JFC proposes important bylaw changes

Student Senate voted on the revisions to the allocation of the student activities fee as part of an effort to clarify the current fiscal process.  (credit: Kate Groschner/Photo Editor) Student Senate voted on the revisions to the allocation of the student activities fee as part of an effort to clarify the current fiscal process. (credit: Kate Groschner/Photo Editor)

Important changes to the Student Body Constitution, Student Government Fiscal Policy, and Joint Funding Committee (JFC) bylaws were passed last Thursday after being approved by both the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) and Student Senate.

The changes clarify many fiscal processes and are meant to increase the transparency of the JFC, which is the student-run organization responsible for allocating student activities fee money to Carnegie Mellon student organizations.

Previously, what was required of the JFC and student body vice president for finance (SBVPF) did not necessarily align with what was written in the bylaws.

Jon Mark, current SBVPF and senior lighting design major, said, “We’re going to do what we’re supposed to do [at fiscal close], but you’d rather it match up with the documents as best as it possibly can.”

Some of the recent changes have been in discussion since last year.

As SBVPF, Mark examined the issues and proposed revisions.

Senior computer science major and executive cabinet constitutional adviser Stephen Tjader then formally wrote the changes in constitutional language.

The executive committee approved the documents and presented them to the GSA and Student Senate, leading to their eventual enactment.

Student Body President and senior economics and statistics and decision science double major Will Weiner said, “I think the biggest thing is open communication between groups, letting them know realistically the way we’re funding things.... One of the things Jon’s done best is working with groups to help them achieve their objectives. [The SBVPF] is there to help groups make sure they’re spending their money well. He’s is not there to tell them exactly what to do, but they’re there as a resource.”

Changes to the student body constitution include giving the SBVPF the ability to place any student government-recognized student organization on financial probation, including organizations that are not funded by JFC.
Currently, non-JFC funded organizations are not evaluated at fiscal close to determine if they are functioning in a fiscally responsible way.

These organizations can then fall into debt, causing them to spend reserve JFC money, even though they do not originally request JFC funding.

Regarding this change, Weiner said, “I think it’s an important move to one, make sure activities fee money is being used only for activities fee purposes, and then two, any time a group is in that level of debt. We should take a look to make sure they’re being managed properly to help them achieve their mission.”

Organizations can be placed on one of two types of probations: supervised probation and controlled probation.

If an organization goes into a debt that is more than 10 percent of its total budget, it is placed on supervised probation.

If an organization has debt greater than 25 percent of its budget, it is put on controlled probation.

Under controlled probation, an organization must have all of its purchases signed off by the SBVPF.

Additionally, the SBVPF meets with organizations on probation approximately once per month.

Organizations placed on probation will retain the ability to appeal probation to either the GSA or Student Senate.

Regarding reactions to this change, Mark said, “I’ve really only heard [a few] reactions. One, is this increasing the powers of the VP of finance? And the answer is yes, it is, because it’s basically saying that I can now put a group that is not funded by the Activities Fee on probation…. I’d rather give the VPF the ability to — before a group gets to a bad point — have more proactive activities and give developmental help.”

Revisions to the student government fiscal policy include the addition of a non-degree-seeking activities fee, which is the portion of the activities fee that is paid by non-degree-seeking students.

There are approximately eight to 10 non-degree-seeking students per year, usually staff or community members taking one or two classes.

These students are eligible to participate in student activities if they pay the activities fee.

The amended student government fiscal policy states that the non-degree-seeking activities fee will go directly into the 90–30 Fund account, which is the collection of JFC funds from the Student Senate and GSA.
Therefore, the non-degree-seeking activities fee will go directly toward funding student organizations.

Additionally, the stipulation that student organizations on controlled probation can only receive 90 percent of their previous year’s subsidy has been removed.

Changes to the Joint Funding Committee bylaws include requiring the JFC to set metrics prior to reviewing budgets.

Specifically, within two weeks after the budget submission deadline, the JFC must approve a list of funding metrics by way of majority vote.

The JFC must adhere to these metrics throughout the budgeting process, unless overruled by a three-fourths majority at a JFC meeting. The metrics will be released to all organizations eligible for JFC funding SBVPF-elect and sophomore statistics major Jalen Poteat said, “At this point, I haven’t heard too much, either positive or negative. I’m not expecting there to be too much negative feedback.”

“I don’t think the organizations know a whole ton about [the changes]…. I’d hope groups are appreciative of attempts at increased transparency,” Weiner said.

Poteat intends to fully implement the changes Mark has made.

“A lot of the things Jon [changed], I want to follow through on and see if they go through well.... First semester, one thing I really want to do is work with [Student Body Vice President of Organizations] Corinne [Rockoff] and reach out to the organizations a little bit more... to see how all the organizations are doing at the beginning.”

Mark similarly stated, “Had I had more time in the fall and wasn’t focused on the activities fee increase so much, I would have spent more time helping groups that were on probation… and provided organizations with even more resources.”