Student Media Board did not receive student activity fee funding for 2022-23 academic year due to ‘significant amount of rollover’ from previous two semesters

Decision comes as part of CSI structural review of student organizations, includes no stipends for Student Media Board

Student Media Board did not receive student activity fee funding for 2022-23 academic year due to ‘significant amount of rollover’ from previous two semesters
Center for Student Involvement in Mary Graydon Center.

Editor’s note: As a student media organization, The Eagle receives its funding allocation from the Center for Student Involvement. Nina Heller, The Eagle’s editor-in-chief, is part of the student media working group and was not a part of the writing, editing or reporting of this story. Sarah Mattalian, The Eagle’s managing editor for news, is the former co-chair of the Student Media Board and was not a part of the writing, editing or reporting of this story. 

Student media organizations did not receive undergraduate activity fee funding from the Center for Student Involvement for the 2022-23 academic year, a decision that comes as a result of a CSI review of student organization structures. 

In an email to The Eagle, CSI Director Ayana Wilson wrote that all campus organizations that have previously received funding from the undergraduate activity fee will continue to this academic year. However, this is with the exception of the Student Media Board, due to “a significant amount of rollover in reserve that needs to be spent down” by student media organizations.

“The purpose of the student activity fee money is to be used for and by students during the year allocated, not for large sums to be saved in a reserve account,” Wilson wrote. “All boards have used their reserves at one point or another to supplement programs and budgets.”

According to Wilson, this change is a result of a review of student organization structures that CSI began conducting over the summer and will continue throughout the academic year.

“3 separate workgroups have been created, one of which is for student media. The student working groups started meeting over the summer to review structures and consisted of students from the respective cohort and a CSI advisor,” Wilson wrote. “The working groups will make recommendations for updated structures that support better student engagement and use of activity fee money.”

Julia Rusnak, a senior in the School of Public Affairs and the outgoing general manager of WVAU, has served on the Student Media Board for the past two years. 

She said that, in previous years, two representatives from each student media organization would sit on the board, and each person would receive a stipend of between $400 to $800 per semester from CSI. The year before she joined the board, she said this funding was reduced, with only one representative from each student media organization receiving a stipend. 

An allocation of funds from the undergraduate activity fee, which costs $88.50 in undergraduate tuition for full-time students during the 2022-23 academic year, was divided evenly among Student Media Board organizations at the beginning of every semester. Rusnak said this “new money” is how stipends for representatives were supplied.

“We would each set our budgets and then whatever was left over from that new money, we would divide evenly for the stipend and then have however much left over for the student media release party, basically,” Rusnak said.

In addition to money from the undergraduate activity fee, student media organizations could also get support from a reserve fund, which included money from the student activity fee that was not used within the previous two semesters. Each organization could also spend from its specific rollover fund, which included any money its members did not spend the previous semester. No student organizations were allowed to handle their financial resources directly; CSI had to approve each individual expenditure.

According to Wilson, there will not be funding specifically allocated for Student Media Board representative stipends this academic year. She said this is because “the purpose of stipends is to support student leaders in various governance involvement positions that are tied to governance and additional responsibilities outside of their leadership position.”

“This year is about review and assessment,” Wilson wrote. “The work group will make recommendations, which could include stipend positions for consideration.” 

Rusnak said that, when Student Media Board representatives were receiving stipends, CSI stressed that this support was to compensate for their work on the Student Media Board and not their roles within their individual organizations. She said that this led to CSI leadership “[coming] up with things for us to do just for Student Media Board in order to justify us receiving a stipend for that job” — a policy she personally disagreed with.

“Especially coming out of COVID, I was of the opinion that we should be focusing on our own organizations rebuilding and adding to the campus community and not necessarily on busywork that people were just coming up [with] for us to do for Student Media Board,” Rusnak said.

Wilson wrote that decisions about stipends are made based on the idea that “each of the student cohorts serve different needs and have different responsibilities.”

Rusnak said this decision was frustrating because it made her feel that student media’s contributions to the University were being undervalued. 

“I just thought it was so disrespectful to insinuate that we should be doing that work just for free,” Rusnak said. “And all of us agreed we would do it for free because we love it, but being paid a stipend, not only is it a practical means of support but it’s also a signifier that the institution appreciates what we’re doing and that it appreciates the work we’re putting in.” 

Rusnak said she also worries that low-income students will face more barriers for participation in Student Media Board if stipends are not reintroduced, which she believes would fly “in the face of everything that AU says that they stand for.”

“I think it’s a huge, huge mistake on their part to not place that value on supporting us financially because you’re just gonna end up with an extremely homogenous group of privileged students,” Rusnak said.

In her email, Wilson wrote that there are “a multitude of students from diverse backgrounds serving in leadership roles both paid and unpaid.”

Although the Student Media Board is the only Club Council organization that will not receive undergraduate activity fee funding this semester, Student Government has undergone structural changes, including the separation of the Kennedy Political Union, the Student Union Board, Women’s Initiative and the Founders Week Committee from the SG organization. 

Ryan Hale, a senior in SPA and former undergraduate senator, said he and his fellow SG members felt CSI could have been more transparent about why such changes have been made.

“We have been told that we do not function properly as currently structured and so they’re changing every fault,” Hale said. “And to give them a little bit of credit, they did put out an application on our side of things for a working group and students could apply and they accepted students and those students are part of the process.”

However, Hale, who previously served as chair of the Undergraduate Senate's finance committee, said he would appreciate “an explanation as to why this was the method they chose” to address issues in Student Government. Prior to this year, SG’s Finance Committee would collaborate with its programming boards and executive officials to determine a budget. This budget would be presented in a public information session, go before the undergraduate senate and then the SG president would sign it into effect. 

According to Hale, this year was different, with CSI making “almost entirely” all of the budgetary decisions for SG. He said he would like to see CSI officials provide more detailed reasoning as to why significant financial changes have been made for both SG and the Student Media Board because he does not currently feel that the restructuring has made SG operations more efficient.

“All it has done in terms of a financial perspective alone, it has made it more difficult and less transparent,” Hale said.

Rusnak said she hopes that members of student organizations will join together to advocate for more financial transparency from CSI, and that it would be “a huge mistake for students in these positions to pit ourselves against each other or to see this as a fight for funding.”

“We’re not enemies, we’re not competing for funding. There is the money, like, we know that it exists and we know that, for the most part, we are trustworthy stewards of student funds because we care about this institution,” Rusnak said. “I don’t want anyone in Student Government or on any of the programming boards to think that we’re up against each other.”

Wilson wrote that CSI will review the recommendations made by the student workgroups and take those perspectives into consideration when making decisions about how to allocate undergraduate activity fee resources in the future.

“The purpose of student activity fee is to encourage strong and viable student-sponsored programs that contribute significantly to the intellectual and social development of the student body,” Wilson wrote.

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