Every year, the Executive Board creates the budget for the Rensselaer Union, including club subsidies. This year, the subsidy for club travel was increased from 40 percent to 50 percent of costs. Subsidies for food were taken away, except for a once-per-semester reception fund for most clubs. Some clubs felt that there were problems with communication and transparency in these changes, especially the changes in food policy.
Every fall, clubs prepare their budgets for the next fiscal year. Every Union-funded club has a Student Activity Resource Person and an E-Board representative. The SARP and E-Board representative meet with their clubs and assist them with various aspects of the Union, especially budgeting. Clubs must make a complete budget, discuss it with their E-Board representative, and submit their budget online. During Winter Break, and the week before second semester starts, the E-Board goes through each club’s budgets and decides whether or not to fund various activities and projects that the club has requested. Clubs may appeal their budget, usually if they did not get the money they felt that they should have. Appeals may be accepted or denied.
Currently, some clubs have food at meetings regularly. While multicultural clubs will continue to be able to have food at meetings, all other clubs will be allowed to get food just once a semester from their reception fund. According to President of the Union Gretchen Sileo ’14, “The idea behind the reception fund is to provide clubs with an opportunity to host a welcome back party and an end-of-the-year party.” The reception fund is not, according to Sileo, for clubs to have food at weekly meetings. Multicultural clubs will not get a reception fund but instead will be able to buy food for weekly meetings. “These changes were made because multicultural groups are primarily food-based, so they need to have food, and because the Board didn’t believe it was fair to give any one club more than $1,000 in reception funds.” Sileo also stated that most clubs’ overall food budget stayed the same; the change was to how often clubs could get the money. The E-Board “did not feel as though it was in the best interest of all students to be paying for another student to receive food money on a regular basis who would need to be feeding themselves if they were not participating in a Union-related activity.”
Some clubs currently provide food for members during long shifts of work that they perform for the club, such as the Players, UPAC Cinema, and RPI TV. Players President Linda Quartner ’14 explained that, “On Friday nights we have work parties to make all the technical magic happen for our productions, such as building the sets, sewing the costumes, and creating the sound effects.” Work parties, according to Quartner, start at 7 pm and end the next morning sometime between 2 am and 6 am. Quartner sees providing pizza at work parties as “a way to guarantee a much-needed break during our 10 hours of work, an opportunity to refuel when there is a long night of power tools and construction ahead, and a thank you [to those] volunteering [their] time on a Friday night.”
UPAC Cinema President Alex Kocher ’15 said that “The allotted dinner funds in order to ‘pay’ our staff that work about 10 hours per night were cut.” RPI TV president Charles Machalow ’16 explained that the food budget, similar to that of the Players and UPAC Cinema, had been used in the past to sustain members who were working long hours.
When asked about the effects of the removal of food subsidies, Machalow felt that there would be little effect in the short term “because our members are very dedicated and we all love what we do,” but that RPI TV might have difficulty in the future getting new members. The hours that members spend working on RPI TV activities sometimes occur during dinnertime. Machalow also said, “I believe when needed, we could get people to put in a couple dollars each and get food that way, or even possibly use gift fund money, though I really don’t think we should have to when, after all, we are all volunteers providing a free service.”
Quartner also worried that “finding people willing to volunteer their time for seven to ten hours will become even more difficult without it [pizza].” She said that pizza is not used to recruit new members and instead refuel them. “This is the big distinction between the use of subsidized food by clubs such as Players, RPI TV, and UPAC Cinema and clubs who want funds to provide food at their regular business meetings.”
Clubs were notified by the change in an email that Sileo sent in the fall. Some E-Board representatives also went over the information with their clubs, although, according to Sileo, they were not required to.
The travel subsidy for clubs that travel increased to 50 percent from 40 percent. According to Sileo, “the Board believes that this change will alleviate the financial burden for students and give them more opportunities to participate in club activities.” 34 clubs with approximately 1,800 students (though some students may be in more than one club, skewing that number), were affected by the increased subsidy. Additionally, “the total amount that these clubs spend on travel is $170,444, meaning students [will] now spend $85,222 of their own money as opposed to $102,266.40 of their own money. Essentially, this decision took a $17,044.40 burden from students paying individually to being a fee covered by the Union.”
