SGA: Show us the money!

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SGA: Show us the money!

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In our editorial last week, we talked about how the recent leak of the Panama Papers demonstrates the much-needed role of newspapers to bring transparency and accountability to those in power. Recent interactions with our own leaders, here on campus, have caused us to exercise this principle in a more practical sense.

As Chartered Student Organizations (CSOs) undergo the annual funding process, every student group at SLU must submit a proposed budget for the upcoming year to SGA’s Appropriations Committee, a small panel of representatives that includes the VP of Finance. The panel will then determine how much money to allot each student group; CSOs unsatisfied with the funding they receive can appeal this decision to the entire Senate, who will reconsider and vote on a final total. This may be more, the same, or even less than the original amount.

Last week, the UNews requested to see a comprehensive list of approved budgets for each CSO for an upcoming article. We also asked if one of our editors could sit in and observe some of the appeals meetings. Both of these requests were denied. SGA cited a concern for CSOs’ privacy as the reason behind this decision.

We consider this to be a shameful decision on behalf of SGA. The funding for CSOs comes from the Student Activity Fee, a mandatory payment of $55 charged to every SLU student, once a semester. This amounts to an estimated annual total of around $900,000. Members of the committee have complete discretion over how this money is spent.

The UNews Editorial Board believes that it is our right as students, and our responsibility as journalists, to push back against SGA’s closed-door policy for CSO funding.

Of course, we understand that SGA must make nuanced and often difficult choices regarding funding every year, and we respect the process used to make these choices. Furthermore, we recognize that CSOs deserve a certain degree of privacy over their financial affairs. Financial information is always sensitive; allowing the entire student population to second-guess every single purchase and transaction would open the door to unnecessary criticism and blame for both SGA and the CSOs themselves.

However, when such a significant amount of money is taken from students and is intended for the betterment of student life, people have a right to know how that money is being spent. Without public records of the totals, interested parties must rely on rumor and hearsay to determine who is getting what. Individually asking CSOs for their budgets could potentially lead to incomplete and inaccurate views of how SGA distributes its funds. As a newspaper, we could offer the proper context and platform to make this information accessible, in a way that services students’ interests without needlessly disrupting the funding process.

Besides, local, state and federal governments all tell taxpayers where their money is going. What makes SGA any different? The scope may be smaller, but the need for transparency is just as pressing here as it is anywhere else.

As we have previously discussed in this space, SLU’s student government has a paradoxical relationship with the students it purportedly represents: the growing lack of student engagement makes the organization increasingly unaccountable to the student body, and thereby more powerful. Members of the Executive Board for next year ran in unopposed elections; the average student is largely unaware and uninterested in the happenings of SGA. Ironically, this gives SGA an unreasonable degree of freedom to govern the lives of students and offers no means of recourse against their actions.

Between finals, graduation, weekend parties and the start of baseball season, it’s easy to see why people might not care about the nuances of student politics. And why should they? Assuming it is conducted as smoothly and fairly as claimed, the process for funding and appeals should be mundane, even downright boring.

But until the information is made public, we have no guarantee that this is the case.

CSO funding is something that affects nearly every facet of student life. Whether involved in club sports, acapella troupes, or activist and charity organizations, every SLU student has a stake in SGA’s funding process, not to mention the money they were required to put into it. When a handful of people control almost $1 million of our money, we owe it to ourselves to at least take a look at how it’s being spent.