The Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) will receive $2,420 in additional funding from the Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC), which is enough to fund transportation costs for their trips until Spring Break. In March, SAFC will work with the BOC to reevaluate whether additional funding will be necessary for the club.
The BOC discovered that it was $18,000 short on funds earlier this month. Though the budget conversation with the Outing Club has been tabled following the granting of additional funds, the situation raises questions about the Student Activities funding process, which allows for clubs to not to know exactly how much money remains in their budget throughout the year.
The BOC requested $19,500 from the SAFC when they were first made aware of the deficit. That amount was rejected at the SAFC meeting on February 8. The BOC returned with a $5,810 request, and today, the SAFC granted them the $2,420 in additional funding.
“Based off of the trimmed down budget that they sent us last time, that will be enough to get them to Spring Break,” said Vice President for the Treasury David Levine ’16. “Then we’ll reassess after that to look at our finances and how the year is going, talk with the BOC and go from there.”
Director of Student Activities Nate Hintze said that the SAFC’s allocation to the Outing Club will not compromise the plans of any other student club this year.
“I’m not presently foreseeing any sort of major programming issues,” he said.
The limited funding granted to the BOC by the SAFC will allow them to continue operating, albeit on a smaller scale. The BOC also will not be able to offer financial aid for trips that have extra associated expenses—for example, for lift passes for skiing trips.
“We’re not shutting our doors,” said the BOC Assistant Director Sarah Johnson ’13. “It’s really at this point a matter of scale. So if we get a couple hundred bucks, we can rent a couple of vehicles, we can buy a little food. The bare bones budget that was re-submitted to the SAFC I believe budgeted for our leadership training to be able to happen and then for one to three trips beyond that per weekend as far as backpack, canoeing, white water, anything like that.”
In previous years, the Outing Club has run an average of five trips per weekend in the winter. Though that number will be reduced this semester to cut costs, Johnson said that programs like snow shoeing, cross country skiing, mid-week walks and bird watching will continue unimpeded.
“Those things can all happen without any money from the SAFC because we have everything we need,” she said. “What we really need that money for is for vehicles to do anything that isn’t within walking distance from here.”
Acquiring vans typically costs the BOC substantially more than it would cost other Bowdoin groups. Although the BOC is allowed to use Bowdoin vehicles, they are not allowed to reserve them in advance and must often rely on an outside rental company, which charges close to triple the amount that Bowdoin charges.
“Those are really the costs we’re really trying to figure out if we can cover,” said Johnson.
Although it reached a head this year, Assistant Director Adam Berliner ’13 said that the BOC has been overspending their annual budget for a number of years.
“Part of it goes back to last April—a big part of it. And a lot of it goes back way further than that,” said Berliner. “Since, really, this model of the Outing Club has existed where our funding has been determined by the SAFC largely—that’s the bulk of our money—and so I think that there’s been a chronic underfunding of the Outing Club since we started getting money from the SAFC...I think for a bunch of years there’s not been enough money, and chronically we’ve been overspending our budget and it kind of just all eventually came to a head. Every year we overspend a little bit, and all of a sudden it’s a lot.”
Berliner and Johnson said that they do not have plans to acquire additional funds from sources outside of the SAFC and that they have not heard of any other college departments able to finance their shortage.
“No one else has money that they can give us,” Berliner said. “I’ve gotten vibes that no, there’s no other bailout coming. It’s the SAFC or bust.”
At Bowdoin, an eight-person sub-committee of Bowdoin Student Government—the SAFC—is responsible for allocating budgets to all student clubs. The BSG Vice President of the Treasury, the Vice President for Student Organizations, each class’s treasurer and two at-large representatives sit on the SAFC.
Each year, Student Activities receives a total budget that SAFC divides among two types of clubs: the 18 consistently large organizations that have annual operating budgets, and the 110-plus others that must apply to the SAFC for funding on an event-by-event or program-by-program basis. Clubs with operating budgets—such as the BOC, Entertainment Board and the Orient—are not intended to draw from the SAFC pool. The College deliberately tries to limit the number of clubs under operating budgets each year so that most campus clubs draw from the same pot of money.
“That’s so that even a small club with a great idea has access to the same resources as a big club,” said Associate Dean of Student Affairs Allen Delong.
Since clubs with operating budgets are given a lump sum of money each year rather than being funded on a project by project basis, the oversight of their spending is different than that of the non-operating budget clubs.
