The DCGA budget: we need choices going forward

By Curtis Edmonds

Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

April isn’t the cruelest month for nothing. Two weeks ago, the DCGA released the results of budget requests from hundreds of student organizations. Nearly all of those organizations received a round of cuts, leaving many students dismayed and uncertain about where their organizations will stand in the 2015-16 school year.

This year’s budget crisis makes it crystal clear exactly where our student activities budget is: between a rock and a hard place. After over-allocating money for several years due to a persistent culture of under spending from student orgs, the math and the money have stopped working out.

Typically, the over allocations were fine because the budget could be supplemented by the reserve fund; but thanks to using a combined $200,000 of it on The Nest and a space for La Fuerza Latina (two worthy causes) the reserve fund isn’t an option right now. Last year, DCGA gave over $1 million to campus organizations; this year, they gave just $846,000.

It’s no surprise that some hard choices and tough cuts had to be made.

As a former editor-in-chief of The Denisonian, I was disappointed to see our budget cut from a reasonably healthy $24,000 in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years to a paltry $16,000 for next school year. DCGA agreed to fund The Denisonian for essential computer and camera repairs, but slashed our printing budget by $6,000.

It is a little ironic, as Dan Fiorentini ‘15 pointed out in The Bullsheet last week, that while student publications take a hit, DCGA has decided to continue funding subscriptions to national newspapers like The New York Times and USA Today, spending over $7,000 on news sources that students are already reading on their phones and iPads.

Should we continue to fund over 5,000 copies of The New York Times or make necessary investments in student development and readership with our own publications?

That, of course, is a false choice. We can have both or neither.  My proposal is simple: to fix this mess, we can raise the student activity fee by $25, which would bring in over $50,000 in new revenue; we can also place more expectations on the university to help fund some activities.

These proposals are not new, but their rearticulation is important.

After meeting with DCGA president Meghan Pearce ’16 last week, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to be applying pressure on Denison to fund more student activities. Pearce explained to me that club sports received $200,000 of the overall budget alone.

Should club sports really take up a fourth of student activity fees, or should the onus be on Denison to subsidize some of the costs, such as employing part-time coaches? DCGA, according to Pearce, has been in communication with the athletics department about funding some of those costs, but it remains to be seen whether or not that will change.

A $50,000 drop in the budget would certainly help fix the budgeting woes for at least some organizations, like the student-run Sociology/Anthropology Forum (see page 4’s letter to the editor). While any sort of increase in cost of attendance is sure to be unpopular amongst students, it is certainly necessary. What is unpopular and unwise is to keep the student activity fee the same year after year, and not expect the needs of student orgs to rise with inflation. Additionally, with the cost of attendance rising each year, what’s another $25 per student? The fact of the matter is increasing student activity fees won’t make or break a student’s ability to afford Denison; what’s breaking student and family finances is that Denison costed $54,000 to go here in 2011 and now costs nearly $60,000.

The liberal in me says if we want more, we have to pay for it — but I also  agree that we cannot tax and spend our way out of everything. DCGA should practice fiscal constraint, but that constraint should not place some of our most valuable campus organizations on the brink of inoperability.

At this point, the DCGA cannot very well go back to the clay target shooting club and tell them, “Sorry, we are going to take the $850 you requested for shotgun shells and use that money for something else.” But we can and should expect a forward-looking response that details how Denison students can expect their student activities dollars to be spent in the future, and a long-term vision that helps fill the funding gap.

I also hope that this fiasco will push students to demand more information about the university’s financial portfolio. Remember, while we may be disappointed in how the DCGA budgeting process turned out, at least their documents are public, accessible and open to dissection; this is more than I can say for the college, which keeps its budget and endowment under lock and key.