Our alternative title was going to be “0P3N L3TT3R$: An Open Letter to All the Open Letters About Other Open Letters”
Back in September when the original Argus/WSA conflict exploded across campus (and in, like, all 50 states), the editors of Wesleying decided not to comment on the situation, mostly due to that fact that A) we were half-dead at the time (but we have arisen!!!!!!), and B) we weren’t really interested in taking a “side” as an ~institution~.
But then there was a development in the latest installment of Gossip Girl: Argus v. WSA: Open letters. Open letters about open letters. Open letters about open letters about open letters. In the words of hermes’ late Grandma Evelyn (may she rest in eternal peace), oy gevalt.
It appears that the Wesleyan Argus and the Wesleyan Student Assembly are in yet another kerfuffle over a steaming pile of fuckery, so Mama Wesleying is here to decipher it all.
Here it is, folks: The latest Argus/WSA conflict, ~*~EXPLAINED~*~.
Okay, I have shit memory. What happened back in September with the Argus and the WSA again?
Oof, what didn’t happen with the Argus and WSA back in September? Basically:
- This op-ed was published in the Argus.
- Lots of this shit happened all over the place.
- Bye, portion of Argus paper copy budget.
- WesSpeaks! WesSpeaks e v e r y w h e r e!
Okay, you’re all caught up.
So if this happened back in September/October, why are the Argus and the WSA running around like schoolgirls with their pigtails cut off in March/April?
We’ll elaborate more as this post goes on, but essentially the WSA emailed the Argus and asked them to give back excess funds allocated to them by the WSA’s Student Budget Committee (SBC) earlier in the year. The Argus didn’t like that and saw it as a political attack (not a regular logistical measure).
Here’s the detailed lowdown for those who care: The Argus has a pot ‘o’ money given to them by alumni and parents, and in addition, it receives lots of moola from the WSA. The Argus says it keeps all these extra donated funds as a “rainy day” fund in case things head south. Per the WSA bylaws, any funds allocated to a student group’s financial account by a group other than the SBC are allowed to stay in that account indefinitely. The SBC, however, has the right to take back funds it doles out.
The WSA asked for the excess funds that it gave the Argus back because it wants to redistribute these funds to the rest of Wesleyan’s bazillion student groups who do not have the privilege of alumni and parents generously donating money on the side. Note that it did not ask for any of the outside donations, just the funds it had given the Argus in the first place. When wilk spoke with chair of the SBC Justin Kim ’19, we were informed that the SBC also reached out to Wes Rugby, a group who had a similarly-sized pot ‘o’ gold obtained from outside donations, so the Argus isn’t singled out here. The problem, as the Argus sees it, is that the WSA’s bylaws say nothing about rules regarding how raising outside funds affect getting (or keeping) money from the SBC. It’s one of those “it’s always been this way and the WSA says it’s the right thing to do” things.
Upon receiving the email asking for the SBC-allocated funds back, the Argus proceeded to publish an editorial on the subject. Its EICs say the Argus needs these rainy day funds to “protect [its] independence” because it’s getting defunded. The WSA, in response, published an open letter on its website clarifying some of the Argus’ claims and saying that some random ass point in its bylaws gives them the right to take back funds whenever. Deciding that talking via the internet is always better than hashing things out with people IRL, the Argus published a response to the WSA’s open letter.
Wait, hold the F up Wesleying, what the hell is the SBC?
The SBC is the Student Budget Committee, one of the committees of the Wesleyan Student Assembly. At the beginning of each school year, each student at Wesleyan (yes, including you) pays $270 in the form of a Student Activities Fee (SAF). According to the WSA bylaws, roughly 84% of this fee ($226.80) goes to the SBC to fund student group projects and initiatives. The rest goes to the WSA office, which handles all financial processing for student groups and other departments on campus.
Things like Spring Fling and Concert Committee? Yeah, they’re funded by the SBC. Ski week? SBC funding. Bread Culture? Motherfuckin’ carb-loading on the SBC’s dime. [Postscript, 3/29/16, 10:21pm: Ski team would like us to reflect that the SBC doesn’t pay for Ski Week, but it does pay for the ski team’s “racing/registration costs.”]
Great. So is the WSA actually defunding the Argus?
For the last. goddamn. time. NO. NO THEY ARE NOT.
The WSA is, however, cutting the Argus’ budget from 3,000 weekly paper copies to 2,400 because people use the excessive number of Argus paper copies around campus to wipe up their spilled Chai Chargers at Pi instead of reading them. The WSA says there are better way to use those funds and that the Argus should ~adapt~ to the interwebs. The Argus says it’s a historic newspaper and this is the way things have always been done and they don’t want anyone to take away their sparkle.
And is it normal for the WSA to ask the Argus for extra funds back?
