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Senate Speaker Discusses ASA, Finboard Allocations

This is the seventh of a series of weekly interviews with members of the Undergraduate Association. These interviews will be conducted by The Tech’s news editors and members of the editorial board. A UA representative will be present during these interviews as well. Questions for the UA members should be sent to uaqa@the-tech.mit.edu the same week they are featured. Responses to these questions will be printed alongside the following week’s interview.

Steven M. Kelch ’08, the UA Senate Speaker, was interviewed this week.

The Tech: What is the Senate’s role in the UA?

Steven Kelch: The Senate’s role is a discussion forum. All the senators are elected by their constituents which is their living groups, their individual living groups. Their job is to find out what students care about and bring those issues to the Senate. And then we’ll all discuss it and then go back to the constituents, and we’ll discuss it with them. And we’ll come together and if it’s something very important, we’ll make a resolution that we’ll then put to the administration.

We also do things like internal changes in the UA. We’ll change our Constitution. We’re also the main funding approval body for the UA. So [the UA Finance Board] comes to us with numbers and … we’ll be approving Finbaord allocations for the spring.

TT: How many senators are there?

SK: There are currently 27 senators from all living groups except Bexley.

TT: When are Senate meetings?

SK: Senate meetings are Monday nights at 8 p.m. in W20-400, open to all undergrads.

TT: What are some of the types of issues that you have to deal with?

SK: Some of the recurring themes are always dining. People care very much about dining on this campus. Issues that have come up so far this semester have been student group space, student group property, and interaction with the ASA. The ASA is going to have some recommendations on new policies and some internal reforms based on that discussion. We also just got done talking about the Sudan divestment and what the student body feels about that. We passed a resolution in support of MIT’s continuing efforts to find the best way to divest from Sudan and we recommended targeted divestment, based on student input.

What we’ll be looking at this week is the Theme House report. … There are plenty of students on this campus who have very strong opinions.

TT: Can you elaborate on the property rights debate?

SK: This was just sort of an idea that one of the senators had, he realized that [when] we were talking [about] the Logarhythm studio, that issue came up. And there was some ambiguity between where exactly that issue should be held. We all eventually decided that … the ASA, based on the student input, … was the best place to handle that. And it’s true, that’s sort of what the ASA was designed for. So we made sure that the ASA handled that.

TT: How is the ASA related to the UA?

SK: The ASA is a joint committee between the UA and the Graduate Student Council. So the ASA runs all student groups on campus, including undergraduate and graduate. We make recommendations to the ASA based on undergraduate students. But a lot of times the ASA affects all student groups.

TT: Tell us more about Finboard allocations.

SK: Finboard gets together on a weekend and they get the budget requests from all of the different student groups. And they sit down, they have a set amount of money that they’re trying to allocate. This year it’s approximately 95,000 dollars for undergraduate student groups. What they do is they take all of the groups that request money from Finboard and go through line item by line item and decide what they can fund and what they can’t fund based on policies of Finboard and, of course, how much money they actually have to give out. They can’t, obviously, fund all of the student groups exactly what they want, but they do try to give them what they need. That comes before the Senate to look through and make sure that everything seems fair, that no student group is getting unfair treatment. Then it goes before the Senate and they vote to approve it. There’s a small amount left over for Appeals, in case a student group is overlooked or realizes last minute that they need something they didn’t get.

TT: Is all the money usually allocated?

SK: All of the money is allocated, in fact, we have a certain percentage of over-allocation. The student groups don’t always spend everything they’re given and so that’s factored in. Finboard actually … gives away more money than it has, but based on past trends, we’ve never been in the hole coming out of it. There’s always some roll over.

TT: Where does the money come from?

SK: The money comes from various places. Most of it comes from the Student Life Fee, which is another issue that we’re looking at right now. We’ve actually passed a resolution asking for greater transparency for the Student Life Fee. This was an initiative started by Andrew [T.] Lukmann [’07], the UA president, that the Senate approved. What we’re asking for is a little more control over that. The Student Life Fee is broken down into two different areas. Some of it, actually most of it, goes to [the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation], to run the Z Center and the athletic facilities. … What’s left over sort of gets split between the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council. What we’re asking for is a little bit more control over the portion that goes to the Undergraduate Association, stuff that goes directly to students, directly to student groups, through Finboard. And responses from the administration so far have been fairly positive, and so we think that with a little bit of diligence, we’re going to get this through and actually have a lot more control and give that control back to the students.

TT: The Student Life Fee might go up?

SK: There’s a strong possibility that it’s going to be raised. Right now DAPER is having trouble paying its bills. The facilities cost a lot of money to run and of course we’re getting more students. The staff in DAPER … get yearly raises. In an effort to provide more service and better service to students, DAPER needs more money. This is where the whole topic came up. … We got wind that this fee might be increased and we wanted to make sure we have some say in what portions of it go where. If it’s going to be increased, we want to have a say in it.

TT: We’d heard there were some changes to Finboard this year, tell us more.

SK: There were a couple of small policy changes, they were sort of in place already and we just formalized them to make sure that they were published and to make sure students understood these. For instance, we can’t fund food for meetings because it’s very costly and there’s just not enough money to go around. … We can’t fund direct charity contributions [and] can’t take money from students and give it to charities, specifically. Small policy issues like that we wanted to make sure were clear and the Finboard chair especially wanted to make sure was on record.

TT: Is there anything you think the Senate could improve on?

SK: Well, there’s always something that we can improve on, and if anybody has ideas on what we could improve on, we would encourage them to come to us. I hope that people are getting information from their senators, and if not, that’s something that we need to know and that we can definitely improve on.

TT: Is there anything that you’d like to say to students?

SK: Sure, I’d like to say that the Senate is here as a discussion forum for any issues that the students feel are important. We can go out there and look for issues, but it’s best if you bring them to us. That way, we know that there are people who are passionate about it. And don’t be shy about showing up for meetings, we’ve got room. We’re always willing to entertain people who want to speak. For instance, on the Cultural House issue, unfortunately, at the meeting where that was first brought up, we were so heavy into the Sudan discussion that [the discussion] sort of got put on hold. And some people came to speak about the theme houses and didn’t quite have the chance to talk. I would really like them to come back … and anybody else who has any thoughts and cares about this issue should come by … and speak about it.

TT: How can students add an item to the Senate agenda?

SK: Students should e-mail their senators with agenda items, ideas, comments, concerns, and complaints.

TT: Where are Senate minutes located and how quickly are they updated?

SK: Senate minutes are located on the Web site. The Web site is currently in transition to a much better system that will allow instant updates.

TT: Where can your Web site be found?

SK: Currently, the Web site is behind a few weeks but can be found at http://web.mit.edu/ua/www/senate/index.html.