University News

Cultural groups hide unofficial funds from UFB

Citing insufficient UFB funding for events, some student groups turn elsewhere for cash

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Leaders of cultural groups — such as the South Asian Student Association, which puts on a spring culture show — said underfunding by the Undergraduate Finance Board has led to difficulties supporting programming.

Several cultural groups — that in recent years have felt underfunded by the Undergraduate Finance Board — are supplementing their official UFB funding with unreported cash to afford putting on festivals and events, The Herald learned from interviews with cultural group leaders.

Though the board is supposed to serve as student groups’ main source of funding, it has historically struggled with a small student activities endowment and failed to meet some groups’ financial needs. UFB leaders said they were unaware of the illegal cash until their conversations with The Herald.

The vice president of a prominent cultural group on campus, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid punishment from the UFB, told The Herald his group keeps “shoe box money” to “act as a buffer in case the funds we receive from UFB run out.” The group secretly holds around $200 of the proceeds from its fundraising events in a private bank account, instead of an account with the Student Activities Office.

He added that the UFB has decreased the group’s funding for the spring semester over the years, though the group’s most costly event occurs in the spring.

“We have had to resort to using our hidden money a lot more frequently than in the past,” he said.

Another leader of a cultural group, who also wished to remain anonymous, told The Herald her group keeps unreported cash to spend on alcohol for its events. She said her group started this practice because UFB does not fund alcohol, since it serves an undergraduate population that mostly has not reached the legal drinking age. Many of the leader’s group members are graduate students and faculty members, she said.

“Groups aren’t supposed to keep outside accounts, but occasionally we learn about one,” said Timothy Shiner, director of Student Activities and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center.

When representatives from the SAO learn of groups keeping outside accounts, they meet with the group leaders to determine their reasons for keeping the accounts and ask them to stop, Shiner added.

But this practice has not caught the attention of UFB leadership.

Leila Veerasamy ’15, chair of the UFB, said she had not heard of cultural groups keeping outside funds.

Fredrick Rhine ’15, who served as a UFB representative for 13 cultural groups last semester, said he also did not know of any unreported funds in existence.

“I think it’s problematic for groups to do that and not tell UFB, and then come in and ask UFB for money,” Rhine said. “It’s not fair to other groups.”

Veerasamy said the practice put groups that did not keep unreported funds at an unfair disadvantage, since UFB would view them comparably to groups that may have more money.

But student cultural group leaders told The Herald they thought other cultural groups may keep unreported cash because they feel underfunded by UFB.

“It makes sense why groups would be forced into having to do that if they felt underfunded,” said Meghal Shah ’14, vice president of the South Asian Students Association, the largest cultural group on campus.

Shah said SASA often suffers from a lack of funding from UFB, such as when the group cancelled plans to host filmmaker Sarovar Banka ’02 two years in a row because it could not afford to pay for his travel.

But Veerasamy said she does not think cultural groups are underfunded.

“If some cultural groups are feeling underfunded, it’s because there’s been miscommunication and they don’t understand that they can come in for appeals,” she said, adding that she would work to address the issue of miscommunication this year.

The board’s new policy on food may curb the use of outside accounts. UFB has not funded food in the past, but starting this semester, it will cover the cost of 50 percent of the food for an event.

“A lot of cultural events are often centered around food,” said SASA President Gayatri Mehra ’14, citing SASA’s Dinner Dance and Senior Celebration as examples. “So funding for food will definitely affect what cultural groups can do.”

Topics:
  • FED UP

    Why must the administration be so slanted toward bureaucracy? If a group is able to raise funds on its own in addition to UFB funds, God bless them. This should be considered independently from the UFB funding. Should we discourage fundraising? This smells a bit like discrimination when we talk about “cultural” groups hiding money.

    • M

      All groups do this, not just “cultural” groups.

      • FED UP

        Right: So why the headline? That was my point.

