to collaborate financially to prepare for a better event.”

Other organizations agree, including Students of Sustainability, a relatively new group on campus.
“It doesn’t stop us from entirely collaborating with other organizations [but] it’s just about the money,” said Elizabeth Kahn, the organization’s president. “If two organizations could use both of their budgets on the same event, then there would be more options available in terms of speakers, artists and entertainers, who tend to be expensive. As a new organization on campus, we have tier one funding. We only get up to $7,500, which is a lot, but at the same time, if we are not able to co-sponsor an event financially or work with a tier four organization to put on an event, it kind of limits what is possible for programming and creating events on campus for the enjoyment and educational purposes of the student body. It is unnecessarily limiting,” Kahn said.

The reinstated policy is causing organizations to be creative with how they raise money for speakers and entertainers, Kahn said. She plans on soliciting across campus for money as well as approaching larger non-profits as possible co-funders.

As president of a tier one organization, the Rebecca Lee Pre-Health Society, Iris Garza is having similar issues bringing speakers to her events. “We have dues and we raised them from $5 to $10 dollars to do more events,” Garza said. “It is difficult for members to enjoy themselves because they are having to spring for speakers and food. Our speakers are all based on people that volunteer.”

There is a fear among the organizations that event attendance will fall.

“I will still go to everything,” said Lauren Porter, an NABJ general body member. “It does an injustice to an organization’s audience, because if they can’t pull together their finances to bring someone of higher prominence to educate people about an issue, then they have to settle for someone with a smaller price tag. That’s kind of unfair.” When two organizations are able to financially collaborate to bring in a bigger-name speaker, it has a positive impact on the students, Porter said.

In fall 2013, NABJ and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. held their annual event “Women of Distinction.” The panel discussion featured Gabrielle Union, a prominent black actress; S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications Dean Lorraine Branham; Kheli Willetts, the director of the Community Folk Art Center; and the director of the Ronald E. McNair Achievement Award, Christabel Sheldon. The event quickly sold out at the Schine box office.

“Last year, ‘Women of Distinction’ was amazing. I was able to stream it [and] it was really fulfilling to see,” Porter said. “I think that when two groups are able to come together and bring a heavy hitter like Gabrielle Union, it gets people excited.”

Aubin Attila, a general body member of the Rebecca Lee Pre-Health Society, has some concerns about two or more organizations collaborating on an event. However, he still prefers events hosted by multiple organizations rather than one. “It depends on both organizations. What is the money going towards? What is the cause?” Attila said. “I feel like I am probably more likely to go to an event that is hosted by two or more organizations because they put more energy in to it.”

In recent years, the rule on collaborations was one of the most significant changes made by the finance board after implementing the tier system, Douglas said. “You don’t have to be happy with my decisions,” he said, “but as long as you understand why they’re done and you see I have justification for everything I do, that’s all I ask for. You can’t please everyone.”

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