A gavel pounds and the room quiets. After a two-minute presentation, the Student Congress Finance Committee begins to ask questions. Do all your members have to go on the trip? Could you raise dues by $5 per student? What effect will you have on campus?
Methodically, each funding category — travel, lodging, publicity, office supplies — comes under scrutiny. Fifty dollars is cut here, $200 there. Some are left untouched — each a win for the applicant. The committee agrees on an amount, and the applicant sits down. The whole process takes about ten minutes.
But the effects of the decision can last all semester, especially when a club treasurer walks away with nothing, like sophomore Grant King, treasurer for the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, did in January.
“There are people relying on you, and they’re going to have to make some serious sacrifices,” King said.
In spring 2014, Student Congress considered requests from 70 student groups, awarding a total of $151,640, according to its online database. More than $217,000 was requested.
Twenty-two groups received all their requested money, while 15 got less than half. Small groups were hit especially hard, with applications for groups of 25 or fewer students receiving only 58 percent of their requested money.
Senior Kamaira Philips has gone through the process three times on behalf of Mind, Body, Spirit Connection, a group that teaches students meditation and other methods of stress relief, but she had a much harder time this year than previously.
Philips was awarded more than $4,400 in January to publicize her organization, hire speakers and bring members to a meditation retreat in Mebane. Her club wasn’t able to make the trip, and she planned to use the money to go to the retreat this fall. When she learned the funds wouldn’t roll over to the fall, she asked for about the same amount in August, but encountered a very different atmosphere.
“Let’s just say there was never a gavel before. That was intense,” she said. “This time, my heart was racing, and I was really nervous. They cut me down on things that I didn’t think they were going to cut me down on.”
Philips’ $4,373 request was cut to $2,222, and committee members suggested sending only 10 members to the conference and having them teach their friends.
Philips was able to appeal the cut to the full body Student Congress meeting Tuesday, and Congress restored the amount of money for the retreat.
Title V, the financial section of the Student Code of Governance, includes strict rules about how much student government can give for travel, lodging and publicity. Many groups ask for money to cover plane tickets only to find that they’ll be reimbursed just 14 cents per mile traveled.
Groups often see money for food cut, which Title V mandates except for food-based groups, said Joshua Aristy, the committee’s chairman.
This week Aristy permitted Honor System Outreach, a branch of student government, to use money for food at its events, a decision that was debated in the full body meeting but ultimately approved.
Both King and Philips thought that though the process can be difficult, it would be worse if it were run by administrators.
“I feel like pretty much everybody gets an opportunity to get to know some of the student government members,” King said.
Aristy advised to always prepare for the worst case.
“You’re not going to get all the money you want,” he said.