Every spring semester, the Student Activities Budget Review Committee holds its major funding weekend. Members of student organizations prepare funding request proposals and present to the group what events and equipment they feel should be funded during the upcoming year.
This year, though, SABRC revised its constitution and the processes for requests. In light of these changes, some former members of the organization expressed their concerns over the way the organization is run.
SABRC updates policies
SABRC updated its constitution at the end of February this year, leading to changes that affect funding weekends.
According to the updated constitution, SABRC has control over each student’s $170 student activity fee, which is paid annually to the university. Certain campus organizations were also given flat percentages of the student activities fee, nixing them from presenting individual requests each year.
Eleven percent of the organization’s total budget is then deposited into the Late Nite BU account, 20 percent goes towards funding the Activities Council of Bradley University, 1 percent pays for SABRC operating costs, and $38,000 is deposited into the Club Sports account. Additionally, 27 percent of the organization’s budget is deposited into its SERF account, which pays for the university’s annual big-name concerts and comedians.
According to Tom Coy, executive director of student involvement, SABRC’s biggest overhaul came in how the group will format its funding weekends. In the past, Coy said student organizations filled out forms ahead of time to apply for certain funding requests. Then, on funding weekends, they would present for three minutes and answer SABRC member questions for two.
“What we really found was people read their reports to us,” Coy said. “So now what happens is the first day, we have all the applications in, and people are divided into small group committees. They’re going to go through and do a review analysis. [They’ll] mark down things they have questions about.”
Then each organization will come before SABRC during an assigned time slot and answer questions.
“It’s more real-time answers rather than, ‘What did they say yesterday? No, I thought they said they wanted this,’” Coy said.
Students express concern
Sam Bondi, a former member of SABRC, said the group is supposed to be bias-free, but it often fails to be on a regular basis.
“The last two or three funding weekends I was at and participated in, I realized how one-sided everybody was,” Bondi said. “Not just towards [Activities Council of Bradley University] … Towards Greek life, towards the Black Student Alliance: ‘Oh, this doesn’t work … Cut it.’”
Bondi, a senior English major, was a member of SABRC and ACBU until the end of Fall 2017. She said organization funding requests often weren’t considered comparatively throughout the funding weekend.
“There’s an accounting club on campus. They came in and wanted to bring a speaker and said, ‘This could be good for extra credit,’” Bondi said. “Last spring semester, I was sitting there, and after 10 events that people had said, ‘Yeah, extra credit would be good,’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I’m okay with my personal student activities fee going for some kid over there in that accounting department to get five points extra credit in his class.”
Another person with past experience on SABRC said funding weekends were “very lackadaisical,” and that the organization needed more organization and training for its members before they are ready to handle large-scale requests like $10,000 for speakers or comedians. The individual, a 2016 graduate, requested anonymity to speak candidly due to an ongoing relationship with Bradley.
“You kind of look like a bunch of misfits sitting in a room handling hundreds of thousands of dollars,” the graduate said. “[SABRC isn’t] so much biased as it is ignorant. SABRC is not taught to read their own constitution.”
The graduate said SABRC members would often try and “fight for their own organization” when voting for which requests to fund.
“There are a lot of personal vendettas. People try to use them to take it out on other organizations in SABRC,” the graduate said. “The hope is that you have enough members in SABRC that it won’t affect proposals, but it doesn’t always happen that way.”
But Katherine Folan, current chairperson of SABRC, said certain policies should prevent this. For example, even before the constitution was updated, members in SABRC were not allowed to speak during the presentations of other organizations they may also be part of. Executive members of other organizations are also not allowed to vote in funding decisions.
“We try our best to control subjectivity, and we realize that organizations whose members are also members of SABRC have an advantage,” Folan, a senior organizational communication major, said. “In addition to enforcing [those policies], this semester we decided that if a representative from an organization is unable to answer one of our questions, we will give them the opportunity to step out of the room and make a phone call to obtain the answer … We believe it will continue to help in the future to level the playing field more.”
She said she recognizes the challenge that can come from having highly involved students on SABRC – but that it doesn’t hinder the organization.
“They are able to bring a great deal of event-planning experience and knowledge to our board,” Folan said. “Yet, we understand that their organizations are advantaged when it comes to deliberating their organization’s requests.”
Working towards solutions
Numbers provided by Coy show for Fall 2016, 64 student organizations received the funding they requested and 16 organizations were not funded. In Spring 2016, 45 organizations were funded and 17 were not. In Fall 2017, 51 organizations were funded and 16 were not, while in spring 2017, 43 organizations were funded and 31 were not. Most recently for Fall 2018, 42 organizations received funding and 28 did not. Organizations that did not attend their presentations were not funded.
SABRC currently has 25 active student members that handle these funding requests, and that’s something Coy said has helped to prevent student members from expressing biased opinions that influence the funding process.
“If there are four people with rogue voices against an organization, they would not be able to influence or sway their peers to a certain extent,” he said. “There have been in years past, instances of block voting that we’ve had to talk about. They would all vote in the same way in support of each other’s events, like, ‘I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine.’ We had to talk about that. That was two years ago since we’ve had an incident.”
But the graduate said SABRC needs to be completely restructured if it wants to see any constructive change. Namely, they said different committees within SABRC should be created to critically analyze each request, and each committee would be made up of students who are familiar with the request or requests similar in size and nature.
The 2016 graduate also said SABRC should in no way expect a conversation of five minutes to be enough time to cover every detail that goes into approving an expensive event, like a concert or a comedian.
“If you’re asking me to fund you $10,000, I’ll be damned if you don’t spend more than three minutes explaining it to me. We’re going to talk a lot longer than that,” they said. “We’re treating a $50 event like a $50,000 event. People need to be trained to look at things in different ways. I do not need a freshman speaking up about a $50,000 event when I know this event like the back of my hand because I’ve been working it for three years, and he’s going to come and ask, ‘What is this event?’ That’s not the time and place for this because we’ve only got two minutes to ask my questions that actually matter.”