After rough Fall, some want MCSG reforms

By Matthew Stone

As student organization leaders voice complaints over the Financial Affairs Commission’s (FAC) handling of the Spring 2006 budgeting process and as Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) recovers from seeing its available operating funds nearly run dry in October, discussions about reforming MCSG are receiving increased attention. Process already underway

MCSG Vice President Jess Hasken ’07 expects to spend much of next semester hearing suggestions from student organization leaders and others on how to restructure student government.

“[MCSG] is working now, but it’s not working well,” she said. “I’m not sure yet that we’re responsive to the broader group of students. We’d like to create more ways in which we can benefit more students. What are we doing that really affects them?”

The focus on structural reform is an outgrowth of last year’s Constitutional Reform Committee, which combed through MCSG’s constitution and put several changes to a student body vote last spring. Most of the changes, according to Hasken, were intended to clarify the document’s confusing language and address errant grammatical structures. Hasken served on the committee along with Anu Sreekanth ’07, Jon Davis ’08 and Yongho Kim ’05. Hasken is planning a formal review of the updated constitution as part of the reform committee’s responsibilities.

Designs for reform focus on FAC

Given the concerns that student organization leaders have aired regarding their interactions with the FAC, the financial arm of student government has become an area of focus for those seeking change.

Student organization leaders featured in an article in The Mac Weekly last week said that the FAC’s focus on early budgeting caused them to budget more than they thought they would need for programming next semester, potentially increasing unnecessarily the total figure the FAC received in budget requests from student groups–approximately $190,000.

Other student organization leaders have suggested that MCSG’s initial attempt last spring to steer student groups away from relying on additional allocations for their funding was misguided.

In an interview with The Mac Weekly last month, LB Humanities Rep. Maggie Kinkead ’07, also co-chair of campus environmental group E-Fnk, criticized MCSG’s executive officers for what she saw as a budgeting approach that is “much more of a hassle for student org leaders.”

“The way that they’ve been doing this [budgeting process] shows that they have absolutely no connection to student orgs,” Kinkead said. “Student orgs rely on additional allocations to continue their activities.”

In an interview this week, Hasken raised several possibilities, for MCSG-wide reform that have developed from discussions among executive officers, LB and Constitutional Reform Committee members. Hasken said she hopes to convene a committee next semester to examine concrete possibilities for change.

Among several ideas discussed, the Vice President suggested that the FAC be restructured and that a student employee who acts as treasurer rather than policymaker head the commission. LB members would serve as the commissioners, whereas, under the current structure, the FAC chair effectively appoints them. She also suggested that student organizations be classified according to size in order to assure a minimum funding amount for each group.

“It would be a different sort of FAC,” Hasken said. “It would require a restructuring of the duties that are designated.”

For Richard Graves ’06, the head of environmental group Mac CARES, such a change is needed. This semester, he noted, the LB has done “a better job of connecting with organizations” than the FAC. Graves proposed last week that the FAC designate each member to a particular set of student organizations with which to become acquainted in order to gain a better understanding of the groups in time for budgeting.

“One of the things I always thought was kind of mismanaged about the process is that you sign up for an audit, you don’t know the person, they don’t necessarily know your organization,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if an [FAC] officer actually came to a [student group] meeting?”

Other possibilities Hasken suggested were an increased activity fee–it’s been $168 for the past four years–that could help prevent the cuts student groups sustained in their recent budget requests. FAC officers said they encouraged student groups to collaborate on programs to prevent multiple groups from separately planning and budgeting for the same event. MCSG officials have also suggested greater coordination between student organizations and the Program Board.

Promises to be fulfilled?

Each year, candidates for executive office make lofty promises but once elected find it difficult to implement their vision. According to Hasken, daily responsibilities get in the way.

“You get bogged down in running day-to-day in this very awkward machine,” she said.

So what makes this most recent round of promises different?

Hasken admits that the process could take many years. However, she said that her ideas for reform target endemic, structural issues. Pull quote???

“This is the result of a pattern of difficulties that every FAC, every LB have experienced that are a result of structural issues,” she said.

She is currently contacting alumni formerly involved with the FAC to collect input on recurring problems the commission faces, she added.

In making major changes, Hasken urged caution, citing changes that past student governments have made but were unable to apply.

“Because changes are so difficult,” she said, “we need to make sure with any changes that it is plausible to implement these changes.