“Once we get the money put in our budget, we are no longer accountable to anyone except us,” said Berliner.
Hintze said that while clubs with operating budgets have more flexibility, they have to be especially careful about how they spend their money.
“They tend to be more freely able to come in and spend as they need because there’s a trust factor that they’re monitoring [their money],” said Hintze. “It is hard to get money from the SAFC if you’re on an operating budget and you’ve already spent your money, so there needs to be some personal onus on those clubs to make sure that they are staying within their allocated budget.”
Although SAFC decides how much money to allocate to each club—whether it has an operating budget or not—the committee is not responsible for distributing the actual money or checking in on how it is spent, unless prompted to look into a suspicious case by Hintze.
“There’s no formal [SAFC] auditing process,” said Levine.
After the BOC situation, however, Levine asked Student Activities to examine the operating budgets of the seventeen other large clubs to make sure they had sufficient funds.
This student-driven club funding model has been largely successful, but some people like Berliner take issue with the idea of students elected to one-year terms making decisions about the future of organizations with an institutional memory that predates them.
“[Budget allocation] is so contingent upon the whims of students who change every year—it’s not like these students are elected for four year terms, they’re new every year—they don’t know what the history was,” said Berliner. “They don’t know that last year we asked for 80 grand but only got 60. They just know what’s in front of them right then and there. It just makes it more happen that this kind of a situation happens again. If they all of a sudden decide that, oh look, the outing club can get by without this money, all of a sudden we’re getting less and that’s gonna kind of wean us back. People won’t notice that much the difference. But that said, we notice. We won’t be operating to our full potential this spring, which is fine—except it’s not.”
In 2006 the College upgraded from a paper system of tracking club expenditures to an online financial reporting tool. Although the digitization increased Student Activities’ ability to monitor finances, lag time between events and the processing of invoices for those events still make finances difficult to track in real time, according to Hintze and Delong.
“Money transfers behind the scenes and it can take some time for [certain charges] to show up,” said Hintze. “[For example], Dining reconciles all their finances at the end of the month and it shows up two weeks later in the account, so you have to keep kind of an eye on it to make sure that things are where you expect them to be.”
This kind of delay was one of the major reasons the BOC experienced budgeting difficulties over the last year.
“There were some invoices that hit us way later than we thought and there was just this timing discrepancy between seeing the bill and spending the money that kind of threw us off,” said Berliner. “And then what happened was that they rolled it into this year’s budget.”
Hintze said that there is no regular schedule he follows to check the online tool to make sure that everyone is adhering to their budget.
“As much as I would like to say, ‘Every first Monday of every month I look at it,’ we’re in and out of there so often that you [only] have a sense as to where people are at,” he said. “I more scan for large numbers in red and ignore some of the black numbers which are positives and look at who looks like they’ve spent too much because that’s really where the problem lies—if somebody has spent too much.”
Delong added that the College’s overall philosophy is to trust that students are using funds appropriately.
“You all just work way too hard to get here—we’re never gonna assume that students misappropriated funds,” he said.
Although there is no formal process for checking that clubs are adhering to their budgets and spending money on the items they say they are, Delong said that the College has the ability to do audits at a number of checkpoints, whether that be through the Student Activities office or the Controller’s office.
The only people who can access the information from the online financial reporting tool are the five staff employees of Student Activities—Delong, Hintze, Associate Director Silvia Serban, Assistant Director Laurel Varnell and Administrative Assistant Karla Nerdahl.
“That’s one downfall—I wish through IT we could have a portal there for students to be able to monitor their accounts,” said Hintze.
Although Hintze wishes students could check in on their budgets and expenditures more easily, he said there are no plans in progress to work with IT to allow access to the portal.
“With everything there’s a purchase involved,” he said. “There’s some software that has [the ability to grant student access to their accounts] I’m sure, but it’s the resources to pay for it.”
Although student club leaders can request a printout of all of their expenditures at any given point, Student Activities does not require clubs to check in regularly.
Hintze does not think that a cyclical mandatory check-in—whether by him or the SAFC—is necessary.
“I think the [current] system works really well,” he said. “There are not too many huge overages. People are pretty good, budgets are pretty spot on. We have 130 groups and so it’s a lot to put on the SAFC who are students themselves. They meet every Monday for two to three hours. To say also: ‘hey you’re going to come in and audit every single budget’ is [a lot].”