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          SEC cuts 19 percent of Greek life funding; $80,000 in accumulated unused rollover funds discovered

          Nicholas Knoske

          Issue date: 4/9/10 Section: News
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          [Click to enlarge]
          UPB president Brian Browne, SEC chair Alicia Sanchez, COC treasurer Jim Petras, and president Miriam Posner at last Thursday's SEC meeting. After a two-and-a-half hour meeting, SEC representatives voted to reduce Greek life's funding by 19 percent.
          UPB president Brian Browne, SEC chair Alicia Sanchez, COC treasurer Jim Petras, and president Miriam Posner at last Thursday's SEC meeting. After a two-and-a-half hour meeting, SEC representatives voted to reduce Greek life's funding by 19 percent.
          [Click to enlarge]
          After a decidedly contentious debate, the Student Executive Council (SEC) met in the University Program Board office in Thwing last week and voted to cut 19 percent of Greek life's current funding, in order to reallocate it to organizations and events that are either less funded or less exclusive. 

          Student leaders have been meeting for weeks now to discuss the issue with representatives from the Interfraternity Congress (IFC) and the Panhellenic Council (Panhel) but have only recently decided to remove the student activities fee money from Greek funding. A substantial factor in this decision was the recent discovery of just how much extra money Greek life has accumulated over the last twenty years: all totaled about $80,000, a number that shocked all who attended the meeting, including the Greeks who inherited it. The revelation prompted frequent use of the words "significant," "troublesome," "serious," "substantial," "chunk of change," "jealous," "infinity," and "fiscally irresponsible."

          "This number is new to me," UPB president Brian Browne said last Thursday to the Greek representatives. "And I have a feeling it's kind of new to you."

          In fact, much of the information surrounding the issue has been in a state of flux since the funding cuts were first proposed in late February. There were early fears by students in Greek life that all their funding might be cut, leading at least one to create a Facebook group dedicated to fighting the SEC's potential decision. And just as uncertain has been the purpose behind the cuts, which Panhel president Katie Seymour argued was never made clear.

          "First you were taking away all of our money because of the principle of it," she said. "And then it was 20 percent because of these items, and now it's because of the rollover."

          Grace Bell, RHA president, considered the changing motive representative of unstable information presented by Greek representatives.

          "Each week we have additional information, and each week, the information that we're given is wrong," she said. "At what point does the SEC need to stop waiting for the additional information and...hear what you, as the representatives of Greek life, want? What do you recommend we do as a board that will represent our constituents as well as yours? What do you recommend?"

          The divide of interests here lies at the heart of the matter. Not surprisingly, Greek leaders are expected to provide the best possible experiences for the brothers and sisters they represent. When asked what they had planned to do with the unspent rollover money, IFC's vice president of finance Chris Linderwell explained his desire to pursue capital projects.

          "I know that we've been collecting rollover for about 21 years, that we've been kind of keeping a small amount. You know, big things are coming up in the future. Obviously the 175th anniversary is huge," Linderwell said. In 2014, it will be the 175th anniversary of Greek life on Case campus, and IFC/Panhel claim they have saved money toward hosting a massive celebration for it.

          "And the student center," he continued. "It's fiscally irresponsible to not keep that stuff in the back of our head. If anything comes up in the future, we have to have money for that. None of our organizations can operate at zero. That kind makes it tough to do any big projects. Or if anything comes up, we're kind of handcuffed with money."

          This, however, led some SEC members to question the fairness of the funds that Greek life accrues from the student activities fee. The council addressed the issue early in its meetings with IFC/Panhel; it was argued that the student activities fee (SAF), for which each student pays $143.50 a semester, should not be allowed to fund certain exclusive Greek life events (e.g., Greek Week). Moreover, as Browne noted, students who pay the activities fee now may not see all of it utilized if so much of it goes unspent by Greek life, for as many as 20 years, in order to save up for an event in the distant future.

          A number of Greek students refuse to comment on this issue, while others sympathize with both arguments. Ibukun Owoputi, a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, is ambivalent.