Yes, it’s actually very normal. So normal, in fact, that it happens EVERY YEAR. LITERALLY EVERY YEAR. ALL OF THE YEARS. The big change this year, however, is that the SBC asked for excess funds back earlier than they usually do.
Why are they asking for money back early this year?
The short answer is that it was preemptive measure. The longer answer is under the next question.
But the important thing is that the WSA told groups like the Argus that it was reaching out for excess funds “due to the disproportional lack of funds left in the SBC budget.” Unsurprisingly, this led to rumors that the SBC mismanaged their funds this year and that’s why they’re asking for money back ASAP. Womp womp.
Huh, intriguing. What’s all this jibber-jabber about missing SBC money?
So this is where we got a lil’ curious.
Beginning around mid-February, the WSA started reaching out to student groups (38 total, not just the Argus) saying that it was running low on funds and wanted groups with extra “idle” funds to come forward so they could be “reassumed” (taken back) and used to help fund other student groups. Part of the WSA’s really confusing and pretentious-as-hell bylaws state that the SBC can take back a student group’s funds at any time, but that automatic reassumption of unused funds cannot occur prior to April 1st on any given year.
Here’s where people got salty: Usually the WSA doesn’t start contacting groups and reassuming funds until after spring break (typically in April), but reassumption does in fact happen every year. SBC Chair Kim decided to try something different this year, however, and preemptively asked groups before spring break to give back funds that they haven’t used yet. He stated in his Wesleying interview that the reasoning behind this change was not due to funds being mismanaged but rather to give student groups more time to look over their finances before the regularly scheduled reassumption began.
Some Wesleying analysis: In retrospect, the SBC should’ve communicated this change to groups more clearly to avoid #wesrumors. And a conversation specifically with the Argus (given its recent brawls with the WSA) most likely would’ve been good too. [Postscript, 3/29/16, 5:38pm: SBC Chair Justin Kim has clarified that the WSA had already set up a meeting with the Argus about the funds for March 23rd, but then the Argus published their original editorial on March 21st despite the meeting already being on the calendar.]
Wow, this is just gripping. But did the SBC mismanage funds?
No, they didn’t.
It does, however, appear based on our own research that the WSA had a bunch of factual and logistical errors in their committee reports over the past six months that led people to believe they did. Here were the discrepancies:
- In this mid-year WSA committee report from January 24, 2016, the SBC states that it allocated $347,499.81 for the fall semester. This would leave around $330,000 left for the spring semester, by our initial observations using the $677,000 SBC’s academic year budget figure determined based on these reports.
- When we first started hearing rumors about SBC funding issues, we found this committee report from February 14, 2016 stating that there was $79,564.88 left to allocate for the rest of the semester.
- Basically, in an effort to clear up rumor, we were all “$347k (first semester’s budget) minus $80k (what’s left for the year) equals $250k, so like where did $250k go in the three weeks between the start of spring semester and Valentine’s Day?”
After speaking with Kim, wilk cleared this number jazz up. Basically, the $347k figure from the mid-year report was obtained from information on OrgSync and compiled by Kim in the report after hours of pouring over last semester’s allocation numbers (which Kim was not in charge of at the time). OrgSync, despite being the platform through which we request funds, is not the only software handling SBC allocations info. The University uses separate software (PeopleSoft) for its accounting, meaning there is room for discrepancy. In the University’s accounting system, it became clear that the $347k figure did not account for big-ticket items that were pre-allocated in the beginning of the school year like Spring Fling (around $80k), Senior Week Activities (around $50k), and the WSA Projects Fund (around $15k). This figure also did not account for the $27k that was allocated to student groups during the summer for use during the first weeks of school. These items account for $172k of the mysterious $250k “missing money” that we found initially.
Also, upon further examination of the mid-year report, we found that the amount left over for allocation at the start of the spring semester (and Kim’s time as SBC chair) was $127,129.14. From these committee reports, it seems that they allocated around $43k in the meetings before February 14, 2016. Taking $127k minus $43k yields roughly the $80k figure that was mentioned in the 2/14 report.
Thus, by our research, the numbers are $80k (leftovers as of 2/14) + $43k (amount allocated in spring before 2/14) + $172k (pre-allocated funds not accounted for in the mid-year report) + $347k (amount allocated to student groups in the Fall as per the mid-year report) = $642k, which, while not quite $677k, seems to hold water considering natural error in estimation techniques, PeopleSoft/OrgSync disagreements, and the fact that Kim stated that this year, slightly less than 84% of the Student Activities Fee went to the SBC.
Here’s Part II of Why People Are Salty:
Kim initially told us that there was nothing wrong with or different about the SBC’s funding this year, whereas WSA president Kate Cullen ’16 made a contradictory statement, declaring that the WSA wasn’t mismanaging funds but in fact started out the school year with fewer funds than usual due to the over-subscribed class of 2015 graduating and so many students being in medical leave this year, so the SBC was working with fewer funds from the get-go. Confused? We were too.
