Student organizations are frustrated, confused and hurting for cash after Student Affairs and Associated Student Government (ASG) announced sweeping funding cuts last week — the largest in memory.
“Definitely stressed, very frustrated, without a doubt,” said Marco Colant, the treasurer of Stage Left, a student theatre group.
Stage Left requested $4,250 from ASG’s March funding cycle — the fifth and final funding opportunity of the academic year. They have been slated to receive only $2,125 — barely enough to cover the baseline $2,000 needed to rent light and sound equipment for their long-planned April production of the musical “First Date.”
At the beginning of the year, ASG works with Student Affairs to set a total dollar amount for student organization funding. Individual organizations then petition ASG for funds. The success of this system relies on two assumptions: More requests are filed in the fall semester than in the spring, and requests are usually front-loaded at the beginning of each semester.
Over the past few years, Student Affairs has frequently made small cuts when requests fall slightly outside of its expectations. In the past, emergency funding could sometimes be scrounged up, and cuts usually settled between 10 and 20 percent.
Student organization leaders have come to expect those small reductions and plan for them in their own budgeting.
“They are usually 15 percent, which is fair,” Colant said. “You know, money is money. It’s not unlimited.”
But this spring, student orgs will only receive about half of the funding they requested, in part due to a serious underestimation of the total dollar amount organizations would request for this final funding cycle.
“The requests this cycle were unanticipated,” said Walter. “The requests going into this time of the year are largest since I’ve been here, both in terms of numbers and the amount of dollars asked for.”
In previous years, the busiest time for student programming was the first six weeks of the fall semester. About 75 percent of student org funding was doled out in the fall, Walter said. This year, the balance shifted. The amount of money distributed in the fall is about equal to the amount of money distributed in the spring, he said.
“We would have 75 percent of the funding given out in the fall. Until this semester, most of the student programming happened in the fall. The busiest time was the first six weeks, the first two months of the fall semester,” said Walters. “Clearly there has been a shift.”
The decision to slash funds was made on the afternoon of March 6, when Weimer and Walter met to go over the most recent round of funding requests.
More than $195,000 in general funding had been requested, but only $88,000 remained in the student org account, according to ASG budget documents.
“The decision [to cut funding] was made within 60 seconds,” Walter said. “We can’t run ASG in a negative balance. There’s only so much in the system. We can’t put more money in than we have in the account.”
To hold the cut to 50 percent, ASG redirected about $14,000 from its own internal operating budget, in part by cutting the student org debt relief program. They also received approval to go into $10,000 of debt, according to the documents.
Student org leaders were informed of the cuts on the night of March 6 via an email sent out by Vice President of Student Affairs Scott Walter, as well through memos circulated by Walter and ASG Secretary of Finance Caroline Weimer.
“Cutting finances for these organizations by 50 percent with zero warning or foresight is an embarrassment to a community which I have grown to care so deeply for, marring months of planning and countless hours of work done by your students,” wrote Steele Fitzwater, president of Miami University Fashion and Design (MUFD), in an email to more than forty student leaders and university administrators.
Weimer and Walter were both recipients of the email, as well as President Gregory Crawford and Provost Phyllis Callahan.
MUFD requested more than $19,800 from the March cycle, the most of any student organization. They are now set to receive less than half of their original request, just over $9,900, according to ASG budget documents.
One potential force behind the funding collapse is the growing number of student orgs requesting money from ASG.
“We are using a funding structure that has been in place for probably about a decade,” Walter said. “Every time we have a new student body election, they’ll tweak it a little bit, but, by and large, we are still playing with the same thing when we had 300 student organizations.”
Now, Miami has more than 600 registered student organizations, Walter said.
Walter has said they will be meeting with Student Activities colleagues and the ASG finance committee over the coming weeks to identify the weaknesses in the old system and construct a new one from the ground up.
“There are lots of options,” Walter said. “I think the one option that is off the table is to continue to do it like we are are doing it. If we simply tweak something, we are going to be back in the same place a year from now.”
Until then, student organizations like Stage Left and MUFD are left with few avenues to fund the events they already have planned for the rest of the semester.
“We are going to reach out to alumni, to students and to parents,” said Colant, citing Stage Left’s lack of dues as one reason that members might be willing to chip in to support the last production of the year. The club is also exploring crowdfunding through GoFundMe or Kickstarter.
But, at least for the remainder of the school year, student organizations should not expect much monetary support from Student Affairs.
“I don’t want to give people false hope, that’s just the reality of where we are in this process,” Walter said.