By Joe Wood, Opinion Contributor
Before I begin, I hope that the USA e-board members (President Deacon, VP Johnson, VP Kaminski and VP Brown) know that I have faith in their abilities to lead the student body. They re-introduced the Council of Representatives, a program that was designed to teach clubs how to plan programs and to encourage discussion between their leaders, so that the campus could return to a pre-COVID atmosphere.
So, I trust them to respect us club leaders. To respect our schedules, our autonomy and our creativity. We have jobs outside of class, along with committing to service opportunities and/or sports. But we still care about making our clubs engaging for the campus, even if we can’t make it to a Council of Representatives meeting at 7:00 p.m. on a Monday night. At the last one, USA invited the Counseling Center to speak about Rejuvenation & Respect: Self-Care & Supporting Your Members.
The next morning, club leaders received an email from President Deacon. She announced that, “Looking ahead, a lack of attendance at our meetings during the spring semester will result in the temporary freezing of your club’s budget.” Club leaders who miss any meeting, she explained, must meet with the USA e-board at another point to get their budget reinstated.
Previous attempts to ensure attendance included free food and holding a lottery system to give one present club $50. As the co-editor-in-chief of Quadrangle — the literary magazine that Canisius has produced for almost 70 years — I would have jumped at the opportunity. After all, those $50 are 50% of our initial club allocation. When I asked for clarification about the new policy at this week’s USA meeting, President Deacon made sure I understood that this in no way is a “punishment.”
It’s unfortunate that in order to force attendance, the USA e-board is deciding to freeze club budgets. After all, getting money to plan events is a common worry for clubs, especially newer ones: it has been since the club summit this year. Many people attending the summit brought up the excellent point that $100 is incredibly low for a whole year of finances. To compare this to previous years, The Griffin reached out to USA. According to VP Johnson, records of club expenditures were not passed down to him. But USA had an answer for us: appeal for more money. Many clubs were still worried. When I asked one of the leaders of the new Audubon Society about the appeals process, they told me that, “It seems intimidating.”
It is. Last year, Simone (the other Quadrangle co-editor in chief) and I wanted to hold a virtual event at the end of the fall semester to pay homage to the postponed Quadrangle 68. She had the wonderful idea of buying ten $20 gift cards to the local bookstore Talking Leaves.
After all, helping small, independent businesses was a priority during the brutal shutdown era of COVID-19, especially ones that have long-standing ties to Canisius College. Quadrangle, like many clubs, was given an initial fund allotment too low to host a single program, but USA had told clubs to appeal so that they could use the immense reserves. So, I appealed for the full $200. We got half. With this also came their reasoning: not enough people would attend our event. It just so happened that around 40 people did. Not bad for a student-run club.
Fortunately for us, Dr. Cochrane was able to make up for this discrepancy and the budget we needed to print Quadrangle. To print a magazine, it takes about $10,000 — five years ago, USA covered this. Then began a rapid decline over the years. Had Dr. Cochrane not saved us, Canisius would have lost one of its oldest clubs, and along with it the soul of our liberal arts college.
Take everything I have said with a grain of salt. I am not a member of the USA Finance Board. Luckily, I was able to get in contact with someone who was. Sydney Carlo currently represents C-Block, the heart of the fan section at Canisius sports games. She utilizes her magnetic personality to lead groups of Griffs to cheer our amazing athletes on. As one of the most active clubs on campus, C-Block naturally needs a substantial budget. This is why Sydney was taken aback by the roadblocks to running events. According to her, “When multiple C-Block appeals were denied or modified by the Finance Board/Senate, the reasoning was not communicated to us. Instead, we were left in the dark. How is a club supposed to grow and get future appeals if they do not know why they were denied in the first place?”
For Sydney, the problem lies not just in a lack of communication, but in how USA spends money. She remarked that, “While all other clubs are held to a budget and the appeals process, the Undergraduate Student Association is not. USA does not get a budget they need to stick to, allowing them to spend thousands of dollars on a club couch or totally paid-for quarter zips for all USA members, for example.” Additionally, while individual USA committees are given budgets, they do not appeal to the Finance Board. They ask the USA e-board as a “courtesy” and then spend what they want.
So, as a courtesy, perhaps USA could try to understand what frustrations club leaders have from the appeals process. Almost half of all clubs got $100 or less as an initial allocation. While we don’t all need $150,000 like SPB, these low initial allocations hobble clubs, particularly ones with much greater operating costs than the equivalent of two Franco’s sheet pizzas (with pop included). Maybe then it would not distress us so much to have our small budgets revoked for being unable to attend meetings due to our busy schedules, and then have to reschedule at an even less convenient time. In these stressful times, we club leaders should look to each other for support. Clubs could collaborate to hold events with our combined resources. But clubs should come together because we want to, not because we are being forced to.