The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 39.0°F | A Few Clouds

Accounts Disaster Reveals RCA Problems

The discovery this week of massive accounting errors in the office of Residence and Campus Activities' handling of student activities accounts came as no surprise. As any student familiar with RCA's operations over the past few years would recall, the system was mismanaged, resulting in glaring inefficiencies and months-long delays. Associate Dean for RCA Margaret A. Jablonski said that the office was aware of the problems, though their scope was not known.

RCA has now admitted that the accounting errors amounted to a net loss of $140,000.

The mismanagement of student money has created serious problems at a human level. Many students live from paycheck to paycheck; they can't afford to have reimbursements or payments delayed for months on end. Nor should busy or stressed-out students be required to pay weekly visits to the RCA office just to keep accounts updated.

RCA has informally blamed the mismanagement of student accounts on poor software and on the staff errors of former staff as well as current Staff Associate Eleanor P. Crawford. Bad software and staff incompetence help explain RCA's accounting fiasco, but they certainly do not excuse it. It was in fact students, Undergraduate Association Treasurer Russell S. Light '98 and President of the Association of Student Activities Douglas K. Wyatt G, who actually made the discovery of the massive accounting errors. Some of the affected student groups themselves had previously complained to RCA that transactions were not being properly recorded. It is clear that RCA's handling of student activity accounts has been an unmitigated disaster, and the blame for the current ridiculous state of the office ultimately rests with Jablonski. If the Deans' Office were a company, she and her staff would be held responsible, and heads would roll.

Given the scandalous mismanagement at RCA, it seems all the more amazing that progress towards a policy on outside accounts has been so slow. Students have been behind efforts to develop outside accounts, and they have had to drag RCA kicking and screaming into negotiating an end to its inefficient system.

The organization responsible for the current disaster should play little role in student accounts from this point forward. There is little justification for deans to have authority over student money. RCA's present efforts to clear up the mess as well as its promise to forgive affected student groups two years of debts are both laudable. But RCA must prove itself competent if it is to have control of student accounts. In the mean time, responsibility for the minimal necessary oversight should pass to some more competent office so that perhaps the deans can get back to facilitating, rather than mismanaging, student life.