The BAC Money Trail

There are more important things in the world than money, but as any student group on campus knows, funding is absolutely essential when planning an event. The Budget Allocations Committee (BAC) is a facet of the Student Government Association (SGA), and deals with distributing money to student groups who demonstrate a need. The six members are appointed to the committee by the SGA. The committee is headed by the SGA Treasurer, who oversees and directs the process, but does not vote on funding decisions, except in the event of a tie.

At the beginning of every year, approximately $300 of the tuition paid by each student goes into the student activities fund for the year, which is then divvied up between the two semesters and put under the care of the BAC to distribute.

When an SGA recognized student group wishes to access and use these funds for an event, they must go before the BAC and petition for money.

“There are three criteria by which we fund,” SGA Treasurer Ryan Trow ’05 said. “First of all, whether the event furthers the mission statement of the organization – we look at the proposal and we look at the mission statement and we say ‘hey, does this make sense?’ We look for consistency between what they want to do and what they actually are supposed to do. Criteria number two is if it serves the Colgate community … is it something that all students can benefit from; that’s the most difficult one, that’s where we have to make decisions. Number three is just the nuts and bolts: is a room at the Colgate Inn really $125, is a taxi from Hancock Airport really $80 – just looking at whether the costs are just or not.”

Once the proposal is approved, and the group gets their funding, BAC members have another, unofficial job.

“We have unofficial and duties,” said BAC member and Senator first-year Rob Sobelman. “Basically, with unofficial you want to go to a lot of events, you want to see what groups are doing, you want to talk to people, find out what they want to see on campus, you want to talk to a diverse group of people, diverse interests, what there is going on on campus, what’s worked, what hasn’t.”

Despite the effort to serve the community, over the years the BAC has been the center of a good deal of controversy.

“I think things came to a head last year,” Trow said. “There were a lot of minority organizations on campus and underrepresented groups that were just upset about the way they were being dealt with, not necessarily the fact that they weren’t getting funded, but more the way they were being treated in the meetings, the way their proposals were being responded to. … The BAC process used to be just a very stern and rigid, ununderstanding process.”

The BAC was very unpopular on campus and topped many people’s “most hated thing about Colgate” list. This is something that Trow has tried to change in the past year.

“The tone that you set in the meaning is very important,” he said. “The tone that was set last year was more of an authoritarian tone, and this year it’s much more of a ‘we’re here to work with you’ type tone. As Treasurer I’ve done a lot. I’ve been much more available; I’ve held regular office hours. I’ve met with groups whenever they have needed to, and I’ve acted as more an advisor than a decision maker. I’ll tell groups, ‘hey look, I think this is what you need to do to get money,’ rather than ‘you didn’t get it, so there’s nothing you can do.’ I’ve also ensured the BAC follows its own bylaws more closely.”

Despite this, controversy and discontent still haunt the BAC. There are still groups that feel they have been treated unfairly by the committee, and the campus-wide discontent over the events of Spring Party Weekend have been partially blamed on the BAC.

During the fall semester, the Native American Student Association (NASA) brought playwright and author Sherman Alexie to campus. The contract necessary to bring Alexie here was signed in the summer, before the proposal was brought before the BAC and so the school was already contractually obligated pay Alexie before BAC approval.

“Controversy comes when we enforce our own bylaws,” Sobelman said. “[The] controversy came because the BAC used to, last year, the year before, make a lot of exceptions, not really operate within their bylaws. This year Ryan really tightened things up. … Made sure that everything was consistent with our bylaws.”

Although the BAC thought that this was a good event and wanted to work with NASA to bring Alexie to campus, their bylaws prevented them from doing so and NASA was refused full funding because they did not follow procedure.

“What we did, because we saw that it was a good event, and because we wanted to work with them,” Trow said, “we ended up allocating them about $1000 for noncontracted items. We wanted to work with them, we just couldn’t give them the full funding because they didn’t follow procedure. … I did absolutely everything in my power, not only to convey our decision to them, but also to let them know that we really wanted to work with them in the future.”

Trow knows what it feels like to have a proposal rejected by the BAC, and can empathize with what reject groups are feeling.

“[That was] the whole reason I joined the BAC … I was in the College Republicans when I was a sophomore, and the BAC rejected one of our proposals and I went ballistic. I sent emails to Adam Weinberg, Rebecca Chopp, to random alums, to trustees. I went crazy, I was convinced there was a vast, left-wing conspiracy on the BAC, and that’s initially why I wanted to be on the BAC, to make sure they were making fair decisions. So I know what it’s like to have a proposal rejected.”

SPW this year was another center of a lot of upheaval and controversy, and at the center of that controversy was the BAC.

The SPW committee was much smaller this year than in past years. There were not enough people on the committee to make SPW weekend work, and they were divided.

This division was, according to Trow, apparent in their proposals to the BAC. After the third one was turned down, and with SPW rapidly approaching, the SGA took over the planning.

In addition, there was less money available for SPW than there normally is. Due to a bookkeeping error in the finance office earlier in the semester, SPW has only $25,000 to work with compared to the $75,000 they have had in years past. This limited what events could be held.Money issues aside, Trow was pleased with how things turned out though.”What ended up happening was actually really revolutionary,” he said. “Rather than having one group plan SPW, there were about 10 different student organizations and about seven Broad Street houses that came together under the leadership of the SGA sub-committee to plan this event.”

This framework for SPW that came out of this year was what was important, and will help shape SPW in the years to come.”With the framework we have this year, and the funding we should have available next year, I think SPW is going to be so much better than it’s been in the past,” Trow said.

There has also been an issue with Dance Fest this year due to the financial issues.

“Towards the end of the year, BAC always mucks up with the money and there’s never enough left over. … Usually there’s money for Dance Fest, because everyone knows it’s coming,” senior Amitabha Gupta, who has been involved in Dance Fest most of the semesters he has been at Colgate, said. “This year there’s no money for Dance Fest, BAC ran out of money earlier. … Student groups like Legacy … had to go to outside sources to get funding to buy costumes for Dance Fest.”

Nevertheless, Trow is very pleased with what the BAC has accomplished this year.

The BAC deals with some very intricate issues and can be confusing for someone with no background about what they are doing, so over last summer for a training session for the members. Trow hopes that this practice will continue, making the BAC more efficient and adept.They were also kept better informed during the year of the proposals that were coming before them, and the bylaws that they are required to follow. “I think one of the accomplishments is having a BAC that is much more prepared for meeting and much more educated on the process,” Trow said.

Additionally, a committee will be meeting this coming summer to review and reform the bylaws, continuing an effort that was started in the Senate with recent legislation that is intended to make groups more responsible for the money they are entrusted with.

“[They’ll] make everything run a little more smoothly, patch up some holes that there are now, make everything a little more consistent. Once those are adhered to next year, I think all the controversy will die down,” Sobelman said.