By Ivan Evtimuv
Lafayette College Student Government has no small responsibility. Not only do the 15 elected representatives have to be a voice of the students to the administration, but they also manage a sizeable amount of funds—several hundred thousand dollars that come in from an individual mandatory contribution each student pays in addition to our tuition fees. So, we should expect the members of the student government to be subject to high standards of management of public resources.
It is unfortunate that our representatives were frivolous with fund administration and public decision-making in the event competition, announced on Oct. 21 The competition was won by an event called Hawk Smash, proposed by John Walker, supported by 199 students (46.6 percent out of 427 who voted). Two hours before the winner was announced, according to Facebook time stamps, Walker, a long-standing member of student government, posted that he had won the competition on several class groups. More importantly, he mentioned that he has “a vague idea of what’s going to happen.” He then went on to describe what Hawk Smash is: “…we’re gonna build an effigy (giant wooden statue) of a mountain hawk before Laf-Lehigh and destroy/deface it (maybe even light it on fire if we get permission).”
Based on those posts, the actions of student government are questionable in the light of public fund administration standards. First of all, it seems to me there was a major conflict of interests at play. It does not appear fair to allow a member of a finance-management authority to participate in a competition for the allocation of funds run by that same authority. If there were mechanisms in place to mitigate this conflict, I believe the representatives should have made these plans public.
Furthermore, the lack of a clear idea on behalf of Walker of what the event is or how the money is going to be spent suggests that student government neglected its regular budgetary decision-making standards in the competition. For those who do not know the rigor of the event funding application process, student government requires very thorough information on how the money your group requests is going to be used and scrutinizes estimates provided in the request to make sure they are not too high.
Details of this process can be found in the “Budget Policies and Guidelines” document on their webpage. Section V of that document lists a series of questions that guide the budget evaluation. One of them is, “How well researched and detailed is the club’s request?” The post by Walker suggests that the answer in this instance is that it was not well researched at all. Again, if these impressions are wrong, I believe it is only fair to disclose what steps student government took to make sure that the event proposals in the competition (not only the winning one) aligned with their usual standards.
There are also issues of the influence of a glitch in the voting, but I will stop here. I have personally always trusted that student government is judicious with the management of the students’ activities fee. They have largely reciprocated that trust through their event funding process, evident by the large variety and quality of events that clubs on campus organize. Most recently, the student government’s budget was made open to the community—an enormous step in transparency and accountability which I highly applaud. I should hope that they continue to apply these standards even when we have the chance to burn an effigy of a Mountain Hawk.