          "I think they're planning to use it for Thwing Study Over, and I thought that was a little weird," she said. "If they want to make Thwing Study Over amazing, or something, then go for it. As long as the money's not being wasted. But Greek life is a big part of Case campus, no matter what anyone says. It's something like one-third of the student body, and I think it's reasonable that we receive a large amount of the student activities fee."

          One representative from IFC contended that other, more immediate expenses also existed for Greeks. "We need to set aside some money for capital expenditures," he said. "We have our own printer in the office, we have to take care of it ourselves. If we ever want our own computers, we have to buy those. We also anticipate getting our own office in the future, and we have anticipated having furniture ourselves."

          Whether or not these plans justify $80,000 in unallocated funds is debatable. But Greek life's rollover money has been growing by approximately $2000 each year, and recently has begun to exceed even that. In the past three years, they have seen $23,600 in unused money.

          There were brief breaks throughout the meeting, which were sometimes called "baby huddles" by the SEC members but were more like dispersions. During one such dispersion, Duwain Pinder, current president of USG, was speaking in a low voice to USG president-elect Minh-Tri Nguyen and USG vice president of finance Max Weber in obvious frustration."No more bulls--t," he said. "That's why you guys are here." They were nodding. Bell, was whispering to another girl beside her. "At what point do we stop?" she asked, referring to IFC/Panhel and the rollover money. "At what point do we say 'you don't know what you're talking about, so you don't have the right to have this?'" An attending Greek student left the room in digust. "I'm going to get drunk," he said. Another, also apparently unhappy with the course of the meeting, promised to follow.

          After the Greek life representatives were able to consider a counterproposal, SEC chair Alicia Sanchez gave them roughly ten minutes to convey why their funding should not be cut.

          John Witkowski, IFC president, feared that Greek life would be forced to drop some of its popular events if funding were taken away. "It would be a shame to see any of our programs go away," he said.

          "This stuff doesn't have to go away," Pinder said. "If we cut your allocation, you don't have to cut campus support, because you have a rollover. That's the point. You can have the same amount of quality programs that everybody enjoys, that enhances the entire campus, because you have a rollover."

          "Okay, point taken. We have a rollover," Witkowski said.

          "So don't say that," Pinder said. "Don't threaten that you're going to cut programs. Because you have a rollover."

          "What are we going to do when that rollover goes down to nothing?" Linderwell asked.

          "Then you come back to the SEC!" said Pinder. "That's what every organization does."

          This was echoed by several SEC members, including Miriam Posner. Posner was an early supporter of the proposal, and she clarified last Thursday that the SEC must already meet regularly with its organizations, and that if Greek life ever needs more funding then it can return and argue its case. "That's how SEC works," she said. "It's not like an increase has never happened. It's not this foreign concept."

          Much of the debate circulating around the SEC has seemed negative, despite the fact that the council can give as well as take money. Even when it takes, though, it may be able to initiate necessary reform in the organizations it's scrutinizing. Greek life, according to Witkowski, now plans on incorporating some of its remaining rollover money into its budget. Witkowski also stresses the importance of hosting future events that bring Greek and non-Greek students together - events that are inclusive rather than exclusive - that will enrich the campus.

          Witkowski's plans were well received at the meeting ("I like what I hear," said Pinder) but were not enough to prevent Greek life's 19 percent cut in funds. The proposal to reallocate this money was approved by a vote of more than three-fifths majority, and the cited reasons were inefficiency of monetary use and/or mismanagement of funds, according to Sanchez.

          "I don't know what I'm expecting," she said, commenting on the aftereffects of the vote. "Since we just found out about this rollover, I think it will be a reevaluation of Greek life, kind of looking into budgets a little more in-depth, looking into a plan, and I think that as that gets discussed further, the impact will become more clear. But currently, since there is that large rollover, I don't think it will be an immediate impact for next semester."

          Despite the result of the vote, Witkowski is optimistic. He understands the nature of SEC, which is meant to work as an accountability check for other organizations, and thinks the outcome of its latest decision will be entirely positive.

          "It's not a competition, like one side against the other," he said. "It's about what's best for the student body. The SEC voted for what they think is best for the entire campus community, the entire undergraduate community. I think, in short, that's more or less what happened. The decisions that were made were made with the students in mind."
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