ASA returns UBG’s funding to pre-pandemic amount

The Augustana Student Association restored the Union Board of Governors’ annual budget allocation to 35% of ASA’s total annual allocation after decreasing their budget during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senators unanimously voted to restore the funding at the Feb. 19 ASA meeting. The amendment to ASA’s by-laws increased UBG’s budget for each semester from 25% or $43,750 – whichever was the lower amount – of ASA’s total annual allocation to 35% or $61,250 under the same stipulations.

ASA treasurer Cal Irvine said the restored budget will go into effect this spring semester. 

According to ASA President Sara Alhasnawi, current UBG head governors Zoë Shriner and Carissa Cunningham approached ASA at the last meeting of the 2022 spring semester about restoring the funding, but the Senate ran out of time to make a decision on the budget restoration or hold an extended conversation on the potential impact of returning to the initial 35%. 

“I would say ASA does take a lot of the blame, for lack of a better word, for it being such a delayed decision when we had promised to return it to 35% after the COVID year was over,” Alhasnawi said. 

After operating under the new budget throughout 2021-2022, Shriner said that despite lower attendance numbers, students communicated a desire for new and different acts, which UBG did not have the budget for. 

“While we didn’t have issues with having enough supplies or having enough food for all the people that were coming, we were having issues with not necessarily being able to bring in bigger acts,” Shriner said. 

According to senator Vedant Thakkar, Alhasnawi and Shriner, official discussions between ASA and UBG regarding the budget restoration started up again at the start of the fall 2022 semester, when the ASA president, treasurer and a finance committee member met with the UBG head governors and their adviser Michelle Harvey to start the decision-making process.

“We sat down and decided to make a decision on this and stop delaying the issue because it was definitely something crucial, and it was impacting students in their ability to participate in UBG events,” Alhasnawi said. 

After the meeting, Thakkar said representatives from ASA planned to examine the financial feasibility of increasing UBG’s budget to 35% in the following weeks. The issue came up again during J-term through ASA’s governing documents task force. 

The budget decrease

According to Alhasnawi, who was ASA secretary in the 2021-2022 academic year, ASA had a decreased budget from 2021-2022 because of lower student enrollment numbers resulting in decreased student activities fees. 

Alhasnawi also said UBG had a large surplus of funds at the end of the spring 2021 semester, as it hosted fewer events because of the pandemic. 

According to previous reporting by the Augustana Mirror, Hunter Lipinski, the ASA treasurer during the 2020-2021 academic year, said the reduction was meant to help UBG use up the surplus funds in its account. 

Thakkar said ASA also worked to provide students with COVID-19 supplies, such as masks and testing kits, and hoped to allocate more of their budget to initiatives that would aid Augustana community members in protective measures during the pandemic. 

“There was just a lot of concern in general about us being able to allocate to every single group,” Alhasnawi said. 

In an effort to avoid entering a budget deficit, Irvine said ASA worked alongside student organizations to find ways to cut costs, and UBG volunteered to take a decrease, as they expected to hold less events during the pandemic. 

“It was sort of an emergency-type situation with our budget, and so [the budget decrease] got passed along with the stipulation that this would be returned to 35% after COVID was over,” Alhasnawi said. 

However, no one was quite certain when the pandemic would end. 

“I remember one thing that was problematic about the [amendment] is it didn’t have a very specific timeline on when it would be re-evaluated,” Irvine said. 

Shriner said UBG assumed the decrease would only apply to their budget for one academic year, but because the funding decrease passed as an amendment to a by-law rather than a resolution, the reduced funding was permanently instated. 

According to Thakkar, ASA employs two types of proposals: amendments and resolutions. He said an amendment includes a change to the association’s official governing documents while a resolution is related to non-recurring funds, like providing coffee for midterms. 

The process of reinstating the UBG budget

Junior ASA senator Slater Dixon, a member of the governing documents task force, wrote the amendment to restore UBG’s budget, which first appeared at an ASA meeting on Feb. 5. 

“[The governing documents task force] wanted to get it done for UBG because we had been stringing them along for, like, an entire year and a half on this subject, so then I just looked at it,” Dixon said. “[Irvine] said we had the money, so I basically just wrote the amendment because from my perspective, we told them that we would put it back.” 

While UBG’s budget has now returned to 35%, Shriner said the restoration process was lengthy, as many other topics arose that did not pertain to the principal issue of UBG’s need for additional funding. 

