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RCA Mismanaged Activities' Finances

By Daniel C. Stevenson

Next week, student activity leaders will receive notification from the Residence and Campus Activities office about accounting errors totalling $140,000 in the student activities accounting system.

The errors, spanning the last three years, are the result of discrepancies between the overall student activities account, maintained by the Comptroller's Accounting Office, and a database maintained by RCA that was supposed to mirror the CAO account. The RCA account subdivided the accounts into those of individual activities.

The discrepancies consist of improperly voided transactions, double-entered transactions, and "halfway-entered" transactions. The last category consists of transactions that were entered only in the RCA database - that is, income was recorded for a student group, but the money was never actually transferred to the overall activities account - as well as transactions recorded by the CAO but not in the RCA system.

Activities will be forgiven any debts from the first two fiscal years of the period in question (July 1993 through July 1995), but will be required to accept all transactions since July 1995, according to Margaret A.Jablonski, associate dean for RCA. "I don't think it's fair to hold student groups accountable for transactions that took place two years ago," she said.

The problem was discovered last spring by Douglas K. Wyatt G and Undergraduate Association Treasurer Russell S. Light '98.

Wyatt, Light, and several RCA staff members have been working since then to correct the database. They processed roughly 8,000 transactions, about half of which contained errors.

"We have suspected for a while that there has been a problem," Jablonski said.

More than 150 groups affected

More than 150 groups will be affected by the accounting errors, Wyatt said. The majority will see no net effect, or may even receive a small positive adjustment to their account, he said.

A minority of groups will have their balance reduced, due to discrepancies in transactions over the past year. Those groups that do a large amount of intra-MIT accounting with MIT departments like Graphics Arts or the Campus Activities Complex will be affected the most, Wyatt said.

Jablonski said she "expects some groups would be disappointed and frustrated" with the adjustments to their accounts.

Of the total $140,000, about $10,000 is unrecoverable, due to improperly entered transactions that could not be traced to a particular group. About $50,000 of the deficit is due to activities that became defunct while in debt over the past three years.

Another $40,000 is the net effect of transactions recorded in the RCAdatabase but never put through to the CAO. RCA has agreed to honor those transactions.

Finally, $42,000 is the net effect of transactions recorded by the CAO but not entered in the RCA database.

The three-year period was chosen because before that time, the two systems - the CAO's single activities account and RCA's subdivided system - were in close agreement, Wyatt said.

System and personnel at fault

The blame for the errors lies in a combination of systems and personnel problems, Jablonski said.

Eleanor P. Crawford, staff associate in RCA, was responsible for entering the transactions in RCA's system, as were several others, including student workers and Lelo C. Masamba, senior office assistant in RCA. "It is difficult to pin it down,"Jablonski said.

The software system used to keep the RCA accounts, an application written in relational database program called 4th Dimension, was not well-suited to managing accounts, Light said. It was a system put in place several years ago when the CAO decided it would no longer track individual activities' accounts because there were too many for the paper system then in use.

"There's always been difficulty reconciling activities' accounts with CAO records,"said former UATreasurer Raajnish A.Chitaley '95. "There are a large number of transactions, involving a lot of small student groups with a lot of turnover in terms of who's responsible from the student groups' side."

"From the system perspective, I don't think there's anything fairly complicated,"Chitaley said. "Anyone who blames the system is wrong. It's just how was it executed and how was it monitored."

The basic problem stems from the fact that many different groups want control of activities accounts and funding, but few are willing to accept the responsibility it entails, Chitaley said.