Nationally renowned entertainers. A trip to the Dominican Republic. The Vagina Monologues. A conference on race and ethnicity.
This year’s Student Senate helped pay for all these activities and more. However, during Friday’s meeting the Senate announced it will not sponsor any more activities for the remainder of the semester-it’s broke.
“I’m not totally surprised, we knew they were running low,” said Helen Gorgas-Goulding, director of Portland Student Life and the administrative liaison to the Senate.
Senate Business Manager Kathleen Pease thought there was just under $6,000 left in the account until last Thursday. However, she learned the Senate would receive approximately $10,000 less than it thought from student activity fee money because of a declining student population this semester.
“If in fact we get [the new projected amount] that would wipe out our unallocated [funds] and put us in the red,” said Pease.
The announcement came on the heels of recent controversy regarding the Senate’s decision to spend $8,000 to bring renowned rap/reggae artist Shaggy to the University later this spring. Some have questioned the Senate’s judgment and pointed out there are few guidelines that dictate how its money should be spent.
The money in the Senate account is taken from the student activity fee, to which every student contributes $39. It is intended that the Senate use that money to give back to the students through various activities.
“They all pay and they all deserve to get their money back,” said Senate Treasurer Justin LaBerge.
In the Senate bylaws it reads, “. [I]t is our responsibility to support, recognize, and fund any and all student groups . ”
However, in article 3 of the Senate’s constitution it reads, “Although these funds [student activity fee] are designed and intended for the use of Senate-recognized student groups and Senate-sponsored student events, any other funding requests will be considered.”
As a result of the vague specifications for how the student activity fee should be spent, many senators have a personal set of criteria to decide whether or not to fund certain requests.
“We’re supposed to be serving the whole broad base of students,” said LaBerge. “I want to see the greatest good for the most diverse number of students.”
The Senate gives financial support to student groups on a first-come first-serve basis. Typically however, there is money in the account for the duration of the fall and spring semesters for interested parties.
“It’s still early in the semester and we face the possibility of running out of money in February,” said Senate Secretary Steve Witek before he learned the Senate was broke. “It comes down to a question of is it fair to everyone.”
For the rest of the semester many organizers will likely have to rethink their activities because they won’t have financial support they planned on getting from the Senate, according to Gorgas-Goulding. She pointed to several activities that usually depend on Senate funding such as alternative spring break trips, spring fling events, and the yearly Leadership Recognition Awards. “I’m sure the people are going to be a little disappointed and they’ll have to review if they can hold the event or do it cheaper,” she said.
“It basically comes down to Joe Schmo student who wants to do an activity isn’t going to get funding,” said Gorgas-Goulding. “It’s just going to be one of those bad years I guess.”
Though the Senate expects to be overextended by about $4,000, Pease said all student organizations that have already been promised money will receive it. This is in large part due to an emergency fund of $10,000 the Senate established six years ago for just such emergencies.
There have been some controversial proposals supported by the Senate that some feel have lead to its current economic distress. On Jan. 26 the Senate voted to spend $8,000 to bring Shaggy to campus later this spring.
“I just think [the concert] is a student activity, but it’s not necessarily serving all portions of the student body,” said Witek. “How many commuter students, single mothers and fathers are going to go see Shaggy? They’re a big portion of the student body.”
LaBerge however, supported the concert. He said the Senate has a limit of $250 per person and even if only 100 students attend, they would be spending $80 per person.
LaBerge referred to the recent proposal in which the Senate spent $3,250 to send just 14 students to the Dominican Republic.
“That’s (the concert) a bigger bang for you buck,” he said. “My concern with the trip was simply that this is something we give a lot of money for and only a select group gets to go,” said LaBerge.
Despite concerns surrounding the Shaggy concert and the Dominican Republic trip, the Senate passed both proposals.
Gorgas-Goulding said she doesn’t feel the Senate has made any bad decisions this year. However, she does feel the Senate could benefit by having an advisor to help them make difficult decisions. This semester the Senate was responsible for distributing $204,334.72, which includes partial funding of other student groups like The Free Press and WMPG, as well as salaries for several professional employees employed by the Senate.
“I think they really need an adviser,” said Gorgas-Goulding. “The years when there was an advisor it was really helpful to the group.”
News Editor Steve Peoples can be contacted at [email protected]