News, University News

Candidates compete for Undergraduate Finance Board Chair, Vice Chair

Undergraduate Finance Board elections begin today, platforms can be found on UCS website

By and
Senior Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Candidates Julian De Georgia '20 (left) and Alesandro Walker ‘20 (right) will face off for the position of UFB Chair in elections beginning today.

Julian De Georgia ’20 and Alesandro Walker ’20 face off in the race for Undergraduate Finance Board chair as voting begins today at noon. UFB at-large members Phillip Champagne ’21, Peter Deegan ’21 and Fatoumata Kabba ’22 compete for the vice chair position.

Candidates’ platforms are available on the Undergraduate Council of Students website and speak to a variety of issues from transparency to expanding the board’s financial aid fund.

Election results will be announced Thursday night at 10 p.m. on the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center.

The race for chair: Julian De Georgia

De Georgia has been on UFB since he was a first-year and serves as the board’s vice chair. He hopes to build on his work expanding the board’s communication, innovation and transparency.

“We need to have that streamlined communication with student groups to be able to actually improve,” De Georgia said. “So far, the board has not been proactive about that.”

As chair, De Georgia said he would work to add questions to the council’s fall poll to better gauge student perception of UFB. He also proposed having a table in the Blue Room every month to talk to student groups. “It’s really hard for us to make progress as a board unless we have that information,” he said.

While he was an at-large member of UFB, De Georgia created a new system to internally track and document the board’s decisions. He also helped build the board’s first independent website as part of this year’s transparency campaign.

“Prior to this year, if you didn’t know very much about UFB, it was pretty challenging to learn about what our processes, what our policies are,” he said.

As vice chair, De Georgia helped create the board’s first financial aid fund in collaboration with Assistant Dean for Financial Advising Vernicia Elie and the Student Activities Office. The fund pays for low-income students to attend certain events on campus.

De Georgia’s platform also rests on fostering innovation within the board. “We need to set aside time to think about bigger-picture issues, to reevaluate policies that student groups are upset about,” he said. The board could set up an additional weekly meeting designated to addressing concerns, De Georgia said.

De Georgia also hopes to continue UFB’s transparency campaign. The board allocates over $2 million annually. “Every undergraduate student pays into that fund” through the student activities fee, he said. “Students have a right to know where that money goes.”

UFB Chair Lisa Schold ’19 and De Georgia worked to publish the board’s first budget report in November.

“If we have all of the information published in a way that’s digestible by the student body, … we’d get a lot of feedback.” De Georgia said, “I also think that it would help hold the board accountable.”

As part of his work as vice chair, De Georgia advocated to tie future increases in the student activities fee to inflation to reduce sporadic change, The Herald previously reported .

Though the board does not need to increase the fee every year, “if we do need to increase it, then it should be tied to inflation,” he said. “We need to be more cautious about how we are allocating the money.”

“That’s why I’m pushing for chair,” he said. “I’ve been on the board for a long time. I know how we operate. I’ve seen a lot of the problems that we have. And I think I’d be able to help us move forward in the right direction.”

De Georgia will be voting yes on the Brown Divest referendum.

“The divest coalition has raised a very valid critique of Brown’s investments in companies that are complicit in human rights violations,” De Georgia wrote in a statement to The Herald. He also expressed support for greater transparency surrounding the University’s investments.

The race for chair: Alesandro Walker

If elected UFB chair, Walker would draw on his three years as an at-large member and experiences interacting with the board as a representative of a student group, he said.

When Walker was treasurer of the Black Student Union, he gained an understanding of “how intimidating (UFB) can be,” he said. As chair, he would hope to “improve UFB in a way that would allow groups to feel comfortable in that space and fully defend” their proposed budgets.

“Making sure that the (representatives) are fully preparing their groups” to present to the board makes student groups more comfortable engaging with UFB, he said. “Training the reps so that they know how to do their jobs is essential.”

In his time on UFB, Walker designed a curriculum for representatives that covers the board’s constitution, rules, precedents and processes. He hopes to add the curriculum to the board’s constitution so that “every chair and vice chair is responsible  … to train all new reps in the fixed curriculum,” he said.

Walker’s platform partially rests on the expansion of the board’s financial aid fund, which was a “kind of pilot program this year,” he said.

Walker wants to work with Elie and the Office of Financial Aid, as they have legal access to students’ financial information, in order to “code all that information so that we can have all the access we need to set up the financial aid fund in a way that’s equitable and accurate,” he said. Coding the data, Walker said, will allow UFB to legally access the financial information without invading students’ privacy.

An expanded fund could better fund and subsidize Spring Weekend tickets for students with financial need, Walker said. Last year, the board covered the cost of attending one day of Spring Weekend for highest-need students, but many students still could not afford to attend the event, he added.

“I want to work with (Brown Concert Agency) and SAO to look at where all of our money as a collective three … is going,” Walker said. Specifically, he hopes to focus on how the organizations could  “put (money) back into allowing more students to fully participate in a wider Brown experience, which Spring Weekend is very emblematic of.”

Walker would also aim to increase transparency by posting the board’s funding precedents on its website to ensure that “all groups understand everything that a board member like me … would know so that way they’re not at a disadvantage,” he said.

He also wants to create a UFB Instagram account in order to make the board more approachable and disseminate information to student leaders.

Further, Walker said he believes increases in the student activities fee should be tied to inflation.

“That way, there’s no reason to actually increase the burden on students. … The only reason that we should be increasing the student activities fee is that costs went up, and inflation is the best way to measure that,” he said.

Walker’s favorite part of UFB is working with and helping student groups. “I (would) just really want to continue that, and expand that, in my new role as chair,” he said.

