As ASI tackles $700,000 reserve, senate should reflect on its efficiency

The Associated Students, Inc. senate meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 31 in the University Student Union. (Hayley Salazar/The Collegian)

The Associated Students Inc. announced last week that it was finding ways to dip into a $700,000 reserve of unused student fees and put it toward, well, students.

It has been a topic of discussion at each ASI meeting since President Blake Zante first mentioned the large sum at the Nov. 29 ASI meeting last semester.

We view the growth of the ASI reserves to the incredible total of $700,000 to be a misguided conservation of student fees. More importantly, we view the slowpoke attitude of certain ASI senators to remedy this situation to be unwise.

The ASI reserve funds fall into three categories: Working Capital or Current Operations reserve; Capital Replacement reserve; and Planned Future Operations reserve.

The different reserves serve various functions, including paying employees or funding basic daily operations. Each reserve requires a minimum balance to be maintained for emergencies, while the excess is either spent or rolled over each year, according to information given to The Collegian.

The funds have accumulated over a period of about 10 years, according to information The Collegian gathered through interviews with Zante and ASI Vice President of Finance Cam Patterson.

Many of the students who have paid into that reserve may no longer be studying at this university. But the wait to see the fruits of these unused student fees seems to be over for at least the current students.

Zante has proposed a $5,000 donation to the Student Cupboard. Other executive members of ASI have announced their own plans of giving back to students.

During the Jan. 31 ASI meeting, the senate approved the first two projects to use funds from the massive reserve. One is ASI Vice President of External Affairs Demi Wack’s proposal to install benches in the Peace Garden on campus. The other is the ASI Impact Grant – a way for students and departments on campus to apply for funds that will be awarded to projects that promise to make a direct impact on campus life.

With the benches costing $20,000 (the administration is providing the rest of the amount) and the grant program amounting to $85,000, the passage of these two projects comes to a total of $105,000 out of the ASI reserves. The money will come out of the Planned Futures Operations Reserve.

It is admirable that the current ASI executive board has decided that now is the right time to take a serious look at distributing those funds for needed, or at least desired, student services.

We acknowledge that these funds came from students’ pockets or financial aid in the first place – and that they were meant to be spent accordingly as they came in. Students of semesters past were promised that their student fees would be used for their learning and educational benefits. Yet for many years, it appears ASI executives have neglected to put these funds to good use and so the reserve grew to what it is today.

The current ASI executive team appears to have taken the initiative in discussing and bringing spending ideas to the table. But what about our student senators – those who were voted to provide direct representation to different student groups and colleges?

As reported by The Collegian, there have been numerous occasions when ASI executives set the groundwork to finding ways to spend these monies.

It appears that weeks – or months – of research and requests for input turned into longer waits after polished proposals to the senate by ASI’s executive board were routinely postponed to later meetings.

Of course $700,000 is not simply throw-away money. That is a mighty large amount of cash. And with good reason, much debate and planning is being held over how it is to be used.

But it may be that what has caused this reserve to grow over time is partly due to the way senators handle proposals from the executive team.

As our reporting staff has observed, the most common reasons senators give to postpone a vote is that they have questions, they want to speak with their constituents or they would like time to go over the information.

The senators have every right to request clarification on policy or government items. Clarification in and of itself is not unreasonable.

But there have been numerous occasions where the executive team has called for input on spending funds and the proposal was still an information item, far from a vote.

On the day of a vote, a discussion is often held, or there is a request for further documentation or for details to be changed. Then the proposals are put off for another two weeks.

The ASI budget, for example, was postponed from the Jan . 17 meeting after senator-at-large Casandra Ramirez-Sanchez questioned a single line out of the extensive budget. Ramirez-Sanchez did not wish to voice her concerns during the discussion, but instead moved to postpone the vote until she could meet one-on-one with the vice president of finance.

The budget was passed two weeks later.

At what point does it become the responsibility of the senators to use their time before crucial votes to seek out critical information?

To illustrate, Zante has mentioned the large ASI reserve and has asked for input relating to use of funds during the past three meetings – a period of three months.

A handful of senators voiced their concerns and questions during the scheduled vote for approval of the ASI Impact Grant. That had been outlined in detail during the two previous meetings.

Despite being given the dollar amounts of the grant during the previous meeting, Sen. Travis Childress, Greek affairs, made a motion to decrease the total cost of the project, saying that using the proposed amount of funds now could take away from future proposals that could arise during the semester.

“I think this project is fantastic,” Childress said. “I don’t know if it’s $85,000 fantastic.”

That’s fair.

But comments like these reflect poor timing and typically result in important proposals being postponed – repeatedly.

Childress could have expressed this sentiment at any previous meeting or used the two weeks between meetings to sit down with an ASI executive.

Not only are senators given ample information and briefed about upcoming action items weeks in advance, but they also have direct access to their executive team.

In fact there is not one, but two committees related to executive functions of ASI that are accessible to senators in between regularly scheduled ASI meetings.

This includes an Executive Committee, which meets every Friday at 3 p.m. and a Finance Committee that meets every other Wednesday at 4 p.m. (Editor’s note: A previous version of this article said the meeting was at 6 p.m.)

In a statement to The Collegian, Zante said that although senators do share feedback before voting, those open meetings continue to be an underutilized resource that could promote a more efficient student government.

“I really wish some of the senators who have so many questions or try to change up the proposals during the middle of the meeting came to the executive meetings,” Zante wrote, “So they can understand the reasoning behind what we are putting forward. I also want their ideas and proposals.”

Given the repeated request for input from the ASI executive board, there are very few excuses that justify senators arriving to a meeting unprepared to make decisions on important issues.

As students, we are expected to show up for class with our homework complete on the day it is due. No extensions, no postponements. Perhaps, our elected student representatives should be held to the same standards.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of Collegian editors. Collegian reporter Angelica Hernandez contributed with information.

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