Funding sparks internal conflict within RUSA
Although Rutgers University Student Assembly President Yousef Saleh commended the assembly's unity during his State of the Assembly address, an internal schism over the distribution of funding created a division among members.
Members of RUSA voiced their frustration and issues Thursday night with the RUSA Allocations Board, with many saying they are angered by their role in the selection process for special event funding.
RUSA President Yousef Saleh said the tone of the meeting flattened with members displaying their anger, having to repeatedly take control and at one point yell at a member for "being rude."
"There was a very confrontational tone between RUSA and RUSA Allocations," said Saleh, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "We give them our stamp of approval at the end of every year, and we say that these people will make the right decisions regarding these events."
RUSA Allocations provides money to certain student organizations every year for special events, basing it on educational and social benefits, Saleh said.
But Anthony Esposito, an off-campus representative for RUSA, said the only role RUSA members have is to give their approval after the selection process is finished, which he finds problematic.
"The thing is we don't have any reason to approve these groups," said Esposito, a School of Engineering senior. "We don't have any solid criteria to look at to know we should approve the group over the other ones you denied."
RUSA Allocations Vice Chairperson Zain Ahmad said although nine out of the 12 student organizations who applied for spring semester funding were denied, they are able to return at a later date to obtain the help they need for the event.
"It's not like we are denying them the possibility of hosting that event," said Ahmad, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. "Due to the limit for special event money, we have limited resources, and we can't fund all the student organizations."
An issue coming up repeatedly dealt with the integrity of the selection of Allocations Board members, with many RUSA members unaware about how they obtain their positions.
Both outgoing members of the Allocations Board and advisers select members, said RUSA Faculty Adviser Kerri Wilson. Members are not allowed to partake in any decision dealing with a group they are affiliated with.
"It is selected to keep the political piece out of funding for student organizations," said Wilson, a past Allocations adviser. "We are very careful to make sure that the representatives on the board who may have an affiliation with a student organization remove themselves."
Ahmad reassured RUSA members on this policy noting that he took no part in the Allocations Board's decision in spring to fund the Pakistani Student Association, a group he belongs to.
"By law, we are required to be viewpoint neutral when we are using public funds," he said. "In the event that any kind of question comes up about a student organization I am part of in the Allocations Board, I step out."
Saleh also said the Allocations Board and its members are approved by RUSA every year, and the RUSA treasurer continually checks on its work to see if anything wrong takes place.
Another issue RUSA members voiced during the meeting dealt with the selection process for special event funding, which Internal Affairs Chair John Aspray said is the source for most of the anger from his colleagues.
"A lot of the criticism is coming from a distrust in the funding and selection process and the lack of democratic oversight," said Aspray, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "It's not about the Allocations Board but a distrust in the process, which we should open up to discussion."
There are certain requirements a student group needs to meet in order to apply for special event funding, such as an estimated attendance of more than 250 people and at least five co-sponsorships from other student organization, Ahmad said.
If the group meets these two requirements, they qualify for funding from RUSA Allocations, who will then use an unbiased perspective to select four who will receive funds, he said.
"We look at the mission of the student organization, and we look at the special event program they are trying to do," Ahmad said. "We determine which ones will benefit the most for students as well as contribute to the intellectual growth of the University."
With a $90,000 budget for special event funding, Ahmad said the Allocations Board chose to disperse $50,000 during the fall semester and $40,000 for the spring.
Although the amount of funding for a student organization varied in the past, a limit of $10,000 for each of the four groups was set to make things fair in the funding process.
"That was the number that we came up with," he said. "So we thought it would be enough to at least cover room rental, food and the necessities of a program that you need."
But many members said this selection process happens behind closed doors and feel they do not have any influence in the final outcome. Saleh said the reason it is held in this manner is because of a cap sheet used and entrusted to the Allocations Board.
"If someone from the public sees the cap sheet, which is the maximum amount a certain line item can be funded, they can put it towards another groups advantage," he said.
RUSA members have the opportunity to see presentations by student groups applying for special event funding, Saleh said.
"People are allowed to come in and view how student organizations present to us," Ahmad said. "The only part that is actually closed to the public is when we are deciding how much funding they get."
RUSA members said although these meetings take place every two weeks, they were unaware because a lack of advertising. But Ahmad said this was far from the truth.
"We have Daily Targum ads, we advertise on Facebook and it even went out on the student Listserv multiple times and was listed on our website as well," he said. "So I don't know how much more we can [advertise]."
After more than 40 minutes of debate, Ahmad reminded the members of RUSA that if they are able to learn about the process of RUSA Allocations if they desire to.
"You have the opportunity to learn how RUSA allocations works," he said. "It is outlined in our guidelines and your constitution."
Although certain members chose to display their displeasure with the Allocations Board at Thursday's meeting, others proposed solutions to the problem.
Ross Kleiman, an Engineering Governing Council representative, said a source of the problem is an opaque view of the groups who are seeking special event funding, suggesting a PowerPoint presentation to show members the details of each group.
"It would be beneficial for everybody to see what these organizations are about and what we are actually funding," he said. "I think it is important for us to see what we are voting on."
When RUSA debated on special event funding earlier this semester, there were few questions about the RUSA Allocations process, said Morgan Sills, RUSA public relations committee member. After the meeting's debate, she felt it could have benefits to use the same method to debate the next time special event funding comes up.
"Maybe this should be the process we use every time a special event comes around," said Sills, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. "Because there are many more questions coming up now than at the beginning of the semester."