Open fora talks possible $300K cut in SAF funds

By Jessica Ganga
Sports Editor

Vice President of Student Affairs Amy Hecht hosted a series of open fora on Tuesday, April 26, and Thursday, April 28, to discuss four positions — three new and one current — whose salaries would be funded through the Student Activities Fee (SAF). 

Hecht plans to use $300,000 of the SAF for the full-time positions, which will include a business operations manager to work alongside the Student Finance Board (SFB), a diversity and inclusion counselor, a club sports and intramural Director and will have the College Union Board (CUB) adviser be paid from the SAF. However, Hecht said that she would be willing to pull back on the CUB adviser position. 

“I am presenting (for these positions) because I think this is a cumulation of what I’ve heard from students — what students need,”  Hecht said. “I do not think I have it perfect. I do not think it’s exactly what we need to do and that’s why I need your feedback and your thoughts, so I welcome them in a  respectful (way).”

Hecht was met with plenty of student feedback regarding her plan to fund these positions using the SAF, a fee “collected by the College on behalf of the Student Finance Board (SFB),” according to the College’s Website. SFB, in turn, is responsible for allocating those funds to organizations, such as CUB and Student Government (SG), both of which need money for programming. The fee is included in College students’ fees every year. In the 2015-16 school year, students paid $277.40 each for the SAF, according to the breakdown of student fees in PAWS.

During the fora, Hecht introduced students to the business operations manager position — a full-time staff member who will work alongside the SFB student staff. According to Hecht, the staff member would make sure checks were being cut, would keep the office open during the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the work week and will be around over the summer while the SFB student staff is away.

Hecht said she proposed the idea for the position due to recommendations given to SFB from an audit firm — an outside third party that ensures SFB’s financial statements are presented fairly.

Although Operations Director of SFB and senior economics major Thomas Barr said that SFB passes its audits every year, Hecht said that she must address the issues that have been presented to her during her two years working at the College. However, students voiced concerns about the necessity of having a full-time staff member working with the student employees of SFB.

“I’m just not necessarily seeing the viability of hiring a full-time (business operations manager),” Barr said. “I don’t think the concern is there to the extent (of) keeping the office (open from) 9 to 5. I think that’s something (that) us as students can work out.”

Barr went on to explain his concern for the leadership opportunities that students have in SFB.

“I would really hate to see an SFB leadership, any leadership job on campus, taken away,” Barr said. “I think that would be a true disservice to students.”

Hecht made it clear in the fora that she would not be taking away the responsibilities of the SFB staff members, but instead, the person would just be assisting the students in the office.

“I’m not taking away the allocation (of work) from SFB. I’m asking to have an office that will be available from 9 to 5 to make sure that the operations are happening that’s accountable to the College, that’s on the College’s system,” Hecht said. 

Another concern raised about hiring a full-time staff member was be the amount of money the College would be paying the individual to help SFB.

According to Barr, it currently costs the College about $40,000 a year to have SFB’s services. It would cost the College about $50,000 more, according to Barr, to pay for a full-time staff member. That would make the total cost to run SFB $90,000 annually, Barr said.

Executive Director of SFB and senior accounting major Brandon Klein voiced the same concern as Barr did.

“I’m not really understanding why someone would replace a less costly structure with a more costly structure, although there’s been consistent success in the program,” Klein said.

Although Hecht received unsure responses for the first position, she was met with a different reaction for the diversity and inclusion counselor, a staff member who would assist students with issues such as culture, race and identity. Hecht hopes this would would help strengthen diversity and inclusion on the campus.

“I would speak to students of color and they would say, ‘I don’t see myself at The College of New Jersey,’” Hecht said.

Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Elizabeth Bapasola explained the educational purpose of the position, emphasizing that it would not only be for those of minority groups, but those that are in majority groups so they can better understand the diverse culture surrounding them on campus.

“What we’re looking for is a person… who could provide that higher level (of) expertise for students, that mentoring advising for students that they’re not currently getting, (as well as) educational programs to support students,” Bapasola said.

The students in multicultural organizations in attendance expressed support for the plan, saying that it would give other students a chance to get to know other cultures at the College.

A possible third position that Hecht plans to create is a club sports and intramural director, who would help oversee and manage the 20 club sports the College has on campus — a number that, according to Hecht, is too many for one person to manage. Without this position, she said, there would have to be cuts made to the number of club sports at the College.

“We know we (have) to figure out a way to have some more oversight,” Hecht said. “ If nothing were to change… I (would still only) have one person (Robert Simels) overseeing all of recreation, so we’re talking about the Fitness Center, we’re talking about classes, intramurals, club sports and so we’ll need to bring that down.”

