Citing overspending, TCU Senate urges clubs to cut back on expenses

Sophia Gordon Hall is pictured on May 7, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archives

According to TCU Treasurer Emily Sim, a junior, concerns involving the possibility of the TCU Senate going over its budget into the next academic year have prompted certain TCU Allocations Board (ALBO) members, such as TCU Associate Treasurer Finn McGarghan, to ask clubs and organizations to cut back on spending.

An email McGarghan sent on March 29 to cultural groups in Council 1, which he chairs, suggested budget changes for clubs and asked that clubs send him these cuts by March 31. The email explains that TCU Senate had surpassed its hard cap of $1.9 million for all student groups and needed to cut at least $25,000 from the sum of all the budgets of student groups in the council.

“Everyone needs to look in their budget and find places to cut,” McGarghan, a sophomore, wrote. “Things like decorations, prizes, games/activities, even food can easily be cut from your budgets. Decrease the frequency of events and parties. Don’t have a DJ at every single party, just use a playlist and a speaker (seriously this would save a ton of money). Take the T instead of ubering to the grocery store.”

A follow-up email, which Sim sent out to the TCU Treasury email list on March 30, confirmed McGarghan’s assertions that the budget cuts are necessary.

“Please understand that the Allocations Board and I put a lot of time and thought into making sure all of your needs were heard and did our best to include the increases many of you have asked for … I have to view all of your budgets from a holistic perspective, and when everyone’s increases were put together, we went incredibly over budget,” Sim wrote. “[We are asking for these cuts] out of pure necessity.”

Although, according to Sim, the amount of funds allocated to clubs and organizations for the 2018–2019 academic year saw an average gain of 15–20 percent, ALBO did not provide many clubs with the higher increases they asked for, in part because clubs in past years often did not spend large portions of their allocated funds.

“The principle that we tried to work off of was that we looked at how much groups received last year (2016–2017) and how much they actually spent. As a result, we see their financial capacity, and we noticed that most groups don’t spend what they ask for, and some groups don’t even spend half of what they ask for.” Sim said.

McGarghan added that he decided to contact the clubs via email because he is unaware of their inner workings and wanted to consult with them and ask for feedback before altering their budgets.

“I didn’t feel comfortable cutting the budgets of cultural groups without asking them because I’m not sure which events they feel are more important or how many events they need to celebrate their culture at Tufts,” McGarghan said.

Singapore Students Association (SSA) Treasurer Lionel Oh, whose club falls under McGarghan’s Council 1 list, was surprised by the requests. According to Oh, McGarghan had initially approved SSA’s budget, which was the lowest of all of the cultural clubs, and found McGarghan’s suggestions to cut back jarring and lacking context.

“When we initially looked at our budget with Finn, he seemed to have no issue with it, and so we expected things to go smoothly from there. When we received an email two weeks later saying the council was over-budget, we tried to cut certain things, but being a culture club, SSA could only cut so much without cutting things such as food integral to our club and events,” Oh, a first-year, said.

Oh said there is a lack of transparency between club members and TCU Senate and believes that the amount of funds allocated to each group needs to be presented by the Senate in a more legible manner.

“I think that when calling clubs to cut their budget, they could have showed everybody what each individual club is asking for in order to prevent misinformation and to ensure cuts are made accordingly and fairly,” Oh said.

Sophomore Daniel Lewis decided to address this issue by creating a template outlining funds allocated to all on-campus groups with budgets over $4,000 and posting it in Facebook class pages.

“I know that all the budgetary information was public, but for me transparency is not just having information exist, but having information exist in a way that is easy to understand,” Lewis said.

Lewis believes that he shouldn’t have been the one to create a template and believes that Senate should take it upon itself to present the information.

“It’s very important that any student can look at the money each organization gets because this money is coming directly from us,” Lewis said.

Sim responded to Lewis’ template, noting that, while she applauds his efforts to take it upon himself to create transparency, the information he provides does not tell the whole story and a large portion of his calculations — especially regarding the activities fund which was never publicly disclosed and budget surplus — is inaccurate.

“The numbers that he compiled only include groups over $4,000 in each council, and those numbers that he was looking at are for this current year, but they are not indicative of next year which is the subject in question,” Sim said. “Additionally, the website does not disclose how much surplus we have and supplementary funding we have, as there’s not a cap on supplementary funding. Lastly, the number in his template is not indicative of how much money we had last year and his student activities fee is not correct.”

Despite this, Sim agrees that Lewis should not have had to do this, and she said that she is happy to compile a similar spreadsheet if she sees demand for it.