    • Common Cents

      Well, due to the state of things, UFB funding is needs based. Like at other schools, groups should fundraise. However, when these groups double dip, the UFB unknowingly funds grey goose fueled get together for the group’s E-board.

  • Justice

    The UFB should have nothing to do with funds that groups raise to supplement the funding they get. And to think that the appellate process to get more funding is reliable is a joke. This isn’t a problem for the UFB in any legitimate way. It shouldn’t matter to them.

    • Common Cents

      It matters because UFB is needs based. If you raised outside funds and then come asking for more money while witholding information on your true need, well that’s fraud and theft, not justice.

  • Former Brown student ’10

    And of course, this article doesn’t even mention another disadvantage of remaining beholden to Brown’s bureaucracy for funding – unless a group is able to coordinate its purchase with the SAO 2-3 weeks in advance, there’s no way to obtain a group’s funds quickly. There thankfully is a reimbursement process for expenses paid out-of-pocket, but it often takes at least a month for a student to get reimbursed for an expense that he/she paid for. With our limited budgets as college students, having the liquidity of a bank account and an ATM machine is extraordinarily valuable for expenses that come up quickly (e.g., supplies for competitions and events). Back when I was on campus, most student groups (and not just the “cultural” ones, as an earlier commenter pointed out) used their external accounts as a liquid source of cash to stabilize out-of-pocket finances while waiting for official reimbursement from Brown.

    • Common Cents

      Not UFB’s fault. That’s University policies. Things like “Brown First” actually hurt students.

  • Common Cents

    A few things: 1) UFB has a job no one wants and could never succeed in. 2) We have too many groups and that likely won’t change. 3) UFB is neccessary.

    A Thankless Job:
    Yes UFB is a wet rag. They have to tell people where the buck stops. They’re party poopers. UFB has the unenviable job of telling people no, and for some its the first time they’ve ever heard that word.

    They get carried away because their job description is vague and yet specific: “Distribute funds as effectively as possible on a need basis.” Ask any person to parse this mission out and you’ll get different answers. Everyone brings their own biases to arrive at a different conclusion. This is why every single person gets upset with UFB funding and why anyone that complains sounds like a delusional, self-entitled priss.

    Budgets Unbalanced:
    The biggest problem is that UFB oversees too few funds for far too many groups. Looking at comparably sized schools and funded student activities, we have an overburdened Student Activities Fund. Where comparables have ~70 groups, we have over 200 last I checked. There’s not enough to go around to everyone (or anyone’s) satisfaction.

    The number of groups is only growing. UCS categorizes groups every year intentionally irrespective of funding feasibility. Moreover, groups are only decategorized once every 3 years. There’s tremendous lag in determining which groups are relevant to campus. Additionally, its highly unlikely that students in UCS will make the difficult decision to cut the majority of marginally existing groups. It’s these small groups that enjoy a disproportionate amount of funding on a per student basis. Remember, for every head going to a conference, its an arm and a leg, and the way Brown is, we’re conference Imperials sending bodies everywhere.

    To make matters worse, Identity and Cultural groups enjoy a political asylum other kinds of groups seldom will because questioning the validity, necessity, or efficacy of any cultural or identity group will immediately draw shrieks of “___ism” and “___phobia.”

    To illustrate: the fictitious Trans Biracial Daughters of Refugees for Peace only have 2 active members, because goddammit, the group is so specific its fucking exclusionary. Tell these trans teens from war torn wherever that their group doesn’t matter and that the $5000 they want for speaker to come an speak about genital mutilation by handless child soldiers won’t matter. They’ll say that it does…to them. See how this (excluding the outlandishness) plays out over and over?

    Not the Student Group Brown Wants But The One it Deserves:
    We need UFB. Who else will interface with the maternalistic/paternalistic administrators that treat students like children? Who else can UCS blame for not funding capital projects that the University should? Who else can we get pissed at for too many mouths and not enough cheese to go around?