ASM Bylaws amendment: clarify eligibility

Of all of the parts of ASM, the Student Services Finance Committee and funding of student groups through the General Student Services Fund is the most confusing, especially the eligibility process. Even for the elected members of ASM, it’s mostly a mystery for why some groups get funded and others don’t, or why it only comes up in the fall. Come November, the campus papers stop writing news stories about it and what little thought anyone paid to it is set aside. However, there’s an important change that should be made, and a bit closer look is in order.

Of course, by now you should know the very basics of the process: ASM, in a viewpoint neutral manner, may fund student services. What you may not know is that ASM has essentially no control over what it funds. If two groups or twenty groups apply, ASM has to give all of them equal opportunity. Anything that meets the criteria must be funded.  ASM cannot even consider “is the service useful.” To keep segregated fees from being considerably higher than what they already are, ASM has very narrow criteria of what it means to be a service, as well as an examination process to scrutinize groups in-depth to ensure that groups fit those criteria.

ASM has split the process into two parts. The first, determining a group’s eligibility, serves as the primary gatekeeper to the GSSF. This is done before considering a group’s budget primarily to save time. No group could be funded without first meeting all of the eligibility requirements, and roughly half of the groups that apply don’t meet them. By eliminating these groups early, no one’s time is wasted creating and considering a budget that won’t ever be funded.  ASM budgets annually, so for the second part, all eligible groups negotiate their budgets once a year. However, once a group is found eligible, it remains eligible for two annual budgets. This is again to save time, as a group’s mission and focus is usually stable.

ASM is forced into a tight timeline to line the academic year funding cycle up with the state’s fiscal year. In order for a group to receive funding in July, ASM needs to start the budget hearings the previous October, and eligibility needs to be determined before that.  An obvious way to relax this timeline is to complete the bulk of the eligibility hearings during the previous spring, during the first of the two years a group has eligibility. The only groups that would need to have hearings at the very beginning of the fall are brand new groups. Currently, no group would dare try this because the ASM Bylaws are ambiguous as to what would happen if a group applied early for eligibility status and is denied. At the October 14th ASM meeting, I will propose an amendment that makes it clear that this would not jeopardize a group’s existing eligibility. With this change, the SSFC can adopt a better system that is less stressful for the SSFC and for groups. Effectively, groups can apply annually for a two-year “rolling horizon” of eligibility.

The rolling horizon adds stability to services. Should a group be found not eligible in one year, they have an additional year to retool their proposal before they become ineligible for funding. This is important as the GSSF criteria is continually adjusted, but the only way for a group to discover if their service truly meets all of the criteria is to go through an SSFC eligibility hearing. If a group is denied under the new criteria, it can always come back next year, but the intervening year the all services are not offered, not just the services that are no longer eligible. The gap year is detrimental to the student body. Stability in the service is crucial for the effective delivery of that service: we cannot hope that students will keep track of what services are available one year, not the next, and then available again. It is fiscally irresponsible to allow for that gap to occur – during the first year back, GSSF funds are wasted while a group rebuilds its presence on campus and students rediscover its availability.

Unless ASM is really on the ball, and it never is, changes to the fiscal policies take at least a year to go into effect. Groups need to be given adequate notice before changes are enacted, and policies are written before the start of a fiscal year. If ASM were to adopt a rolling-horizon of eligibility, at this point all groups have already missed their opportunity to file for it, and the less stressful timeline I hope to enable could not start until 2011 at the earliest. However, there is another change that could accelerate that change, and allow the SSFC to switch to a new system this spring. This is the second of my two motions. By granting an additional year of eligibility to all groups who were eligible in fiscal year 2010, we can retroactively create the rolling horizon. This is a blanket grant, which is viewpoint neutral, and simply assumes that the SSFC, which has already established the eligibility of these groups, would have continued to do so under the criteria they were using at the time.

Several of you have probably realized this by now, but there is a side-effect to the two amendments that’s not obvious to most students but is of interest to many: the second change would also restore eligibility to the Campus Women’s Center, the Student Tenant Union, and Wunk Sheek. Of course, this was not the motivation for proposing these changes; my interest lies in making the SSFC process less stressful and more efficient, as well as making service delivery more effective.

The changes are offered as two separate motions, to keep the discussions focused and the meetings efficient. The second motion does depend on the first being adopted, so if the first motion fails I will move to postpone indefinitely the second.  I expect more opposition to the second motion than the first. The second motion is slightly time-sensitive, as it affects the SSFC’s current budget hearings, and so needs to be completed within a few meetings. If we are convinced the second motion is never going to pass, it is safe to refer the first motion to the SSFC and to consider it this winter.

The Amendments:

First motion: Amend the ASM bylaws to change 2.032(1)(a) to read: (New material underlined)

2.032(1)(a)- Determined Eligible

Group Eligibility for GSSF funds is determined in a SSFC Eligibility Hearing. Groups that are determined eligible in a given year are approved to submit funding requests to the SSFC for the subsequent two fiscal 
years. For example, a group successfully completing an eligibility hearing in September 2001 is able to request funding for FY 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. A group may request an eligibility hearing every year without jeopardizing any existing eligibility determinations. For example, a group that successfully completes an eligibility hearing in September 2009 (FY 2010) is able to request funding for FY2011 (July 1 2010-June 30 2011) and FY2012 (July 1 2011-June 30 2012). If that group requests another eligibility hearing in September 2010 (FY 2011) and is denied, the group may still submit a budget for FY2012 under the eligibility determined in FY2010.

Second motion: Amend the ASM bylaws to create 2.032(1)(c)

2.032(1)(c)- FY2011 Eligibility Bridge

To allow for the SSFC to implement a new eligibility hearing calendar, as facilitated by a 2009 clarification to the ASM bylaws, groups that were authorized to submit budgets for FY2010 are granted an additional year to their original eligibility determination.  Groups that were determined eligible in FY2008 hearings and authorized to submit budgets for FY2009 and FY2010 are allowed to submit budgets for FY2011. Groups that were determined eligible in FY2009 hearings and authorized to submit budgets for FY2010 and FY2011 are authorized to submit budgets in FY2012

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