Council Follows the Money Trail

New rules tighten policies for student-group grants

Undergraduate Council grant money will be administered more efficiently if a new plan works as council members hope.

But the new plan, which would distribute council funds to student groups semester by semester, does not formally increase oversight of the more than $100,000 the council distributes to student groups each year.

In past years, the council’s Finance Committee allotted registered student groups three types of funds—semester grants, year grants and project-based grants—and club leaders said it was often difficult to determine which grant to request.

Under the old system, council members said, funding for student groups was not distributed quickly enough and clubs were confused about how to apply for funding.

Council leaders also said the old system allowed clubs to apply for multiple grants for the same event. Often, groups would apply for both a semester and a project-based grant for the same activity.

Council Treasurer Eric J. Powell ’03 said he thinks this was due mostly to ignorance of the grant process on the part of applicants.

Now, with only semester grants allowed for registered groups, the council hopes that it will both be able to tighten the reins on grants and relieve clubs of extra paperwork.

“The real drive behind the new system is really to take care of over-allocating funds,” said council Finance Committee Chair Gregory R. Friedman ’03.

Friedman said giving out excess funds wasn’t rampant, but it happened a “decent” amount of the time, even though he said he didn’t know of any specific cases.

“Why not close that loophole?” he said.

But Friedman said no new specific measures would be taken to oversee projects the council funds.

“We’ll walk around campus and we’ll see events that we funded,” Friedman said. “To do something like [auditing every group that receives money] would be a tremendous time commitment.”

Friedman said that additional oversight might result from reviewing applications every semester, rather than every year, and that the council reserves the right to audit any specific group at any time.

He added that members of a group would likely speak up if the group’s leadership reneged on planned events.

Leaders of clubs said they regularly asked for more money from the council than they actually needed. If they received what they requested, club leaders said they would then think which events to add to their clubs’ schedules.

“The process can be manipulated pretty easily,” said men’s club tennis co-captain Harold M. Birnbaum ’03, whose group received $821 from the council last year.

Birnbaum said the council gives more generously to clubs that claim they will hold events for large groups of people. Birnbaum said the council then fails to check up afterwards to see if the events were actually held.

Other campus organizations which distribute grants, such as the Ann Radcliffe Trust, ask groups receiving money to submit a follow-up form describing how they used the money.

If the group does not submit a form, it is ineligible for future grants.

The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations only distributes money to student groups after their events have occurred, and it bases the grant amount on receipts.

The council, however, is where many student groups receive the bulk of their grant money.

In the wake of campus financial scandals such as the Hasty Pudding theft, in which Randy J. Gomes and Suzanne M. Pomey recently pled guilty to embezzling almost $100,000 from the organization, College administrators have sought new ways to keep tabs on student group spending.

Last year, Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 called Risk Management and Audit Services (RMAS)—which normally audits the University’s budgets—to help audit certain student groups.

Illingworth’s original goal was to have the RMAS audit about six groups per year.

The College also last year instituted a mandatory seminar on accounting procedures to be held each fall for student group leaders.

Despite the oversight aid the College will provide, Illingworth said the council will maintain autonomy in the grant process.

The council will hold two rounds of applications each semester. The early deadline for the fall semester is October 1 and the late deadline is November 5.

In the Spring, the early deadline is Feb. 11 and the late deadline is March 11.

Non-registered student groups can only apply for ad hoc grants, not semester grants.

—Staff writer William M. Rasmussen can be reached at wrasmuss@fas.harvard.edu.