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Balancing the Books

FiCom needs a budget

By Melissa Quino mccreery

Student groups planning spring events, beware. Like last year, it’s mid-spring and, with nearly two months of school left, the Undergraduate Council (UC) has already allocated 90 percent of the money in the student group grants fund. Last year, the resulting shortage led the Finance Committee (FiCom) to make a 45 percent across-the-board cut to the last grants package; the year before, the cut was 35 percent.

FiCom, which is responsible for student group grants, risks running out every year because it has no budget. Each week, it reviews grant requests and approves the ones deemed reasonable on a case-by-case basis—with no regard for how much else is spent that week, how much the group has previously received, or how much money is left in the fund. FiCom therefore has little control over if or when the piggybank will run dry. Such a policy—or lack thereof—is fiscally irresponsible and is unfair to student groups with spring events. It is time that FiCom started budgeting.

Unfortunately, grant requests are somewhat unpredictable. The largest packages tend to be at the beginning of the semester, but the amounts requested fluctuate from week to week and year to year. The solution, therefore, is to develop a flexible budget—not for FiCom to throw up its hands and refuse to manage its money at all. It could, for example, allocate a weekly target and set aside a small surplus fund to cover particularly large packages. Or, it could use a monthly budgeting scheme to allow for particularly high and low weeks.

Either way, FiCom will need to make tougher decisions about which events it funds. Lori M. Adelman ’08, a former chair of FiCom, has argued in this paper that when the UC looks at a grant, it is “trying hard not to make value judgments about the content of the event itself.” Given the limits on the grants fund, however, it is absurd for FiCom to avoid evaluating the events that it spends student money on—FiCom’s primary job, after all, is to determine how our money is best spent. Further, FiCom is already making judgments: this semester, only 60 percent of the money requested was actually awarded. But without a budget, the decisions are made with no conception of how they fit into the bigger picture.

FiCom has taken one small step to ameliorate the problem: whereas student groups could previously only be reimbursed after an event took place, they can now apply for money before the event and before funding runs out. But not all groups with May events will be able to work out the budget details by March, particularly if they have to coordinate with other outside organizations or guest speakers. Further, this change could just lead to money running out sooner, as every group rushes to submit its application before the pot runs dry.

Funds for this year are already low, although FiCom chair Alexander “Zander” N. Li ’09, who is also a Crimson editorial editor, says he does not expect they will run out again thanks to money that was allocated but never claimed last semester. But if demand in the final two grants packages exceeds the amount left, hopefully FiCom will demonstrate some initiative and responsibility in deciding where the remaining money goes rather than re-imposing last year’s indiscriminate cuts.

Most importantly, UC leaders Ryan A. Petersen ’08, Matthew L. Sundquist ’09, and Li need to develop a budgeting plan for future years. FiCom’s current philosophy of spending until it can spend no more is an unacceptable way of managing students’ money.

Melissa Quino McCreery ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a chemistry and physics concentrator in Quincy House.

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