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Requiring student financial managers to attend two-hour seminars, as the Office of the Dean of Students is doing this year, is a good idea for treasurers who do not know much about managing money. However, two hours of talk about audits, checkbooks and budgets likely will not solve the problem of embezzlement that has plagued many Harvard organizations over the past few years.
For student treasurers who have had little experience keeping track of funds, the seminars will no doubt prove useful. Learning how to integrate financial planning with the rest of the group's structure and how to implement basic accounting procedures will likely help inexperienced leaders balance budgets. We are glad that beginning next year, every group will be required to submit its financial reports using the software program Quicken; such uniformity will make mistakes and discrepancies easier to spot. As one treasurer said, "If the dean's office honestly believes that they can tell us things that will prevent us going to jail, then I'm all for it."
But that is exactly the problem. It is not ignorant students who get into trouble with the law, but those who know exactly what they're doing with their group's accounts. In 1995, two Yearbook officials were accused of embezzling Yearbook funds; in the same year, the a cappella group Krokodiloes announced that its treasurer had spent $3,000 of the group's money on personal items; in 1992, two students embezzled $127,000 from the Eliot House's ice skating fundraiser, An Evening With Champions; and last year, the former treasurer of the Currier House Committee was found to have taken $12,000 from the group's accounts. One would be hard-pressed to say that these students would not have committed dishonest acts had they been required to attend two-hour seminars about how to manage their money. In fact, it seems they knew how to manage money all too well.
While we acknowledge that these seminars won't solve the problem of student theft, we would like to reiterate our position that the administration not impose more stringent controls over student finances, as was discussed last year in the case of the thefts. Any such crackdown would cost more in terms of students' freedom to run their own organizations than it would gain in terms of money saved from theft.
We encourage the dean of students to prohibit students on probation from being money managers for student groups as an obvious step to help prevent theft.
We applaud the dean's office for officially recognizing the problem of irresponsible student treasurers; however, embezzlement is a moral issue that will not be abolished through mere financial precautions.
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