Updated Sept. 19 at 1:46 a.m.
The Activities Board at Columbia will implement a systematic reduction to the allocation of all group, heritage month, and co-sponsorship funds to “curb ineffective spending,” according to an open letter released by the board earlier this month. The letter also stated that—in a departure from previous years—ABC will no longer publicize individual group allocations or rationale for deductions or increases in allocations.
Made up of representatives from different identity-based clubs on campus, ABC—which has historically received the most funding compared to Columbia’s five other governing boards—is responsible for distributing money allocated from all four undergraduate student councils to over 170 student groups and activities that are “not community service, political, religious, athletic, or activist in purpose.”
Traditionally, information regarding allocation decisions is released following Funding at Columbia University, an annual meeting during which the four undergraduate student councils decide how over a million dollars in student life fees will be allocated to the six governing boards.
Since last year, members of all student governing boards were invited to discuss and vote on every choice. The student activities fee was raised from $226 to $238 for CC and SEAS students, respectively.
In place of a public spreadsheet, the letter asked student groups to reach out directly to their ABC representative for information about their allocation. It also highlighted resources, like Community Program Fund co-sponsorships and Gatsby grants, as other means for student groups to receive funding.
In a written statement to Spectator, ABC contradicted its public letter, claiming that the release of the spreadsheets was merely delayed, and that all allocations would be made public on the ABC website in the coming weeks. Instead, the statement said that the intended aim was to improve engagement between student groups and their representatives by establishing an initial channel of communication.
ABC did not provide a specific timeline for when these allocations would be released.
ABC expressed that the overall decrease in allocations was due to inefficient spending of group funding. According to the letter, the organization has to claim back a portion of unused allocation money from its groups every year, which could be used by other student groups who are not under the jurisdiction of ABC. While unused funds, known as reclamations, almost doubled last year from $12,130 to $21,720, F@CU allocations have only increased from $351,205 to $351,277, according to information made available to Spectator.
As treasurer of the Student Organization of Latinxs, Milagro Chavez-Cisneros, CC ’21, distributes ABC’s allocation to SOL among the recognized and unrecognized Latinx student affinity groups overseen by SOL. Cisneros expressed concern that all organizations overseen by ABC may have experienced cuts, despite the fact that many clubs, including SOL, did not have reason to believe they were managing funds poorly. Cisneros said that she felt that the communication between ABC and student organizations was ineffective, and lent to a need for greater transparency.
“If they were truly worried about how organizations were mismanaging funds, they would be doing outreach to specific organizations that are supposedly not managing their funds well, seeing what the issues are, and trying to rectify that for the academic year,” Cisneros said.
As Columbia College Student Council Vice President of Finance, Sarah Radway, CC ’21, plays a prominent role in ensuring increased student funding at F@CU. She says this is a priority for CCSC, particularly by their introduction of a new co-sponsorship fund that would provide an alternative avenue from ABC to obtain funding. Despite her responsibilities, Radway said she was not informed by ABC of the decision to delay the release of allocation information, meaning that she is still unaware of how ABC funds are distributed. Beyond appealing to CCSC, it’s difficult for student leaders outside of ABC to intervene in the allocation process.
“I want the money to be in a place where it directly benefits students,” Radway said. “I technically gave the money, but I don’t get to give it to the people beneath ABC. It’s really frustrating sometimes, because people come to me and they’re asking me why they haven’t gotten their allocation. I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not able to [control] that.’”
Staff writer Serena White can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.