“There was some, I guess, semantics with whether or not this year’s group of ASA representatives were responsible for upholding the promises of previous years,” Shriner said. “There was the issue with the Lyft program and with the $18,000 in water bottles, and [ASA] didn’t know where they would get the money from.”

Shriner said UBG should not have to be responsible for ASA budgeting issues. 

“At the end of the day, we should have the 35%, and our programming shouldn’t have to suffer on account of sideline ASA issues,” Shriner said. 

Once representatives from ASA and UBG head governors reached the center of the issue — restoring UBG’s funding — Shriner said the process went quickly. 

Irvine cited a disconnection following Harvey’s absence as a reason behind the delay in the budget restoration. 

“My main point of communication about it was with Michelle Harvey, and then Michelle left, and she had the majority of the documentation on their finances and stuff, so we kind of lost that connection,” Irvine said. 

Alhasnawi said senators were hesitant to approve the amendment on the Feb. 5 meeting because they did not know enough about the UBG budget, as only she and the finance committee were present for the initial conversations regarding restoring the funds. She said people were also concerned about the future of the ASA budget. 

“There was a little bit of concern about our own budget because we were taking a lot with how much we were spending with Lyft and all the new initiatives that were happening within the Senate,” Alhasnawi said. 

Thakkar said he was initially opposed to the amendment as he was concerned about the impact it could have on ASA’s budget. He also said that he and the other members of ASA present in the fall meeting with UBG head governors discussed allocating UBG 30% instead, as ASA had adopted “very financially intensive programs,” such as Lyft, after the original decrease. 

“I feared that we might not have enough money to sustain the other programs that we have and we would run into a deficit,” Thakkar said. 

From this discussion, Thakkar proposed an amendment to the initial amendment in which ASA would allocate UBG 30% of ASA’s annual budget. That proposal did not pass, and the Senate moved to table the discussion until the treasurer and head governor could attend. 

After talking with Irvine about the financial feasibility of the budget restoration, Thakkar said he supported Dixon’s amendment to bring the budget back to the full 35%. 

“[Irvine and I] discovered that with the cancellation of the $18,000 [water bottle] resolution and other things that I wasn’t aware about, we have enough money to support UBG’s increase, so then I had no problem with it,” Thakkar said. “Once those concerns were gone, I was happy to support it.” 

Shriner attended the ASA meeting on Feb. 19 and shared information on the costs and budgeting that go into each event. 

Alhasnawi said Shriner’s budget breakdown for the full senate helped senators see how many students were impacted by UBG’s lack of funding. 

“Shriner did a wonderful job of laying out the problem and explaining their budget in detail and how much more money they need to be able to accommodate all the students that come to their events, and from there, I think it passed either unanimously or near unanimously,” Alhasnawi said. 

UBG’s need for increased funding

According to Shriner, UBG has recently seen increased attendance rates and could not support so many students on a decreased budget.

DeBoer said UBG has experienced several issues related to a lack of funding, such as being unable to hire bands or bigger artists and running out of food. 

“We’re really good at making sure we’re not spending excess money, but at the same time, it does come at a cost if we want to provide better events and get more well-known people to bring more people to our events” DeBoer said. 

At a paint-by-numbers event, UBG ordered 90 painting sheets, but 180 people attended. As a result, half of the attendees could not participate in the activity.

“Even if they had known that that many people were going to come, they would have had to double their budget and spend twice as much on the event, which they just didn’t have the money for,” Shriner said. 

At the UBG-hosted Alice Kristiansen concert, DeBoer said she had to put up a sign above the snack table restricting students to two cookies. The line ended up going out the door, however, so students were then only allowed one. 

“You feel stingy, you know?” DeBoer said. “You’re like, ‘You can only have one of these tiny little cookies that are so absolutely delicious.’ And I feel really bad, but also we don’t have the money to buy more.” 

The passing of this amendment brings UBG some relief. 

“I know for a fact that this increase is going to allow them to cater to this increased population of students that we have and provide events that students have requested,” Thakkar said. 

Shriner said next year’s UBG board will have greater abilities in what kinds of events they can host. 

“They can look into doing trios or bands rather than only being able to afford solo artists. For dance, we can look into doing contracts for headphone discos or more popular things that people have heard of rather than just having to stick to the typical DJ format,” Shriner said. 

DeBoer said that with increased funding, next year’s events will showcase more cohesiveness, food and headliners. 

“We’re hoping for a little bit bigger and better, I think, because it’s been a little bit small scale,” DeBoer said. “We’re hoping to just kind of go beyond that and think outside the box.” 

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