Clubs that travel seemed pleased about the increased subsidy, though it wouldn’t necessarily affect them a great deal. RPI Crew President Alexander Lin ’15 said that “the costs we pay for travel have just been accepted as ‘the norm’ and we never really have anyone’s membership be impacted by the cost of travel. But I’m sure that everyone will welcome the increased subsidy so that we don’t have to pay as much to do what we love.” Emily Walters ’15, the Quidditch club president, had a similar view as Lin. While the change wouldn’t affect the club that much, Walters said that “the increase will make it easier for us to travel to the IQA Northeast Regional Championships next year—and following years, granted that the change remains. I believe that this change will, to some extent, make our players feel more comfortable with wanting to attend tournaments like Regionals, as they will have to pay less money out of their own personal budgets.” Walters did feel that the increased travel subsidy would have positive long-term effects for the club, saying, “We can only bring 21 members out of our 30 registered with the IQA to each official tournament. Increased interest in attendance will, consequently, probably make the players want to become more involved and competitive for those 21 spots.”
Sileo stressed that the increase in the travel subsidy did not affect the food budget changes, or vice versa.
Some club officers were unhappy about how the broad changes in the budget were communicated with them. Although that information was in one of the weekly emails Sileo sends out to club officers, not all clubs saw the email. In addition, the change in food policy was not discussed with club officers.
Some clubs, such as the Players, felt that the new policies should have been discussed with the clubs beforehand. Quartner said that “the E-Board made a policy decision which impacted a lot of clubs, but had little to no communication with the clubs about it. This was not a one-time budgeting decision tailored to a specific scenario, which would easily and appropriately be handled via an appeal. This was a large policy change, and it would have greatly reduced the discontent amongst club officers had it not been a surprise. We had no opportunity to present our side of the issue prior to the decision being made.” Machalow said that “clubs should have been contacted as to what they think of policies before the E-Board puts them into place. The E-Board is supposed to represent the clubs and yet it didn’t seem as though we [the clubs] had much of a say.” Machalow also expressed concerns about the E-Board meeting minutes not being put up on Flagship Documents.
While some E-Board representatives explained the changes to their clubs, they were not required to. According to Sileo, “E-Board Reps were not expressly instructed to explain the changes and how they would affect their clubs, but many of them did explain these changes.” E-Board representative Frank Abissi ’15 explained his approach to the budgeting process: “The budgeting meeting is probably the most effective way I communicated with my clubs; we went over their proposed budget together and I talked to them about what they wanted out of their future budget –priorities for the club, long term goals, etc.—and it was then that I informed them of the various policy changes.” Abissi also noted that he communicates with his clubs regularly.
With regards to leadership concerns of the E-Board, such as those voiced on the Reddit post on budgeting last week, Abissi, who has been on two E-Boards non-consecutively, said that “one thing about the current Board that has been really refreshing is the intensity and quality of the debate over things brought before us. Very few of our votes, formal or informal, are unanimous and our discussions tend to be very lengthy but also of a very high caliber in terms of discourse.”
Abissi felt that one reason why debates have been better this year is because Sileo does not voice her own opinions, saying “in the past, the PU has exerted a lot of influence over the Board’s decisions, but Gretchen has a lot of faith in the way the process is supposed to work and doesn’t attempt to influence us one way when a proposal is before us.” Abissi felt that Sileo’s lack of pushing her opinions on the rest of the E-Board meant that all representatives were involved in discussions and that the E-Board is more able to solve budgeting problems.
Timing of Budgets
Preliminary budgets came out on January 19. Appeals were due at 5 pm two days later, on Tuesday, January 21. In order to appeal, clubs must talk to their E-Board representative and SARP. Given that January 20 was a holiday, clubs said they did not have a lot of time to appeal. In the past, according to Sileo, appeals were due the Thursday of the first week of classes, as opposed to the Tuesday. Director of the Union Joe Cassidy admitted that this mishap was his fault. He realized that, in the past, a placeholder budget had been sent to the Board of Trustees. Getting the budget finalized earlier meant that the actual budget could be sent to the Board of Trustees instead and he said that he didn’t realize how it would impact clubs to have so little time. Both Cassidy and Sileo felt that it was useful for the Board of Trustees to see the real budget. Sileo said that “in years past a placeholder has been approved and I thought it was worthwhile to ensure that they see the actual number.”