Walker will also be voting in favor of  the Brown Divest referendum.

“Brown should always be careful with its investments, in terms of ‘how is Brown money being used in potentially harmful ways?’” he said.

The race for vice chair: Phillip Champagne

Champagne believes he is a strong candidate for vice chair because he can “keep (his) ear to the ground and bring concerns to a wider audience and to the attention of UFB.”

“Working on UFB this year” as an at-large representative “has given me insight into … areas where we aren’t meeting the needs organizations have expressed,” he said. Champagne said his experience as a writing fellow has helped him “really listen to (people’s) concerns.”

Champagne hopes to foster collaboration between student groups as vice chair by placing groups into categories. When one student group hosts an event, other groups in the same category will be notified.

The funding of religious groups is also a concern for Champagne. “As it stands, UFB is forced to make value judgments on the way religious groups operate on this campus — that system is archaic,” Champagne said. “My aim is to form a ‘interfaith council’ that can address funding issues religious groups have that UFB policies struggle to properly address.”

He also aims to make events such as cultural dinners and Spring Weekend “more accessible to low-income students by providing monetary support or vouchers.”

Champagne plans to create a “check-in system,” to ask groups “if UFB is accommodating their needs.”

“Currently we send out a report at the end of the semester,” Champagne said. “Having a continuous process would help to address student needs as they arise rather than once it’s already too late.”

Maintaining communication between the administration and UFB is another priority for Champagne. Having a “consistent presence established with the administration by being a familiar face” is a way Champagne is “working to maintain channels of communication.”

If elected, Champagne said he would further UFB’s transparency campaign by continuing to publicize transparency reports.

Champagne also intends “to keep (the activities fee) tied to the inflation rate,” but in years when UFB spends under their budget, “I’d rather we not increase it … and thus not increase the tuition even further,” Champagne said.

Regarding the Brown Divest referendum, Champagne said he has “not done enough research to have a stance on the issue,” of divestment. “But I appreciate the work of the groups involved in bringing these problems to the stage,” Champagne said.

The race for vice chair: Peter Deegan

Deegan decided to run for vice chair because “money could be better spent supporting the activities and initiatives of low-income students and students from marginalized backgrounds,” he said.

“Students that come in and ask for money to go to conferences and competitions, flights to all areas of the country, tend to be from more privileged backgrounds,” he added. Currently, when UFB discusses funding conference trips, financial need is not considered, and “it should be,” Deegan said. “It’s pretty common practice” for groups to request conference funding from UFB, he added.

“I think, often, our default as UFB is to make things as equitable as possible,” Deegan said, but “while equitable sounds nice, it doesn’t always mean enough resources going to those students with the most need.”

Having served a year on UFB as an at-large representative, Deegan said, “I have a consistent track record of advocating for low-income students and students who hold marginalized identities.”

Deegan emphasized outreach as a focus for the Board because “a lot of student groups don’t know the UFB is willing to give them money.”

UFB’s current system requires groups that are seeking funding to present in person before the board but “I want us to regularly check in with members of clubs,” Deegan said. This would also address the problem of UFB’s space being “particularly uncomfortable for students from low-income backgrounds.”

As vice chair, Deegan would work to increase access to funds across the undergraduate community.

“I want to make this money as accessible as possible to every member of the Brown community, no matter how comfortable they are coming in and asking for funds,” Deegan said.

Deegan also hopes to create a “community building discretionary fund,” according to his platform. This fund would provide monetary support to groups “that have the sole purpose of building a community around an identity,” he said. The fund will need to strictly define beneficiaries, Deegan added.

Deegan also said he plans to stay consistent with keeping any increases in the student activities fee tied to the inflation rate.

With regards to the Brown Divest referendum, Deegan said he will vote yes.

The race for vice chair: Fatoumata Kabba

Kabba is running for UFB vice chair because “the (current funding evaluation) systems in place are what contributes to inequitable funding,” and she wants to change these systems. “I have goals about how to increase transparency and equity, and I feel as vice chair I can really use my voice to achieve those goals,” Kabba said.

To continue UFB’s push for transparency, Kabba would create “an online portal for student groups to view data on UFB funding based on club categories,” according to her platform. “To actually attain equity, we need transparency,” Kabba said. “Providing the public with that information will allow them to hold us more accountable and allow them to be more informed in their concerns,” she said. “The best ideas come from the people we’re trying to help.”

Kabba’s platform also proposes an unbiased “system of evaluation” that will “ensure equitable allocation” of funds. “Once we publicize where our money is going, … I think we’ll get a big rush of student groups with questions about our allocation,” Kabba said. The system “will stem from the feedback we get about our funding allocations.”

“We will critically analyze our own allocation, but I think we need to first hear from student groups and get our ideas from them,” Kabba said.

Kabba initially wanted to join UFB because “as a (first-generation and low-income) student, I felt that my perspectives and experiences on campus would be valuable to UFB,” she said. “Historically marginalized groups on campus are often not allowed to speak for themselves but are instead spoken for. … To meet the needs of those students, we need a diverse board.”

Having served as an at-large representative on UFB for almost a year, Kabba said her experiences in UFB meetings and discussions with student groups have equipped her for the vice chair position.

Kabba also mentioned that UFB ran a budget surplus last year, and in the future the board should use the surplus to “prevent the student activities fee from rising too much” and to “mitigate costs.” Kabba said she will vote yes on the upcoming Brown Divest referendum. “Divest is the first step in addressing Brown’s complicity in human rights violations and systematic injustices from Palestine to for-profit prisons here in the United States,” she said.