By Shawna Leader
The situation with the student tech fee and the proposal fund, which gained attention earlier this month, is reaching a resolution aimed at maintaining approved projects and increasing transparency within the fee’s finances.
“I think the lesson out of this is there’s going to be much stricter budgeting and planning for this fund,” said Andrea Goddard, AS VP for Academic Affairs.
The confusion that resulted is a lesson in the importance of a clearer budgeting system, President Bruce Shepard said.
“I’ve used this particular confusion in discussions with the deans and vice president, about why it’s absolutely necessary that we..come up with a full, comprehensive and transparent budgeting process,” Shepard said last Friday. “It’s not that there was any monkey business or stuff like that, it’s just that the people responsible and the spreadsheets on their computers knew all the stuff that’s going on.”
The independent audit requested by AS President Erik Lowe will not be taking place, Shepard said. Provost for Academic Affairs Dennis Murphy has looked into the university’s contribution, and there is no need for an independent audit, Shepard said.
“To even suggest that is insulting,” he said. “It suggests that the stewardship of this university’s resources is questionable, and that’s my responsibility. I’ve given absolutely no cases for that.”
According to Murphy and Shepard, the university’s annual $150,000 contribution to the proposal fund was placed in a separate fund because the proposal fund had enough money to contribute to approved projects. The money was reabsorbed by the university because, during this budget crisis, any money not in use is going to be redistributed, Shepard said. Now that the proposal fund is low, the money will be transferred back to the proposal fund, Murphy said.
“The funds were not transferred into that account because it’s a cash flow issue, because there was always sufficient cash in that account to pay all the decisions that the tech fee had made,” Murphy said. “The funds were set aside. So basically, that cash flow this year would have gone to approximately zero and now the funds have to be transferred in that account to make good on the commitments for fiscal year ’09.”
Shepard, Goddard and Lowe all emphasized that the positive result of this issue will be increased transparency in the budgeting process.
“We want a totally new system,” Lowe said. This system would be easy to understand, more transparent and show students where their money goes, he said. In a recent board of trustees meeting, Lowe referenced the alternative transportation committee, “which has an oversight committee of students and staff that examines the finances of the program at least once a quarter and presents to the AS Board annually.” He stated that this setup was a good model for the student tech fee committee.
The student tech fee committee is already a student-based majority, Goddard said. But as it currently stands, it has access only to proposals but not actual finances, Lowe said. Goddard suggested that, like the alternative transportation committee, the student tech fee committee should have the ability to examine finances once a quarter.
More student connection to the budgeting process would be beneficial, Goddard said. When information is readily dispersed, trust is maintained, she said.
“Even when the administration knew it was happening, the students didn’t,” Goddard said.
Budget reductions are available online, but that’s “just a start,” Shepard said. He said that better accounting practices will result from this confusion.
“This is an accounting matter and we will improve on this,” Murphy said.