Michael Cummings, Staff Writer
Two weeks ago, the Grinnell student body received an email from our Student Government Association (SGA) Treasurer, Ham Serunjogi ’16, with a bold new proposal. Serunjogi introduced a plan by the SGA Cabinet to spend $110,000 from SGA’s reserve account, “on a series of projects that we believe will have a positive impact on student life at Grinnell for many years to come,” the email read.
The reserve account is a bank account that SGA uses to deposit any remaining money that was in the budget for a given year but was not spent. Serunjogi explained that the intent of the reserve fund is as a backup for potential budget shortfalls. However, thanks to the work of the treasurers of the past several years, SGA has not had consistent issues with deficits and the reserve account has been growing dramatically. The reserve currently sits at about $90,000 and Serunjogi estimates it will grow to $170,000 in the next year and a half.
Serunjogi, however, does not see a reason for having such a large reserve.
“My job is not to build a big reserve for SGA. The reserve is not some kind of trophy that SGA holds up and says, ‘We have so much money.’ It does no good for students to have a lot of money in the reserve,” he said.
In reaction to this, Serunjogi and the rest of the SGA Cabinet have been drafting ideas for ways to spend the money that will best benefit the student body. The most prominent of these ideas is a plan to give the College $50,000 to help speed up the process of making Younker Hall accessible.
This plan, as well as proposals to spend another $100,000 on various other projects were brought to Campus Council for a vote two weeks ago, but many senators had reservations.
“I think it was a little shocking, I guess, that they asked us to make decisions on $150,000 that night,” said Amanda Hinchman-Dominguez ’17, a senator for Jamaland.
Other senators agreed that they had been given little time to consider the proposal. They
said that the reserve was mentioned during the first Campus Council of the year, but they heard nothing more about it until they received Serunjogi’s campus-wide email along with the rest of the student body.
“There was no mention between the first campus council and the email. We had no idea that they were seriously discussing spending that,” said Dhruv Bakshi ’17, another senator for Jamaland.
Furthermore, the senators expressed displeasure that they weren’t being told how the money was to be spent.
“There is no description on any of the expenses, they kind of talked about it for five minutes,” Hinchman-Dominguez said.
“I just felt like, when you spend $50,000 I want something a little more serious about where that is going to go directly, and I want to know where each dollar is being spent,” Bakshi added.
The senators also claimed that they had been pressured to approve the Younker project specifically because of a time crunch with the administration.
“The way that it was put was if we did not pass this [resolution] … and if we did not approve that $50,000 that we would promise them to this renovation project, the renovation project would be pushed back a year,” said Claudia Handal ’18, a senator for students living off campus.
In addition to these complaints, the senators did not see why it was SGA’s job to fund the Younker Renovation.
“My issue is also why not push for a protest? Why not do something before we throw money at something, because then we set the precedent that if the College isn’t doing anything then SGA is going to step in and throw our reserve funds at it and then it’s going to get done,” Handal said.
The Senate rejected the Cabinet’s proposal to spend the money at Campus Council on Wednesday, Oct. 28.
SGA Administrative Coordinator Misha Rindisbacher ’16, agreed with the senators that communication between the Cabinet and the Senate may have been inadequate.
“My understanding is that the senators felt rather uninformed going into the meeting. What happened was we basically we presented the resolution and they had roughly 24 hours’ notice to see and make a decision on that,” said Rindisbacher. “I think their reaction is—it’s reasonable. I think that both sides could have done more to coordinate better and to kind of solicit information from each other.”
He added that, “I think that the process we’re going about now will seriously slow things down, and some of the projects we wanted to do were time-sensitive.”
Moving forward, the Cabinet has changed its plan with spending reserve funds to reflect more long-term goals.
“This is a very long-term project, it’s not going to happen this semester,” Serunjogi said.
Rindisbacher added that they are considering creating a board or committee specific to this project to ensure transparency and accountability to the student body as the project moves forward.
“Ultimately, I think that the new approach where we solicit input from both Senators and the general student body and then kind of have a committee or a board where we hear these projects, I think that is the correct way to go about it,” he said.