VSA budget vote triggers protest for clearer org funding

Image courtesy of VSA.

Every year, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) votes on a new budget proposal for the following school year and the incoming student government. However, at this year’s vote, many student organizations including the Native American Indigenous Student Association (NAISA) and To Be Determined (TBD), a trans support group, had their budgets reduced to $0. Other orgs, like the Working Student Coalition (WSC), also faced cuts to their budgets. A petition swirled on social media networks and eventually led to statements of resolution from both the VSA and WSC.

VSA Senator for the Class of 2025 Charlie From said the process is mainly to blame. “They bring up the budget, give people like 30 seconds to look through it, and they call for an objection vote,” From said in a written statement, adding that if there are no objections, the bill is passed. From was the only person who voiced an objection to the bill in the Spring 2023 Senate meeting. 

They added, “First, the Senate didn’t have time to actually understand the budget.” From said their attempted objection was ignored and stricken from the meeting minutes because their new Senate position did not begin until the Spring, so they did not have a vote.

According to the incoming VSA President Olivia Gross ’24, these processes are in place for a reason. She remarked, “Since the VSA holds such a large responsibility in the dispersal of almost $1 million of funds per year to student orgs, we need to stick to our rules to ensure we are handling the process fairly and efficiently. The process, in short, includes receiving an application for a budget from each org, and then we will assess their request with what they received the year prior, how they used that money, and what they are planning on using their funds for in the following year.”

Incoming VSA Vice President Emily Doucet ’25 also noted that if student orgs don’t communicate with VSA Finance, then there’s no way to ensure the money is being used to benefit students. She said, “When you defund an organization you stop them from being able to receive funds period, and that simply is not what happened here and any statement suggesting the contrary is just incorrect.”

From shared, “The org budgeting process works differently depending on what org you represent. The orgs at the bottom—the WSC, TBD, and so many others—have to go through hoops for everything they do while skiing, climbing, equestrian and many others appear to be funded and refunded to the max no matter what they do or their campus impact.”

The petition alleges that despite the reasoning that many orgs didn’t turn in a budget proposal, resulting in their budgets being cut from Annual Budgeting, “What orgs are defunded are chosen selectively by the deeply inaccessible Annual Budgeting Committee. Some orgs, such as Glassar, the stained glass org, didn’t turn in a budget proposal and got more than they spent last year ($375 to $650). Others, such as Beauty and the Beats or Grey Matters, didn’t turn in a budget proposal and got the same or similar budget as last year. So why are NAISA and TBD the orgs that take the fall?”

In a written statement to The Miscellany News, last year’s VSA President Julián Aguilar ’23 and Vice President Joe Mangan ’23 disputed several of the claims made by the WSC in the petition and online. Notably, they said the orgs in question simply neglected to provide documentation as necessitated. They explained: “To get a beginning balance, an organization must demonstrate that it is active—that is uses money, needs money, and knows how to manage money.”

According to the statement, the orgs in question, including NAISA and TBD, never submitted the required documentation, and hence did not receive funding. “The VSA was not made aware of any upcoming leadership. No budget application was submitted by the outgoing leadership. These organizations had not updated their balance sheets, logged or spent any funds, or reserved any rooms via EMS in the past year,” they elaborated. They added, “So long as these organizations remain certified, the VSA will always provide access to funding, as we do for all certified organizations. Each organization’s beginning balance is but a tiny part of the overall funding picture: what WSC’s posts and petition notably failed to mention are the $150,000 in Special Purpose Funds that all organizations are able to access, at any time and on an as-needed basis, to support their activities.”

Simon Lewis ’25, a VSA Senator last year, said that his main concern was whether NAISA would be defunded. Lewis said, “Even if NAISA lacks current leadership, it’s important for the VSA to continue to fund them for two reasons. First, so that if students do show up, those resources are immediately available to them, and second, to show Vassar that we expect there to be indigenous students at Vassar and are ready to support from the student government side of things.”

Doucet has stressed communication during her first few weeks as Vice President of the VSA, saying, “One of our biggest goals to ensure that this confusion won’t happen again is to make the allocations process very clear at treasurer training in the Fall Leadership Conference.”

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