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Students See Change After Accounts Fiasco

By Brett Altschul
STAFF REPORTER

In the wake of the news that the Office of Residence and Campus Activities mishandled transactions totalling nearly $140,000 in student activities funds, student groups are angered but optimistic that news of the mismanagement will force changes to be made to a system that they have long suspected was not working.

The now-defunct student group Safewalk accumulated a deficit of about $20,000, almost half of the $50,000 estimated to be owed by student groups, before shutting down last year, said Associate Dean for Residence and Campus Activities Andrew M. Eisenmann '75.

Eisenmann said that Safewalk accumulated this debt because it began with a set endowment and never raised additional funds. The group continued to pay its employees even when no funds were available, leading to the debt. Safewalk ceased to exist last year because of a lack of use, Campus Police said fall.

Eisenmann said that RCA hoped to give student groups a full listing of their expenditures over the last three years on Friday. "The totals pretty much exist now, but we're rechecking them and preparing other information to go with them," he said.

Outside accounts may be allowed

RCA has obtained an entirely new software package for managing student accounts, Eisenmann said. The new software is superior because it is a commercial accounting program, he said. The old program used by RCA was a custom-written program with a relational database program.

There is also a draft proposal before senior officers of MIT to allow student groups to keep outside accounts, Eisenmann said. He said that he expected the plan to be approved, given the recent fiasco and the fact that many groups still have illicit outside accounts.

About two-thirds of student groups - probably over 100 - currently have outside accounts, said Undergraduate Association Treasurer Russell S. Light '98. Only about 10 groups are actually authorized to have outside accounts, he said.

Jay P. Muchnij '98, president of the MIT Science Fiction Society, a group that has quarreled with RCA in the past over their accounts, was somewhat pleased at the news of the problems. MITSFS has been trying for several years to get outside accounts, Muchnij said.

"We've been working with [RCA], trying to deal with these problems, but the negotiations have been going slowly," he said. "This news should help speed up the negotiations."

Muchnij viewed the revelation as a vindication for the group. "We've known they were incompetent for a long time," he said. "We're glad that someone else has evidence of that now."

President of Counterpoint Jeremy D. Sher '99 expressed consternation at the news of the accounting problems. Sher said that while the group really wanted to get an outside bank account, they have tried to work within the system. "Counterpoint has really made a serious effort to play by the rules in this," he said.

Sher also complained about the problems the accounting system had caused Counterpoint in the past. "It certainly made it a lot more difficult for us," he said. Transactions were lost and the organization's name was misspelled in the records, he said.

At one point, Counterpoint did not know whether the group had $1,000 or owed that much, Sher said. Counterpoint was forced to go through the RCA records to determine their balance for themselves, he said. "We've found ourselves basically doing the accounting job for RCA."

Douglas K. Wyatt G, president of the Association of Student Activities and one of the students who discovered the RCA error, said that student groups had a right to be outraged.

"I think student groups will be upset about it, and rightly so," he said. "A lot of them have known, and complained about, problems with the system for quite some time now."

Wyatt also expressed some guarded optimism. "I am very glad that MIT has taken responsibility, at least for the part that they did and is forgiving debts from a long time ago," he said.

"I think it is important that the problem be solved, not just band-aided. Fixing the account balances is just the first step in doing that," Wyatt said.