TCU Senate tightens belt for clubs, announces new voting student trustee representative

TCU Class of 2021 Senator Ayden Crosby looks on as the Senate reviews changes for the treasury policy at the first Senate meeting on Sept. 8, 2019. Mengqi Irina Wang / The Tufts Daily

The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate met last night for its first meeting of the 201920 academic year in the Sophia Gordon Multipurpose Room, where the main order of business was the passage of the Treasury Procedures Manual (TPM), which governs TCU club funding

TCU Vice President Sylvester Bracey also announced there will be a new voting student member of the student affairs subcommittee on the Board of Trustees, a historic addition to the university’s governing body, which previously only counted student representatives who could not vote or attend closed sessions among its numbers.

TCU Treasurer Sharif Hamidi was in the limelight for much of the meeting, laying out changes to the TPM to reinforce fiscal sustainability.

“The worst thing that could possibly happen is if we have to turn down a perfectly valid request that are completely within the merits of the treasury, but we have to turn them down because we don’t have enough money,” Hamidi said. “If we ever get to that point I will have failed as treasurer.”

The bulk of the fiscal headwinds for the Allocations Board (ALBO), the senate body primarily concerned with the TPM, come from the increasing number of student groups recognized by the TCU Judiciary, Hamidi told the assembled senators. He pointed to the more than 50 new student groups that have been recognized since the fall of 2017 as evidence.

Many of the amendments to the TPM proposed by Hamidi sailed through the Senate with unanimous votes, but the measure that would arguably do the most to control costs was also the most contentious.

Hamidi proposed reducing the per-capita travel subsidy to off-campus non-competitive events from $300 to $200, after it had been raised from $100 last year. 

He explained that, according to his calculations, 57% of the $71,000 rise in supplementary funding between the 201718 academic year and the 201819 year was due to travel expenses.

“Not only were we shelling out more money to each student that wanted to travel off campus, it also provided an increased incentive to request travel,” he said. 

He projected that leaving the cap at $300 would only lead to more spending.

Deepen Goradia, a Class of 2022 senator, opposed Hamidi’s amendment saying that $200 was too low and argued for an alternative solution to rein in travel spending.

“If we reduce it from 300 [dollars] there are certain clubs that have certain demographics and certain people with certain financial situations that will be hurt more than other clubs,” he said.

Finn McGarghan, a Class of 2020 senator, countered that the Student Support Fund, which is available to students on financial aid, would prevent the changes from impacting them.

“This is to help so that we don’t pay more money to those who can afford it, those who can’t afford it still have means to cover their whole travel,” he said.

Hamidi agreed that the Student Support Fund would prevent low-income students from being negatively impacted and said that the fund was financially healthy. He added that the changes would principally hit air travel, about 15% of requests.

In the end, the amendment passed 154 with one abstention.

The first change that the Senate made to the TPM was to expand the conflict-of-interest restrictions for ALBO members. The proposed language would prevent an ALBO member from being a treasurer, signatory or financial manager of a club.

The only current ALBO board member to be affected was Class of 2022 Senator Iyra Chandra, who said that recusing oneself from decisions impacting their club was sufficient. Chandra went on to be the lone no vote against the measure.

The other changes that impacted club budgeting included stating more explicitly that club activities cannot violate the student code of conduct and requiring clubs to buy their food from vendors with a food service license, both of which passed unanimously.

The Senate also unanimously increased the cap for food spending from 40% to 50% for cultural and religious clubs and from 20% to 25% for other clubs.

Hamidi said that while it might seem counterintuitive, the amendment would reduce costs in the long term.

“What often happens during budgeting season is groups will inflate their non-food [costs] so they can have their food budget fall within that cap. So if you’re increasing that cap, less of that inflation will be necessary,” Hamidi said.

That too passed unanimously.

Hamidi also proposed adding language to the TPM to reinforce that clubs must be budget-conscience when choosing accommodation, that the Senate will pay the highest cost out of registration, travel and lodging for a club’s second trip instead of just registration and require any speaker to request a speaking fee instead of the clubs deciding them.

All three of those amendments passed unanimously. 

The next two amendments changed the six-person limit for off-campus travel which, after the Senate voted in the changes unanimously, will only be overridable by the Senate by a two-thirds vote, as is the case for ALBO. But even if the six-person cap is overridden, a new 20-person cap will now be imposed, which is not open to appeal.

The final change, which saw the night’s second abstention, will raise new group funding to $2,000 from $1,000 but will eliminate the opportunity for supplementary funding requests.

Hamidi explained that previously a few new clubs had made $7,000 or $8,000 in supplementary funding requests, and the change would reduce costs.

Once the amendments were wrapped up, Bracey announced that a new student trustee representative would be added to the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees, with voting power.

The Senate will make two suggestions for the position, and the Board will select one of the two.

Bracey also announced that there are five positions that are still open on Student Faculty Committees: Art, Library, Summer Session, Code of Conduct and undergraduate advising and co-curricular learning.

Finally, Rabiya Ismail, the Senate historian, announced that the fall elections will be held on Sept. 19.

She also announced that Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 seats that go unfilled will now be converted to at-large seats open to anyone elected in a December special election.