Flames of the Torch: Giving budget snapshot hurts SGI and students
Student Government, Inc. released a summary of the 2013-14 budget to the Torch in the form of an annual newsletter.
The summary, which can read about and viewed on Pg. 4-5, sheds some light on where the $1,155,000 given to SGI this year is being distributed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show a complete picture of its finances – with regards to the funds SGI gave to the various recognized on-campus organizations, it offers the student body only a snapshot view. Organizations are lumped into groups, and we’re told the maximum, the minimum and the average amount given to organizations within that group.
When Treasurer Emily Bargabos was asked by the Torch for the reasoning behind this, she said, “I think some of them might not be comfortable with letting everyone know how much they get because every organization this year and last year, SGI worked diligently to look at the merit of each organization.”
If that’s the case, there’s no reason not to disclose the amount each organization receives. If the elected SGI officials determine this group or that group merits a certain amount of money based on the criteria they go by, that’s their choice, as per the system currently in place. But we feel that other organizations should also be able to see where that money is going. Doing so could help organizations learn what they need to do to receive more funding, based on comparison with other groups.
In the cover letter before the summary, the 2013-2014 Executive Board and Floor wrote that SGI was releasing its financial report “in an effort to continuously promote transparency.”
It’s transparency, but only to the point that SGI feels comfortable being transparent. Once it reaches the point where transparency opens it up to potential criticism about funding decisions that have been made, the board and floor would rather offer a snapshot of the picture, not a complete picture.
While the U.S. government has many issues, it is expected that individuals elected to represent the people have to make decisions that are sometimes difficult and stand before people who agree or disagree, but they have to defend the decisions nonetheless. Most budgetary information is considered public record for that reason.
While the SGI financial report is detailed, it does hold back information that would be of interest to organizations. And the system it chooses to offer organizations information seems flawed because it invites groups to guess what they received in comparison to others.
The summary includes the minimum and maximum dollar amount that organizations in the grouping receive. Right there, one can discern from the smaller groupings who gets what and even in the larger groupings, the organization only getting $300 knows it’s getting the least in the group.
At that point, aren’t you just shooting yourself in the foot? By not fully disclosing the use of funds made possible by student payments, it is easy to see some organizations may be left feeling as if you’re clearly trying to hide what other organizations received. Then, at the same time, you’re making these same groups at least slightly aware of where the money is going, enough to still take issue with where it’s going without having the benefit of a full explanation.
An argument that could be made is that the voting members of SGI voted to release the budget this way, but to us this makes no difference. These people are deciding what every students’ money gets used for. Because of that, there is no reason the allocation of every dollar shouldn’t be published and distributed to each student regardless of organization affiliation or whether they spend every waking second on campus or go home every chance they get to see where it’s going.
On the other hand, we’d like to extend a word of thanks to the SGI Executive Board. While we disagree with many of the aspects of the budget release, members of the board didn’t shy away from questions and helped us understand the numbers we were looking at more thoroughly, which is more than can be said for boards of past years.
On a final note, the Torch would like to make it clear that while a group picture of a few of the editors appears underneath the budget total in the newsletter, this publication doesn’t receive funds from SGI, nor would it want to. The Torch relies on advertising money to pay its printing bills and other costs, and is independent from the University to preserve its ability to report about St. John’s with full editorial control.