MCSG OverZoomer: MCSG passes resolution to support reallocating budget to students

Graphic+by+Katherine+Irving+%2722.

Graphic by Katherine Irving '22.

Margaret Moran, News Editor

This week’s MCSG meeting took place over Zoom, as will all subsequent meetings until the end of the semester. 

The LB discussed a resolution titled “A Resolution to Support the Allocation of MCSG Funds to Emergency COVID-19 Student Relief.” The resolution was authored by Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) Chair Ayushi Modi, Student Services and Relations Committee (SSRC) member Shreya Nagdev ’21 and FAC members Jason Kohn ’20, Hannah Gilbert ’21 and Duane Nguyen ’21. Nguyen is the only author who is not a member of the LB.

The resolution would support reallocating the remainder of MCSG’s budget into a fund for students in need of financial assistance to support travel home, either from Macalester or from studying abroad, for distance learning materials and fees associated with adapting curriculum to remote learning and any other needs relevant to coronavirus closures.

“This resolution uses the MCSG reserve fund, the travel fund, money that Program Board has generously said that we can use and contributions from different student orgs that have been contacted,” Nagdev said. “In this resolution we will be talking to administrators and give it to students who need it in an [immediate] way.”

The total estimate for the fund right now comes out to at least $105,000: $45,000 from the MCSG reserve and travel funds and $60,000 from Program Board. Nagdev also hopes to add to the fund money given back by student orgs. If every org gives back their remaining budget, it could free up to $22,000.

According to Program Board Chair Alexandria Ang ’22, Program Board has not come to a conclusion on how much they will contribute to the fund. She hopes that she and the other members will come to a final amount tomorrow, Thursday, at their Zoom meeting.

“We know that we have a responsibility to provide social, cultural and educational events to the school but we have to find a way around some of the obstacles,” Ang wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “Obviously, Springfest won’t be happening any longer but we are finding ways to do online live shows from the artists, as well as other cool virtual events.”

Gilbert said that soon, she and the other resolution authors will speak with Vice President for Advancement Andrew Brown and Assistant Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid Brian Lindeman about ways the MCSG funds could be used to generate more relief for students.

Last week, the college started a separate relief fund for faculty, staff, students, alumni and parents to donate to support students in need of financial assistance. That fund will serve similar needs, and topped over $55,000 at the time of publication.

The authors of the resolution considered giving all of the MCSG funding to the college’s relief fund, but were advised by Lindeman to avoid the tax complications that accompany turning student budgets into a gift to the institution.

Some members of the LB showed concern that only students with documented financial need would be eligible to receive emergency funding.

“There are people who are not receiving financial aid who could also be in need,” MCSG President Blair Cha ’20 said. “I would like to work with you guys to figure that out.”

Academic Affairs Committee member Austin Wu ’23 raised a similar concern about the definition of “need.” 

“I think it’s best that whatever the guidelines defining need might turn out to be, we define it as loosely as possible,” Wu said. “It’s very important that given the nature of this situation, we define need as loosely as possible, because I would rather honestly give out too much money to students who might not totally need it than to have students who need not have help.”

Nagdev pointed out that the authors of the resolution are working with political science professor Althea Sircar and Assistant Dean of Educational Partnerships of the Kofi Annan Institute for Global Citizenship Ruth Janisch. Both have experience working with students without documented financial need through emergency situations. 

“I know that one hundred thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money… but as soon as you start distributing that in $500, $600, $800 blocks, you burn through that money pretty fast,” Associate Dean of Students and MCSG Advisor Andrew Wells said. “I appreciate your observation that you would rather that money go to students who might not need it, rather than money not get to people who don’t need it… but I think if we fast forward a month from now… we might find that there was significantly more demand than there was money available.”

Gilbert acknowledged that there are some needs that apply only to specific groups of students, such as juniors studying away who need funding to cover their return flights home. Nguyen shared his own personal story of having to fly back to Minnesota from the University of Glasgow two weeks ago, paying almost $2,000 for his return flights.

“I was in regular contact with [Director of the Center for Study Away] Kevin Morrison, asking [about] the logistics of the situation, would I be reimbursed, would financial aid be a part of this,” Nguyen said. “It wasn’t until I got back and sent him an actual receipt did he forward it to financial aid, and that was almost two weeks ago now, and those flight tickets were extremely expensive.”

In a statement to The Mac Weekly, Morrison wrote, “The Center for Study Away is working closely with financial aid in response to students who have had to spend money out of pocket on an unexpected ticket purchase. Information on this process has been shared with students who have returned from Study Away earlier than planned.”

The resolution passed 22-0-0. The authors of the resolution are planning to meet with Lindeman and Brown this week to discuss the specific implementation of the program.

The Legislative Body (LB) started the meeting with its annual Budgeting Bonanza, evaluating budget presentations from fourteen student organizations. The org leaders joined the virtual meeting at their assigned time slot and had the standard five minutes to present their budget requests for the 2020-2021 school year.

Budgeting Bonanza will continue on March 28-29, and orgs will be informed of budget decisions on March 30.  After that, students will present their appeals on April 7 and MCSG will vote on the final student activity budget on April 14.

Estelle Timar-Wilcox contributed to the reporting of this story.