Every year, each student contributes $320, amounting to more than $750,000 to fund the Vassar Students Association (VSA) and all of its projects and activities, as well as support over 120 campus organizations. As annual budgeting begins this year, we at The Miscellany News would like to address concerns regarding the accessibility of funds budgeted to an organization, the lack of autonomy in making financial decisions as an organization and overall the autonomy the VSA gives organizations, specifically with regard to the access of their own allocations.
In short, strict VSA oversight leads to organizations having too little autonomy in deciding how to spend their budgets. There should be reforms that will ultimately make it easier for campus groups to directly access their funds.
All Vassar organizations receive some kind of budget from the VSA and should be in charge of how and where that money is spent, as long as it in adherence to College policy. Yet, there are various points where the Vice President of Finance can undermine this control which results in excessive red tape—requiring VP approval for payment forms, controlling who receives purchasing cards, and through the annual budgeting application.
The annual budgeting application is how an organization’s funds for the next year are determined. First, the treasurer of the organization fills out an audit where they list all expenses for the year detailing all purchases, how much they are asking for the following year, and why they should receive that amount in the next year. From there, the organization’s budget is in the hands of the Finance committee to determine how much each group will receive.
With the exception of groups asking for large changes in funds, organizations have little say in how their budgets are determined and the Finance committee has complete control over future budgets.
The VP of Finance also has a large control in the use of purchasing cards, making large purchases, and purchase orders. All reimbursements must be approved by the VP and to make large purchases over a group’s purchasing-card limit (if they are even approved for a p-card), they must use the VSA purchasing-card, essentially giving control to the VP of Finance.
Purchase orders also must be cleared before they can be processed, making it more difficult for an organization to control its own funds.
By dictating how an organization spends its budget, the VSA and the Vice President of Finance essentially undermines an organization’s autonomy. It is problematic that the VSA possesses so much control over organizations’ budgets and, essentially, organizations themselves. Finances dictate how organizations operate day-to-day, so who better to determine how a budget is spent than the organization leaders themselves. That being said, VSA members are the people who evaluate the budgets of Vassar’s many organizations—not the organizations themselves.
The VSA evaluates the budgets of over 125 organizations using a one-size-fits-all template, yet each organization is entirely different. Using the same template to evaluate a variety of groups’ budgets does not make sense.
In order to properly assign an organization its budget, it would require the VSA to fully realize the needs and goals of each campus group, from a capella troupes to political chapters to campus publications. It is the members of organizations who understand a group’s needs better than the VSA would. Organizations have specific goals and the VSA may have different ideas for what those goals may be, but the VSA’s interests will time and time again take precedent over an organization’s. Furthermore, the VSA’s current practice of intense scrutiny and tight control of clubs’ funds create for an inefficient system where campus organizations are left waiting for the VSA’s approval on how to spend their funds instead of dictating for themselves when and how funds are spent.
We suggest there be more organizational input in the Finance process. It should be possible to make large credit card purchases or purchase orders without first checking with the VSA and organizations should have direct control over their funds. We also suggest there be some type of system where groups can write checks from their accounts, which would get rid of purchase orders and make large purchases easier, and allow organizations to maintain better control over their budgets.
All of these systems would free up a lot of the red tape that organization have to go through and would give organizations more autonomy in their spending.
It is worth noting that the VSA’s oversight of organization finances does come with some benefits. The VSA carefully evaluates an organization’s spending and is often careful with allowing big expenditures in order to ensure a group’s financial health. By putting certain safeguards in place, the VSA sees to it that organizations do not make purchases the College cannot pay for. While organizations are allowed to spend more than their allocated budget (the difference comes out of next year’s funds), the VP of Finance makes sure that no organization spends so much that the school cannot cover the fee.
The current system also does take into account your club’s history with the VSA and your past spending, which allows most groups to get an amount that will sufficiently cover their needs.
Overall, the current financial system does well in some areas of the budgeting process, but in giving organizations autonomy over their decisions and control over their money, it makes the process more difficult than it needs to be.
—Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.