Admin Turns to SGA for MiddView Funding

By NICK GARBER and WILL DIGRAVIO

Representatives from the College administration formally asked members of the Student Government Association (SGA) on Jan. 15 to assist in the funding of MiddView orientation trips for three years, beginning in fall 2017.

MiddView trips in their current form — mandatory for all students and free of charge — have existed since fall 2013. The SGA and the College agreed to split the cost for the program’s first three years, with the College assuming full financial responsibility in fall 2016. However, facing unexpected financial challenges in recent months, the College has been forced to turn back to the SGA. As it stands, the College is asking the SGA to contribute $50,000, roughly one-fourth of MiddView’s $204,000 cost for 2017. 

The SGA is not obligated to comply with the College’s request, and may choose to refuse any contribution whatsoever, to fund only a portion of what the College has requested, or to fund only one year.

Speaking to The Campus, three administrators charged with approaching the SGA discussed the causes of the College’s financial predicament, the importance of fully funding MiddView trips and the possible consequences should the SGA decline to do so.

“Some of the unexpected [financial] challenges that the broader institution has faced, including the undergraduate college, means that while we’re certainly financially strong — our endowment points to that — we still need to make certain decisions to ensure that we preserve that endowment,” said Dean of the College Katy Smith Abbott. “That has meant a kind of fiscal belt-tightening, and now a pulling-back for fiscal year 2018, so that non-compensation budgets are being cut by four percent.”

The Administration’s decision to turn to the SGA, Smith Abbott explained, resulted from the “pre-existing collaborative partnership” that already existed between the two groups. “Because that previous partnership had been suggested as a pitch by students to the senior administration, I think that seemed as though it was a fruitful place to begin the conversation,” she said.

Funding MiddView trips in full, they agreed, is crucial to the mission of the program. Derek Doucet, associate dean of students for student activities & orientation, explained that “a single unifying experience that every student goes through at the beginning of college is really valuable, particularly in a time where we’re trying to be more intentional in the way we address issues of equity and inclusion.”

“This is a program where athletes and non-athletes mix, where international students mix with domestic students,” Doucet said. “It’s very intentional in the fact that the groups that we create are drawn from across all different areas of campus. To have that first experience be one that is immediately breaking down some perceived barriers that are often talked about on this campus, I think is really valuable.”

An SGA decision to refuse funding, while not catastrophic, would compromise these strengths. “We’re not saying that if we don’t get this funding from the SGA, MiddView is going to collapse,” Doucet said. “But it would look very different than it has in the past, that’s for sure.”

“We could think about a fee-based program with a very generous financial aid packet built in so that socioeconomic considerations were not a barrier,” he said. “But there are equity and philosophical issues that I have with that particular approach too. So we would have an opportunity, beginning in 2018, to completely rethink how we run the trips program.”

“The way the program is run right now is the most inclusive way we could run it,” agreed Amanda Reinhardt, assistant director of orientation. “In the outdoor education and recreation world, there’s a huge lack of people of color participating in that way, and so what would that mean for students on this campus who maybe don’t already feel welcome here, to have to make that choice: do I opt into this program, or do I not?”

“It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t make a different model inclusive,” Reinhardt said. “There would just be more barriers to participation that we would need to lower. We’d need a lot of help and creativity to figure out how to lower those barriers.”

The SGA will decide whether or not to fund MiddView at their Jan. 22 meeting. According to Interim SGA Finance Committee Chair Peter Dykeman-Bermingham, who delivered a presentation at the Jan. 15 meeting of the SGA, there are several different courses of action that the SGA could take should they decide to fund the program.

“I was looking at [several] options should the Senate decide that they are going to fund it,” he said. “I was very seriously considering student value, of where we put money for impact. Our allocations fund everything from cultural orgs and club sports, to food and service clubs. And I want to make sure that the student body, holistically, gets the most out of their money.”

One option that the SGA has, should the body decide to allocate funds towards MiddView, would be to decrease all spending by five percent, thus resulting in a cut of student organization budgets. Members of the SGA could also choose to tap into the SGA’s reserve fund which, according to Dykeman-Bermingham, is just over $100,000. The SGA reserve fund is used to fund new money requests, as well as any unanticipated expenditures that may occur throughout the year.

“Our reserve has two major functions. One is insurance, so that if something goes wrong we have the funds and capital to put money towards it,” Dykeman-Bermingham said. “The other is to encourage innovation in the student activities realm. If someone comes to the [Finance Committee] with a very good idea that we hadn’t originally budgeted for, that’s the piggy bank we’ll reach into to help promote and bring that to fruition.”

Another course of action that the SGA could take would be to raise the Student Activities Fee (SAF). At present, the SAF is roughly $415 and is used to fund student-sponsored organizations and on-campus activities. It is the responsibility of the SGA Finance Committee and, for larger expenditures, the SGA Senate to distribute this money each year. Students who receive financial aid do not pay the SAF, as it is included as a part of financial aid packages.

The SAF is set by the Board of Trustees and, historically, has been adjusted each year by the consumer price index (CPI). The SGA would need to recommend that the Board of Trustees raise the SAF by $20.40 to cover the entire cost of MiddView. 

Dykeman-Bermingham also presented two integrated solutions to members of the SGA that included raising the SAF, depleting reserves and decreasing SGA spending. 

The first option would be to raise the SAF by the consumer price index (CPI) plus two percent. This would raise the SAF to $430 and generate an additional $36,750 in revenue per year. The SGA would then deplete their reserves by roughly $30,000 over three years and decrease annual spending by 0.3 percent ($3,250). 

The second option would be to raise SAF by the standard CPI plus one percent, deplete reserves by $30,000 over three years and decrease annual SGA spending by 1.3 percent ($13,050). 

According to Dykeman-Bermingham, several one year options are also being considered. While the final decision lies with members of the SGA, Dykeman-Bermingham said that the finance committee will advise the SGA should they seek their counsel. 

A final decision will be made at the Jan. 22 meeting of the SGA. 

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.