Flames of the Torch

Look closely at your tuition bill the next time it arrives and you’ll be sure to notice, if you haven’t already, a few small fees in addition to the major cost of tuition.

One of those fees, a $95 “Undergraduate Student Government Activity Fee” paid each semester, sparks particular attention as it may cause you to wonder what this fee is used for and why it exists.

According to the St. John’s University Web site, the activity fee is maintained by SGI and used mainly to support student organizations. Furthermore, this fee is pre-determined yearly by Student Government, making them responsible and in control of where our $190 a year is going.

This year, according to SGI Vice President, John Kelly, the SGI budget is about $1.2 million. Naturally, this is an extremely large sum of money to be put in the hands of undergraduate students. This only reinforces the need to hold Student Government accountable for the money they allocate and spend.

With Student Government elections complete, there will be some new faces running things at the SGI office. Now is the perfect time for students to start paying attention to where their $190 a year is going.

Getting involved can be as easy as attending a Student Government meeting, getting to know who the members of the new executive board are, and asking what their plans are for next year. Most importantly, students should communicate their concerns or opinions to the elected officials who have been placed in charge of these
financial matters.

To learn specifically how their activity fee is being used, students can examine the budget reports and transaction detail reports that are published quarterly by the SGI treasurer. This information is public and can be obtained from the SGI office in the UC.

The leaders of student organizations interact with SGI and hear about its budget on a regular basis. But students who are more casual members of groups and are not as involved may not be aware that they can still obtain financial records and attend meetings to find out where SGI is spending our money.

But keeping students informed is a two-way street. While SGI does make its records available to the public upon request, perhaps making them viewable online could be a better way of making students aware of how easy it is to see where their money is being spent.

Additionally, a member of SGI (treasurer, most likely) could write a weekly memo to explain and clarify major purchases, in order to make the reports easier to understand for typical students who are not necessarily as involved in organizations or in SGI.

As they are now, the budget reports fail to provide the average student with enough information about their money, making them almost useless to the student body.

Student Government needs to release budgetary information in a clear, understandable format and make it known to students that such records are available. Otherwise, making it public to the general student body is pointless.

It is important that students take a proactive stance on working with SGI, and also are given the opportunity to do so.

The transparency of SGI could greatly improve if it were to make its records more accessible and clear, allowing students to hold them more accountable and ensuring that students can never say that they have no idea where their “Undergraduate Student Government Activity Fee” is spent.