Paternalism and the Student Association

How new budget allocations hurt student orgs

GW Musket | Anonymous Student | April 20, 2016

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This has not been a banner year for the Student Association at GW, and in particular for the Finance Committee. With charges of racism earlier in the year involving the South Asian Heritage Celebration, the Action Bronson debacle (an event which the SA co-sponsors every year along with Programming Board), and now controversy over the FY2017 budget allocation, confidence is justifiably low in the organization that is supposed to be representing and advocating for GW students.

For the upcoming fiscal year, the SA Finance Committee has changed its policy for allocating the over $1 million that they are given to distribute to student organizations. Under the new policy, less money has been awarded directly to the organizations. In its place, more money will be made available down the line in the form of co-sponsorships given through the SA.

“The bottom line is that these new budgetary policies are harmful to student organizations and that the committee has come across as demeaningly paternalistic in their dealings with these organizations and their leaders.”

First off, let me say that I do not envy the job of the SA Finance Committee. There is no way that they can please everybody with their budget allocations, and it is completely understandable that not every organization can get all of the money that they request given the limited resources available. On top of this, the committee has done an excellent job keeping student orgs informed about the changes to budget processes and has explained how they evaluate each and every proposal, line item by line item.

As the leader of a student org with a substantial budget, I sat through meetings that adequately prepared me for the task of submitting a budget to them, and I was not surprised when my org was awarded less than what we had asked for. However, simply explaining their policies does not get the SA off the hook. The bottom line is that these new budgetary policies are harmful to student organizations and that the committee has come across as demeaningly paternalistic in their dealings with these organizations and their leaders.

“If the Finance Committee really wants to be an asset to GW students, they should alter their allocations procedures to empower student organizations and not themselves.”

How do the new policies hurt student orgs? Obviously, being awarded less money is a burden, and the SA knows this. But they counter by saying that the money is available down the line once organizations have specific requests to present to them regarding co-sponsorships. However, these co-sponsorships are not a guarantee for any organization. Without knowing for certain what is in their budget for a specific event, organizations are incredibly limited in their planning capacity. They cannot negotiate with guest speakers, food providers, venues or any other services they might require with any sort of leverage as they will need to request further funding to make the event a reality.

Add to this the fact that the Finance Committee is determining funding to give based on the “essentialness” of an event to an organization’s identity, and you can see how student orgs, in particular multi-cultural student orgs, would feel belittled. After all, it is the organizations themselves, and not the SA, who form their own identities. Furthermore, with the limits on student org funding, and the SA Finance Committee having the power to decide which events should constitute how it forms its identity, there is little incentive for organizations to innovate and create new events or to expand their horizons.

So, all of this being the case, why would the Finance Committee change their budget allocations procedures? In a recent interview with The Hatchet, the chair of the Finance Committee, Paden Gallagher, justified this change saying that organizations will have a clearer picture of their needs as events get closer, and this is true. But it also further increases the power that the SA has over these student orgs. Through not giving organizations money that they’re entitled to in the first place by withholding over $300,000 meant for student organizations, they create an environment where they become a grand benefactor down the line.

Here to save the day, the SA gives out money that could have, and should have, been awarded in the first place through their own co-sponsorships. Sure, these co-sponsorships offer money to the orgs, but they also allow the SA to create a façade that they are actively engaged in student life, when in reality they are merely acting as a financial middle man for the University bureaucracy. Put simply, it helps their brand.

Apparently, this brand is more important to the SA than actually being a resource for the student organizations that they are supposed to be helping. If the Finance Committee really wants to be an asset to GW students, they should alter their allocations procedures to empower student organizations and not themselves.


This is a guest article from a GW student who wished to remain anonymous. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of The Rival at GW, The Rival network, or any of its affiliates.