In actuality, when we went digging through the committee reports, we found that, by the WSA’s own admission, Wesleyan’s enrollment was down by 69 students and that 2,986 were enrolled. Despite double-majoring in two social sciences, hermes did some math, and 69 students not paying their $270 SAF ($226.80 of it going to the SBC) means that the SBC has $15,649.20 less than its target. However, 2,986 students giving the SBC $226.80 each means that the SBC pot was roughly $677,224.80. That would make the $15,000 only about 2.3% of the SBC’s budget. So this notion that these 69 students are somehow screwing with the SBC’s funding and this entire process just doesn’t hold water; the SBC still has 97.7% of their normal operating budget.
So, why was Kim saying there were no money troubles and Cullen was saying there were and it was because of “low student enrollment”? Kim admits the WSA snagged this low enrollment talking point from an accounting administrator but didn’t do their own number crunching to make sure it made sense. Whoops.
tl;dr No SBC funds were mismanaged. The WSA just made it hard on themselves by including misinformation in several public documents and coupled that with conflicting reports from various WSA higher-ups about what was going on with their funds. Were mistakes made? Hell yeah. Is your Student Activities Fee money the plot of Michael Lewis’ next book? Nada.
Okay, okay, but after all this ‘splaining, is there any validity to the Argus’ yammering?
One thing the Argus has a right to be a lil’ miffed about: The WSA should’ve explained what was going on (i.e. reassuming funds earlier given the rainy day funds) and asked to meet with them in person to discuss, especially given the recent events from September and the ongoing tensions that have existed between the WSA and the Argus for several years now.
If the WSA had taken some preemptive measures when dealing with the Argus, we all could’ve avoided having to feast our eyes on a bunch of hyperbolic open letters.
So who’s at fault with this whole sitch?
Hermes’ ~hot take~: Long story short, no one on either side is a terrible person. But both sides did screw up a little bit. And for full disclosure, I did serve on the WSA for two years and have both good and bad things to say about the experience.
On the WSA side of things, when your entire organization is running on a platform of transparency and isn’t entirely transparent (even if it’s by accident), it’s not the best. As mentioned earlier, a little more planning when it came to reaching out to people about funds and specifically dealing with the Argus could’ve done away with a lot of this mess.
Hopefully going forward, the WSA corrects any discrepancies in their reports regarding budgets and takes out all the unnecessary legalese in the WSA bylaws to avoid future confusion. None of us are bar-certified lawyers; there’s no need to be using words like “thenceforth.”
On the Argus side of things, it looks like the Argus decided to go for the nuclear option over a gust of wind. The whole “rainy day fund” argument is sus, especially considering that the SBC’s precedence regarding fund usage and reassumption have been in place for a while. If the Argus really doesn’t want to deal with the SBC, it should be self-funded. And if it can’t do everything it currently does while being self-funded, it should look at its priorities. The “but we’re a historical institution” and “but free speech” arguments only go so far; the Argus runs into trouble when it starts trying to say what its staff members deserve over other students and student groups. I also won’t get into the privilege/diversity convo that’s been discussed ad nauseam over the past six months and how that relates to raising outside funds.
Overall, both groups should’ve communicated in person if there were any questions instead of being a bunch of Petty Patricias and writing a series of inflammatory (though admittedly, inadvertently hilarious) open letters.
Wilk’s ~hot take~: So, yes to everything that Sour Patch Kids fan hermes said above. After doing lots of research and speaking directly with Justin in addition to some folks in the WSA Office, this seemed to me to be a miscommunication between some Wes Institutions that we here at non-SBC-funded-independent-blog-thing have snarked at in the past. It is because Wesleying is independent that we can write shit like this, and I see this as the ideal situation for campus publications.
The truth is that the Argus did not also crunch the numbers, and they stated that they were “looking to avoid being on the record about anything” when we initially contacted them for an interview (they later gave us a brief statement), which are both ironic pieces of information considering their status as a journalistic entity. On the flip side, the SBC had errors in their reporting and did not foresee how rumors will spread at good ‘ol Wes, so everyone messed up a little bit.
This sitch was undoubtedly thorny and annoying for all involved, and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a clearer future, especially considering the discussions around a new resolution that would create a separate frozen fund (similar to the Green Fund) to be managed by Wes publications and that would hopefully counter any future attacks from crazy media people calling us one of the top 10 worst colleges for “free speech,” whatever that means.
Blah, blah, blah, I don’t give a rat’s ass about your goddamn hot takes. Give me the tl;dr, Wesleying.
Main takeaways: People should talk in person. The Argus is throwing a hissy fit. The WSA needs to do math and not have typos in key financial reports. The end.