The Student Services Fee Advisory Committee (SSFAC) gave little to no explanation for funding deliberations made behind closed doors, leaving questions in the minds of organizations who did not receive the money they requested.
Distribution of public funds is always public record. Unfortunately, how they arrive at those decisions doesn’t have to be.
The Apache Pow Wow was told that each member of SSFAC signed a confidentiality agreement, so the members are not allowed to discuss what happened in the meetings.
Yet with cuts in funding, many organizations would like to know why.
Michael Metke, TJC president, said that while the meetings will remain closed, in the future they plan to make the decisions public.
“All of us, whatever performance, you want to know, ‘What can I do? How can I improve?’ That’s a reasonable expectation,” Metke said. “After the fact, certainly, we should be able to provide some feedback. That’s a change we can make.”
In the past, advisors have also been given little to no warning of proposal dates and times and incorrect deadline dates, causing confusion and even resulting in some organizations missing the crucial deadlines.
“The first packet handed out had an October deadline in it. It was a misprint. When they handed out the second packet, we were still working on the October deadline,” Apache Belles Assistant Christy Evans said. “Secondly, our student representative turned in the complete packet with the October deadline to one of the representatives, and they lost our information.”
The date in the initial packet handed out by SSFAC said the proposals were due in October. The committee began handing out a new packet, which moved the written proposal deadline to Sept. 11 and the presentations to the committee to Sept. 15 and 16. The deadline date was not posted on the SSFAC Web site, nor were advisors notified directly.
“They couldn’t allow us to submit a late entry because if they allowed us, they would have to allow everyone else,” Evans said. “Our representatives should have picked up the new date, but she had already given us what she thought was the correct packet.”
Another aspect of the SSFAC process that a few organizations are unaware of is that the committee distributes funds in the fall and spring. While Lafferty didn’t know her organization could also apply in the spring, she said she still believes the process is reasonable.
“They have only been doing this a couple of years. I do think it’s a fair process,” she said.
SSFAC is a committee made up of 11 members, which includes 10 enrolled students and the vice president of student affairs. Eight of the students are appointed. The ninth member is the freshman senate president and the tenth member is the student senate president.
“It’s a committee of ten students, random students, coming from all walks of life and different organizations. Most of them are student leaders,” SSFAC Secretary Jeff Smith said.
However, the Student Senate elections were held Sept. 14 and 15, which means the freshman senate president had not yet been decided and was not a part of decision making.
Most other colleges and universities in Texas have a SSFAC. One of the unique things about TJC’s SSFAC is that while most committees on other campuses have faculty and/or staff members, TJC’s voting members are all students.
“I think it [SSFAC] needs more guidance and adult faculty interaction. I know they have an advisor, but I think they need more than one adult advisor when there is that much funding at stake,” Evans said.
SSFAC members claim a neutral balance by not allowing students on the committee who are in another club to vote on their own organization’s allocation.
“If a student is in an organization, and that organization comes to present a proposal, that student has to take themselves out of the ruling,” Smith said. “They can’t vote on their own organization.”
The SSFAC at Texas State University at San Marcos is made up of four faculty members and six students.
“The state law requires that a ‘majority’ of the members of the SSFAC be students. Our committee conforms to that law,” said Dr. Richard Cheathman, member of TSU at San Marcos SSFAC and Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication.
Metke said he is open to changing the process and committee to include faculty and staff members.
“That’s a change I would like to see. One of the concerns that often comes is that you get a new student group with new priorities,” Metke said. “I like the idea of some continuity.”
Metke also said they plan to make changes in the SSFAC constitution to include restrictions and regulations on cutting an organization’s budget by more than a certain percentage.
“The idea of not deviating by more than 10 percent from last year’s budget, while it wouldn’t be a guarantee, at least it would be a safeguard,” Metke said. “So I am certainly open to changing the process. We will look at the policies and see where we are not consistent with other colleges. If we are an outlier, I would like to know why and try to adopt the best practices.”
Having administration on the committee could be beneficial in maintaining neutrality. Cheathman said their presence in the committee at TSU prevents a “knee-jerk” reaction to eliminate funding simply because an account is “out of favor” with a few student representatives.
“The administration/faculty representation assures a ‘long term’ view,” Cheathman said. “No budget can be cut by more than 10 percent in a given year without a unanimous vote.”
Metke plans to have the changes made to the committee before the new proposals in the spring.