Just three weeks into the school year, the Student Federation is now operating with an unexpected, large surplus of funds worth more than $40,000, in addition to its regular budget.
Over the summer, administrators reviewing the Student Fed account discovered extra funds, the result of an emergency fund that was left untouched for several years. Each semester, the federation stored $5,000 in an emergency fund, which totaled about $41,000. That emergency fund, according to Student Federation President James Millius, would ideally only hold between $10,000 and $15,000 dollars at any given time. The surplus added about $31,000 of usable, discretionary funds to Student Fed’s budget for this school year, as $10,000 had to remain in the emergency fund. This is in addition to the $15,607 that was already budgeted for discretionary funds each semester, bringing the total amount of money available for dispensation to clubs and student groups throughout the year to more than $62,000, twice the typical amount the federation can spend each school year. The money that constitutes Student Fed’s budget comes from student fees.
“Functionally, we have about $31,000 that can be put toward discretionary funds over the next several semesters as we see fit,” Millius said at the beginning of the Federation’s Sept. 12 meeting. “A recommendation was made by Dean of Women Diane Philipp, to — as a show of good faith to the college’s publications — consider reinstating some of the funding that we did not give them.”
In its meeting last Thursday, the federation opposed that recommendation when it failed to pass a motion transferring $5,000 to the Tower Light budget. This motion would have repaired the publication’s downsized budget that the Federation approved last spring.
When conducting the annual budget approval last spring, the federation’s publications committee raised concerns about the $11,000 allotted annually to the Tower Light, Hillsdale’s student-run literary journal. According to Maria Servold, faculty adviser to student publications, Tower Light’s budget has been the same for at least eight years and has often been challenged, but never changed, by previous Federation members
Even though the reduced Tower Light budget was approved in April, Servold said the discovery of the large surplus changes the conversation about the federation’s funding this year.
“The fact that they’ve uncovered an extra $31,000 and still refuse to give the Tower Light any of it shows that they are not driven by a desire to support student organizations — as is their mission — but by some sort of misguided ‘principle,’” she said. “Rather than using a surplus to help make a publication better, they’d rather cling to those pennies to make a point.”
The federation publications committee conducted an informal poll last spring to get a sense of the Tower Light’s readership among students, and found that only 12% of those surveyed reported reading the journal, with a margin of error of 4%. Servold and Tower Light Editor-in-Chief Mary Kate Boyle dispute this figure, as they contend that the poll was unscientific and no one involved in the Tower Light was consulted in creating the poll.
Based on this figure, the publications committee concluded that the printing cost of $6 to $7 a piece for the Tower Light was unnecessary, and that it should be printed in-house for less than half the cost. The new budget would contain allotments for a new website and stipends for the editorial board, but the Tower Light would have to increase outreach and its presence on campus. Based on this recommendation, the federation finance committee cut the Tower Light’s budget by $5,000.
Servold and Boyle maintain that the printing cost is justified, as in-house printing cannot give the journal the look expected of academic literary publications. These kinds of journals usually have a glue binding and high-quality paper, while in-house printing could provide only a stapled binding and fewer options of paper stock.
“Basically everyone at the college in a position of authority says we shouldn’t print that way because it won’t look professional, and it’s important for us to represent the college well,” Boyle said.
“Spending less money on a product does not automatically make it a better product,” she said.
The motion to reinstate the Tower Light’s budget was an unorthodox situation, first in that it involved amending a budget that had been approved in the spring, and second in that it did not proceed through normal committee channels.
Despite its irregularity, Millius assured the body that it was within the rules and that an exception was made in this case because of the approaching deadlines for the fall edition of the Tower Light.
Representatives Matthew Montgomery and Braden VanDyke, chairman of the Publications Committee, spoke against the motion.
“If we truly have an interest in the student body in mind, we should allocate these extra fees to clubs and organizations, rather than extend an olive branch to a group that feels it was maligned by a right decision by the Publications Committee,” Montgomery said during the meeting.
VanDyke outlined several reasons as to why he felt the motion should not pass, including that, to him, the differences in printing quality were “negligible and imperceptible to the naked eye and the average reader,” and that the Tower Light had not yet tried to operate under the new budget.
“We crafted and passed the budget last semester on principle,” VanDyke said. “It is our job as representatives on the Student Federation to judge the best use of a dollar and to represent everyone’s dollars and interests.”
There were no statements in support of the motion, and it was struck down in an 11 – 2 vote with VanDyke abstaining.
According to Boyle and Servold, no one from the Tower Light was made aware that the vote was on the agenda, and therefore, they were not able to speak in support of the motion.
“This is a really frustrating position to be in because I am here to make this a quality publication,” Boyle said. “I am trying to make it better than it has been before, while also having half my budget taken away.”
Boyle has already made efforts to follow the federation’s instructions to increase campus engagement with the Tower Light, which has resulted in increased submissions.
“Basically, we’ve held up our end of the bargain,” Boyle said. “We’ve done everything we can to improve our outreach and publicity, and when that measure came before Student Fed again, we didn’t know it was happening.”
The Sept. 12 meeting concluded with a request by Chi Omega representative Katie Ryerson that each member be provided with a detailed account of federation finances, a motion that can only be made by the treasurer and is limited as to how much the representatives can see. It was the start of what will be an ongoing discussion about what can be done with the $31,000 surplus, which, as of yet, has not been touched.