When Emory’s Student Government Association (SGA) voted down Bill 53sl38 on Monday, it shielded our semesterly $92 Student Activities Fee (SAF) from being redistributed according to an inaccurate audit that was conducted through unethical and procedurally questionable means. It was the first time in six years that SGA considered adjusting how the SAF is distributed among divisional councils, and Bill 53sl38 would have been a step in the wrong direction.
First and foremost, the bill relied largely on unreliable and insufficient results from a one-month club audit carried out this semester. The rushed and confusing process in which this audit was conducted means the final results may not be reflective of each divisional council’s true funding needs. As College Council noted in a Dec. 3 email to students, time constraints forced the audit committee to base its recommendations solely on club membership data, which disregards the funding necessary to host club events — like Diwali and CultureShock — that are open to non-members.
Accurately auditing club participation is a complex task. Though non-voting audit committee member Hugh O’Neil (21C) said divisional councils contacted all their clubs to participate in the audit, some club leaders said they felt confused by the process. For example, at Nov. 30’s town hall to inform the public about the audit, Obstacle Course Racing Club Treasurer Gustavo Borjas (21C) said his club did not receive adequate notice of the audit and was unsure about what data to submit. Multiple clubs, such as Emory Helpline, were also unable to submit membership data due to confidentiality reasons.
The audit’s methodology also may not accurately reflect the level of member involvement in each club — CC Legislator Jasmine Cui (20C) argued the audit would inflate membership rates of clubs with fewer general body meetings, since attendance at over 50 percent of these meetings was considered “membership” for the audit’s purposes. Additionally, the membership data sample size was taken from Fall 2018 for each club, a method which largely fails to take into account possible membership changes occuring in the Spring semester; in a Dec. 3 announcement to students, CC wrote that “more clubs are active in the Spring, and hosts [sic] more events, but this disparity is not reflected by this current audit.” While some attendance data for last Spring was extrapolated from clubs that had records of that information, not all clubs kept this data. It seems unfair to count this information given that a considerable amount of clubs could not provide this data.
Instead of enshrining a formula based on faulty methodology, SGA appropriately disregarded the results of this audit. They should now conduct a year-long audit that gives every club ample opportunity to submit accurate data.
The SAF audit was initiated by BBA Council President Jay Krishnaswamy (19B), who alleged that College students were participating in BBA clubs at a rate higher than is reflected in the current SAF distribution. To help fill BBA Council’s supposed funding gap, Krishnaswamy has repeatedly tried to rush the SAF reallocation despite a temporary transfer from CC to BBA Council that took place earlier this month. A more convenient and less drastic solution for next year would have been to ask CC or other sources to give more money to BBA Council — like they did this year — instead of conducting a massive and problematic overhaul of the SAF. A temporary transfer would alleviate funding shortages for 2019 while simultaneously allowing time for a fully transparent year-long audit.
Also concerning was that the Friday SGA town hall was effectively run by Krishnaswamy, who opened the meeting and responded to student questions along with O’Neil. Because SGA is the student organization overseeing the SAF audit, it would only make sense that Ma — or another SGA member familiar with the audit and Finance Code — would moderate the meeting and answer questions, instead of a divisional council president with a vested interest in the audit results. Other important voices, including those of CC President Radhika Kadakia (20C) and SGA President Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C), were conspicuously absent.
In a statement before the vote, College Council Vice President Hemal Prasad (19C) criticized the process for having so often “flirted with unconstitutionality.” Last week, Krishnaswamy tried to bring the bill to a vote without first notifying the student body, a constitutional requirement for issues of significance. Krishnaswamy acknowledged the concern, and argued that his actions were justified because SGA failed to comply with this measure earlier in the year. “There are a lot of things that are unconstitutional happening,” Krishnaswamy said.
If SGA had passed this bill after such a demonstrably rushed and questionable process, it would have compromised any subsequent SAF redistribution’s legitimacy.
Though SGA Speaker of the Legislature and Sophomore Representative Lori Steffel (21C) ruled that the bill had failed after Tuesday’s vote, Constitutional Council Chief Justice Owen Mattocks (20C) told Krishnaswamy that the bill only required a simple majority to pass (though it’s questionable for a justice to comment on a potential case). Steffel told the legislators that the bill required a two-thirds vote to pass, and with 15 voting members present, the seven “yes” votes it received were insufficient. SGA was quick to acknowledge on Monday night that its constitution did not specify how the voting process should work, and Steffel conceded that SGA should make sure their documents provide clearer procedures. SGA must act to resolve their constitutional ambiguity. Oxford SGA President Liam Dewey (20Ox) noted that Oxford SGA had recently reworked its constitution to resolve similar issues, and he recommended SGA do the same. If SGA wants to retain a legitimate image, it must ensure that voting procedures are clear, especially for issues of significance.
If you want to do an audit, you need to get it right. This audit was a failure, but it will hopefully lead to more equitable fund distribution in the coming years. We applaud the SAF audit committee for their vision and effort, but we implore SGA — independent from divisional councils and their representatives — to develop a reliable and accurate system for auditing club membership and participation before they attempt to redistribute the SAF.