Due to limitations resulting from COVID-19 and decreased student enrollment, Furman University’s Student Government Association (SGA) worked diligently to re-evaluate its 2020-2021 school year budget. SGA’s budget is a byproduct of the $190 SGA fee, which every Furman student, regardless of remote, commuter, or on-campus status was still required to pay this semester. This fall, the total budget is $406,000. In this piece, we break down the SGA budget and explore how student funds are being spent this year relative to previous years.
Only certain organizations receive funding from SGA. They can be broken down into two categories: SGA-sponsored organizations and at-large organizations.
SGA Executive Treasurer Sarah Margaret Corley explained that every SGA-recognized student organization had the opportunity to submit a budget request for the 2020-2021 academic year. However, due to COVID-19 limitations, many of these organizations experienced budget reductions from the previous year. In particular, Corley said that “organizations which regularly use their budgets for conferences and other large events,” saw “budget decreases correlated with the inability to attend or host those events.” In some cases, organizations experienced reductions of up to 88% of their budget from the previous year.
Unlike other student organizations, at-large organizations are not required to submit budget proposals to SGA, although they receive the large majority of the SGA budget. According to SGA Executive President Griffin Mills, “at-large organizations” are allocated annual budgets in the SGA Bylaws. These organizations include Furman University Student Activity Board (FUSAB), Club Sports, Religious Council (RC), Student Diversity Council (SDC), Residential Life Council (RLC), and Campus Recreation. Mills noted these have been at-large organizations for several decades, with the addition of SDC in 2013.
At-large organizations are “chosen based on their respective influence and ‘reach’ to the student body,” Mills shared. To evaluate at-large organizations’ budgets, the SGA Council and the at-large organizations meet every Spring to discuss the previous year’s spending and goals for the future. The SGA Bylaws indicate these organizations are granted “significant autonomy” in their budget use.
According to Article 3 of the SGA Bylaws, every at-large organization except for club sports has a voting representative in SGA. SGA Bylaws indicate that voting representatives are not elected by the student body but are granted voting power for their “broad application to student life, diverse significance, application to current student interest, and common interest with SGA’s Mission, Values, and Vision Statement.” Per the SGA Bylaws, up to two of these representatives can serve on SGA committees. According to Mills, the Finance Committee annually audits the at-large organizations. The SGA Bylaws also indicate that the Finance Committee is composed of the SGA Treasurer, the Class Treasurers and up to two at-large student organization representatives. In short, unelected members of at-large organizations may hold positions in SGA that influence the auditing process of their own organizations.
At-large organizations are “intended to best reflect a holistic view of the student experience,” Mills stated. For example, FUSAB's central purpose is programming for the entire student body. RLC serves as an advocacy group for the Furman residence life experience. The other at-large organizations are governing councils that fund student groups. SDC, for example, serves as the central group focused on student identity and diversity through its efforts to enhance the multicultural student experience. Religious Council President Rachel Moss explained, “At-large organizations that serve as governing councils over smaller organizations performed similar budget cuts to their respective student groups.”
At-large organizations, including SGA itself, receive their funding from every Furman student’s $380 annual SGA fee. SGA Bylaws outline the following budget allocations: SGA Council 37%, FUSAB 34.5%, Club Sports 8%, Religious Council 8%, Student Diversity Council 8%, Residential Life Council 2.5%, and Campus Recreation 2%.
The budget changes from the Fall 2019 to Fall 2020 terms are displayed below:
At large organizations received budget cuts in accordance with their ability to perform despite the restrictions resulting from COVID-19. RLC’s Bylaws, for example, indicate the organization’s desire to “provide and administer activities that build residential communities.” Due to COVID-19 regulations, RLC could not fully execute its mission. This is reflected in RLC’s 56% budget cut. Similarly, FUSAB’s Bylaws state it operates “to serve the students by planning, coordinating, and executing social activities for the Furman student body.” COVID-19 regulations also impacted FUSAB, which is reflected in its 15% budget cut.
As always, budgets are—to an extent—a reflection of values. Additionally, this year’s budget is a reflection of the challenging circumstances that student organizations find themselves in as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In sum, SGA made difficult cuts to adapt its budget to an unprecedented semester. Now, hundreds of thousands of dollars are in the hands of student organizations, and it is up to those organizations to use them well and to the benefit of the student body.