The last position, which Hecht said would possibly be taken away, received the most criticism and harsh feedback from students. Hecht originally proposed that the CUB adviser’s salary would be moved to the SAF, allowing there to be more money to pay for a second case manager for students.

“My initial proposal was to move that position onto the fee because I would not have a need for that position if it weren’t for (SAF),” Hecht said.

With Hecht’s original plan, Assistant Director of Student Activities and CUB adviser Jess Claar would have an expanded role and would be able to do more than she does now with class councils and for all student organizations in regards to contracts, Hecht said.

Toward the end of the forum, Hecht explained that Claar’s position would most likely not be moved and she would still receive her salary from the Brower Student Center fee, another fee that students pay each year, which was $124.50 for the Spring 2016 semester.

As each position was discussed, it became clear that there were multiple issues with having the money come out of the SAF. Students offered suggestions for cost-effective ways that the SAF could be used in case that the $300,000 is taken out.

Since the SAF is paid by the students, when a student attends an SAF-funded event — such as a comedy show or concert — they are essentially getting their money paid back to them.

Throughout both forums, students made it clear that the main issue at hand was simply where the money was coming from. Students pointed out that the money taken out of SAF was money that is meant for student programming.

According to Hecht, in this year alone, CUB received 51 percent of the fee, or about $900,000 out of the $1.8 million that SFB was originally allocated.

Next semester, CUB will be receiving about $750,000, according to Hecht. Some students didn’t understand the need to cut money from an organization that has successfully planned weekly events for College students to enjoy.

According to Hecht, the amount came from the people in CUB.

“We looked back historically at the past three to four years of spending for the (CUB) and they averaged between $740 (thousand) and $770 (thousand) per year, and they’ve always been able to provide a pretty successful calendar of events,” Claar said. “Knowing that this year, CUB took advantage of SFB’s willingness to give money. They fully admit that they asked for a lot and they received a lot and they were able to do some pretty amazing programs.”

Claar noted that the $200,000 difference between this year and next is not an “entrical” part of CUB’s successful programming on campus, and the money could be used for other programs that need funding for events.

Even though losing $200,000 would not greatly affect CUB and its programming, students questioned what that would mean for ticket prices.

According to Claar, this year was the first year that tickets were offered at a very low cost — the Spring Concert was $10. Claar said that CUB and SFB discussed significantly lowering the cost of the tickets for the school year. Usually, concert tickets at the College cost between $15 to $25, so the price of the tickets would go up, but it wouldn’t be a substantial difference, according to Claar.

Although students were assured that programming would not be affected, concerns were raised by Klein about how students’ fees are really handled.

Klein brought up a NorthJersey.com article from Wednesday, April 27, that listed colleges in New Jersey that didn’t make it clear how money was being spent. The article said that the College, along with Kean and William Paterson universities, failed to explain the payroll costs in the description of how the money is used.

According the article, College spokesperson Dave Muha said that the College is transparent with the cost of attendance. The article went on to say that the College would be looking into developing “written policies and procedures for the fees.”

During the fora, students questioned whether or not full-time salaries should be paid for out of the SAF. Many students had interpreted the description of the SAF to mean that the funds could only go toward funding student programs.

According to Hecht, though, part-time coaches salaries — about $4,000 — are currently being paid for by the SAF. Students argued back that full-time positions are more expensive than part-time ones, and therefore the SAF should not be used to fund them.

“We have not dipped our toe into paying for a full-time staff and benefits out of the fee (yet),” Hecht said. “However, nationally, 99.9 percent of institutions pay for full-time staff.”

According to Hecht, it is not enough for the fee to just be used for student programming and choices need to be made to help students.

“These are the choices we have to make,” Hecht said. “Do we trim some things to lessen the burden on staff or do we pay for some staff? The fee just being used for programming and activities is causing staff costs. You’re not realizing because the College is supplementing.”

At the forefront of the fora, the importance of student programming held true.

Students cast out that the reduction of SAF funds being used for student programming might prohibit the number of events that occur on campus.

Freshman urban education and history double major Max Falvey said that these programs are what students look forward to and is a major draw in for students seeking to attend the College.

“Bringing up CUB and all of our other organizations that do amazing programs, it definitely is a major draw in point to (the College) — it’s something that we are known for,” Falvey said.

Favey also said that while the SAF may be used to pay staff salaries, its intended purpose is to serve the students of the College.

“To me it comes (down to): Where is that money coming from? And if it’s from the SAF, though the purpose of the SAF is not for programming, to my knowledge, that’s the only money programming gets,” Falvey said. “I didn’t know it was also allocated to be a staffing budget. I feel like in the beautifully scenic, somewhat desolate Ewing, N.J., the programs give students something to do instead of just going out and sitting in their room at night.”