by John K. Atsalis | Let the administration handle financial aid.
It is unfortunate that the TCU Senate has not yet developed a method for tracking its dollars via GPS. It is obvious such a system would have prevented the embezzlement of $902,338 from the Student Activities Fund, allegedly by University agents Jodie Nealley and Ray Rodriguez. Unfortunately, Senator Matt Shapanka and the rest of the TCU Senate were busy tracking the Joey on its 2-mile circuit while crooks made off with close to $1 million in student funds. Now that the University has paid the Senate back, the Senate finds itself with over 50% of its typical budget earmarked for nothing. It already spent $188,046.28 towards student group debts and other expenses. This brings the total surplus to $714,291.72 as reported on September 22 and well into October. Since November 14, the Daily and TCU Senators have been reporting the surplus as $689,775.75. From being “over $700,000” to “close to $700,000” it would be nice to see some explanation from the Senate about this discrepancy. Besides the recent disappearance of $25,000 of this surplus, the greater issue is what to do with the entire surplus.
The Senate has hosted several community discussions in order to garner ideas and gauge support. Despite a blitz of pro-TMC Trips Cabin articles in the Daily, the Trips Cabin was relegated to the idea trash bin, along with proposed campus-wide wireless and a proposed campus bike-share program. The former was considered to be serving too small a proportion of the student body while wireless access was considered a responsibility of the administration. While that logic was admissible in that circumstance, the idea that the TCU should donate the surplus towards financial aid has gained credence among the TCU Senate and the student body. However, financial aid is a responsibility of the administration and serves less than half of the student body. Under no circumstances should the recovered funds go towards financial aid.
The staunchest advocates for the use of the funds towards financial aid have been TCU President Duncan Pickard and Senator Toby Bonthrone. Pickard has touted his “complete plan” for the recovery funds, expending $300,000 of the funds towards an endowed scholarship and $200,000 towards the administration’s operating budget, leaving only $100,000 for a facelift of the Mayer Campus Center and $89,000 for student groups. This is completely unacceptable. Both financial aid and the University’s operating budget are the absolute responsibility of the University. If Pickard is gung-ho to contribute to the operating budget, he should secure a promise from the University to credit each student’s tuition a share of that $200,000. The University deserves no part of this surplus free, since it was their agents who embezzled it from our student groups, causing three groups to go into debt and constraining the TCU’s budget.
Toby Bonthrone, in his editorial, also promoted donating the recovered funds towards financial aid, to the tune of $500,000 or more. The way Bonthrone writes, one would think that Tufts students are leaving as he speaks due to financial issues. Apparently, he did not receive President Bacow’s memo committing the University to “meeting [students] full demonstrated financial need.” He should not forget the $220 million the University raised in cash last year that Bacow suggested would be tapped, leading to only “a modest impact” on our operating budget due to current economic conditions. Bonthrone cites the Financial Aid Office’s estimate that it will need a $3-4 million increase in its budget and acts like the recovery funds will be the watershed contribution to the cause. In two e-mails to the University community and in front of the Senate, President Bacow has promised this increase will be taken care of. Even if Bonthrone’s assertion that ten percent of the Senate needs financial help and this reflects the greater student body, the recovery funds would then be benefitting only a small portion of the student body. If the Trips Cabin and other suggestions were deemed unacceptable because they only benefited a minority of students, a contribution to financial aid should be too.
For once, Senator Matt Shapanka is in the right. His plea to open debate on other plans for the recovered funds should be read and praised by all. There should be no rush to spend these funds, nor should they be spent on services that are in the purview of the administration. As most of this money was stolen from the students currently attending the University, it should be meted out over the next few years, saving a small surplus as a rainy day fund. We elected our senators to shepherd our student activities fee and these recovered funds should stay within those boundaries. If the Senate considers other options, it should formulate them into detailed plans to put to a student referendum. Students deserve to know where that $25,000 went in the past two months. Perhaps it was spent developing a GPS system to track our recovered funds so they do not find themselves in Hawaii again. Alternatively, stuff the Joey with the funds, then we’ll never lose track of where they are.
Mr. Atsalis is a sophomore who has not yet declared a major.