Editorial | The rent is too damn high
The University bears much of the responsibility for the existence of the SAC moratorium and for fixing it
November 3, 2013, 6:58 pm · Updated November 3, 2013, 10:44 pm·
The Student Activities Council has received a lot of flack for the moratorium, but somehow, the University has largely escaped scrutiny.
There are plenty of arguments to be made about how SAC should allocate its budget and how transparent it should be. But one thing is definitely clear: If SAC groups had more money to spend or had fewer expenditures, this wouldn’t be a problem. There would be no moratorium.
So why doesn’t SAC have more money in its coffers? In short, it’s because the University doesn’t give it enough — and that reflects poorly on the University.
Penn advertises to many college-bound students how many clubs there are and how easy it is to start one that doesn’t already exist, and the schools Penn competes with make the same offer. Penn should be able to afford to back up what it advertises.
But it doesn’t. While you can start your own club, you can’t necessarily get funding, which inherently limits the potential of new clubs.
Given that SAC’s budget tops $1 million, it’s easy for the University to think it’s contributing more than enough — and we agree that the University shouldn’t increase SAC’s budget whenever SAC runs low on funds. But in this case, we feel justified in saying the University should contribute more to SAC since it’s also largely behind SAC’s exorbitant costs.
SAC has repeatedly noted that every year facilities’ costs for student groups rise substantially — often by 15 percent — while SAC funding increases at a more modest rate. This means that any increase in SAC’s budget goes directly to facilities’ costs, which Penn requires SAC to pay. This truly baffles us.
We were under the impression that student groups should generally be able to use their college’s facilities for normal functions without being nickel and dimed by the college. Penn should enable student groups to host functions and events — this includes swallowing any small costs the University may incur to let students use facilities. There is no real reason Penn should be charging students to use campus space for legitimate extracurricular activities.
Let’s think about the money trail here. Penn students pay tuition, part of which is used to fund SAC. Of SAC funds, a large proportion goes to pay the University to let its students use its otherwise idle facilities. We’re paying the University to pay us to pay the University — not the most efficient cycle.
But even if we accept that Penn should charge some amount for groups to use auditoriums, for example, the rental rates are still excessive. Very few costs rise 15 percent year over year. For comparison, if tuition is $45,000 when students enter college, that increase would lead to them paying nearly $70,000 for their senior year — and we highly doubt Penn has any compelling financial necessity that forces it to increase rates this quickly.
All that being said, SAC could do more to address its transparency critiques. Based on a recent guest column in The Daily Pennsylvanian, it does seem that new SAC chair Kanisha Parthasarathy is open to increased transparency via having SAC’s executive board be more open with the SAC body at meetings. We’re hoping she carries through on this promise, and we’d also go further and ask her to release SAC’s books.
We understand SAC’s hesitation to release hundreds upon hundreds of itemized lines in a spreadsheet, but ultimately, it has little to lose. If SAC has budgeted well, releasing the books would only lay bare how critical a problem this is and how much it needs more funding from the University.
We’re all for student group fiscal responsibility, but when SAC cuts groups’ budgets by an average of 10 percent and is still struggling to stay in the black, the University might reconsider how much it should contribute or how much it should charge the very student groups it funds.
When we applied here, many of us noted somewhere that we liked Penn because it seemed diverse — that there were active, enthusiastic groups in so many fields. Hopefully, Penn does all it can to keep that atmosphere alive.