College Council (CC) Vice President Hemal Prasad (19C) plans to form an independent committee that would issue recommendations on reforming the student activity fee (SAF) amount, he announced at a Sept. 26 CC meeting.
The SAF, which has been set at $92 per student each semester since the 2015-16 academic year, provides funding for student organizations and their activities. The committee would not be overseen by any division of student government.
Prasad cited a shortage of funding for clubs as a major factor in his decision to launch the committee.
“Being the [CC] Assistant VP of Finance for the past year, I was able to interview and directly interact with clubs in terms of their funding issues, and time and time again I saw that there were just huge funding gaps that clubs could not overcome,” he said, adding, “Clubs wanted to put on these huge, successful programs … [that] I want to fund as much as we can, but sometimes the SAF just doesn’t fiscally allow for that.”
He added that while he hopes to use his previous experience as CC assistant vice president of finance to head the SAF committee, he intends for the committee to operate independently of CC, Student Government Association (SGA) or any other governing body.
“I’m doing this in order to better Emory’s standing in terms of student governance,” Prasad said, adding that he doesn’t believe there is a conflict of interest with him serving as CC vice president and head of the committee.
“I’m not doing this under the pretense to give College Council more money,” Prasad said. “I’d like to think I’m not going to be biased when making decisions.”
As the committee will be separate from student government, any recommendations would first have to be brought to SGA in the form of a bill. Any SAF-related bills are considered “issues of significance” under the SGA Constitution, so SGA is required to notify all undergraduate students via email prior to considering any such bill. Before voting, SGA would also be required to hold a public forum for students to discuss and debate the bill.
If approved by SGA legislators, the bill would then have to be approved by a majority of students voting in an University-wide referendum, per the SGA finance code. In addition, the University’s Board of Trustees must approve any changes to the SAF.
SGA legislators voted on Sept. 24 in favor of conducting an one-month audit of undergraduate club participation with the goal of adjusting the SAF split accordingly. That bill was sponsored by SGA BBA Liaison Geoffrey Tseng (19B) and BBA Council President Jay Krishnaswamy (16Ox, 19B).
Prasad said he does not foresee conflict between his committee and SGA’s committee. While the SGA team is composed of student government representatives, Prasad said he seeks to orient his committee toward a data-driven methodology focusing on public outreach and student feedback. Prasad mentioned focus groups with students as one way his committee will differentiate from SGA’s.
“I envision [the SAF committee] working with the [SGA] audit committee at several points throughout this entire process, but the way I view the audit committee is more of a divisional council pet project,” Prasad said.
Krishnaswamy said he was open to Prasad’s initiative.
“If [the committee] is just looking at the level [of the SAF amount], that’s something he has the right to do; it doesn’t affect what the initial ad hoc committee that was passed last week by SGA is doing,” Krishnaswamy said.
The BBA Council president agreed that Prasad’s committee would not conflict with SGA’s committee, saying, “Whether the level [of the SAF] goes up, or down, stays the same, doesn’t affect the split. It’s two very separate things.”
Prasad added that his committee would obtain expense reports from Student Governance Services (SGS) and would contact peer institutions to understand how they determine the total amount and split between divisional councils.
Student activity fees vary widely across private colleges in the United States, from $47.50 per semester at the University of Notre Dame (Ind.) to $262 per semester at Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.). Most peer institutions charge fees similar to Emory’s, including $59 per semester at Rice University (Texas), $82 per semester at Georgetown University (D.C.) and $131 per semester at Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.).
CC Vice President of Finance Teresa Wang (20B), CC Vice President of Budget Hithardhi Duggireddy (20C) and Residence Hall Association (RHA) President Aaron Jordan (19C) have expressed interest in serving on the committee, Prasad said, noting that while he initially intends to only invite members who he knows are passionate about the SAF, he hopes that the committee would be open to any knowledgeable students who wish to join.
“The committee would serve as a forum for people who are passionate about this issue to come together, talk about the issues in a more formalized, structured way,” Prasad said. “It’s certainly going to be open — I want these discussions to be frank and transparent.”
However, Prasad noted some individuals are not privileged with access to SGS expenditure reports. He said he intends for those students to fully engage in the committee but admitted he did not know exactly how individuals without permission would be able to participate.
“That’s a really good question which I don’t have the answer for at the moment,” Prasad said.
The SGA Constitution states “the papers of the SGA shall be considered public records,” but SGS and student government leaders have repeatedly denied document requests from the Wheel, arguing that the clause excludes releasing financial information to some people.
Prasad said he would be interested in releasing the data, analysis and reasoning of the committee’s findings in aggregate. In Fall 2014, students overwhelmingly voted against a bill which would have raised the SAF to $110. Seventy-nine percent of students voted against the increase, which would have funded “student experience equity programs … enhanced programming and creation of a Meeting and Event Facilitation Fund,” according to the bill.
Abdel Diab (22C) suggested that any increases to the SAF should be made on an individual basis.
“I think it should be different for every student, because not every student gets as involved in activities … Whoever is trying to get more involved on campus and participate in more student activities, then they should have additional fees,” Diab said.
Kamryn Olds (22C) agreed with Prasad’s view that any proposals to change the SAF must come with an explanation.
“I would like to know where the money currently goes, if there could be some more transparency as to exactly how it’s broken down … I think any [increase] from around $10 to $20 I wouldn’t be too upset about, however anything over that I’d probably be more skeptical,” Olds said.