Guest column by the Student Activities Council | A timeline for the moratorium
April 8, 2014, 6:30 pm · Updated April 9, 2014, 1:01 am·
Based on our research and consultation with the Office of Student Affairs , we are hopeful that the Student Activities Council budget will remain in the black at the end of this fiscal year. That would give us two consecutive years of financial stability and allow the Executive Board to officially recommend a partial lift of the new group moratorium this fall.
As noted in last semester’s op-ed, student group debt and increasing costs necessitated enacting the 2012 moratorium. Since then, SAC’s Executive Board has focused intently on reducing debt. We are pleased to share that after working closely with the financial advisors in the OSA and leaders of SAC-recognized groups, we have nearly eradicated student group debt across campus. We have updated our SAC Debt Policy by imposing budget cuts on groups with high levels of debt and will continue to help student groups monitor their finances and adopt strategies that promote fiscal responsibility.
Our next ongoing challenge is one that any organization financing performances and events faces: to develop strategies that will serve as long-term, sustainable solutions for rising facilities costs.
This semester, for the first time, SAC published a pricing menu detailing costs for some of the more frequently-used event spaces on campus. Student groups can now utilize this menu to make more informed decisions before reserving a venue.
Last fall, we calculated that facility costs were rising by 15 percent . As part of our research, we performed a detailed accounting audit of invoices from nearly every SAC-recognized group that used on-campus facilities for performances and events over the past two years. Through this process, SAC Exec’s internal calculation yielded that the actual cost of spaces is increasing at about 10 percent . The original calculation was derived using the information made available to SAC — the final numbers that SAC pays out for facilities. Our work over the past few months has led to the realization that our original figure was a result of combining the increase in the actual cost of spaces with a large increase in student group spending; we had previously been viewing two different factors as one.
We have learned that the growth in size of student groups, demand to reach targeted audiences, and a broader interest from students in attending events have all contributed to SAC-funded groups spending more, overall, on their events. We are really excited by the strength and vibrancy of student life on campus; however, steps must be taken to keep expenses at a sustainable level.
A major component of student life on campus is our performing arts community. In support of that community, as of last year, SAC devoted 20 percent of its budget to facility expenses for SAC groups that are recognized by the Performing Arts Council ; the year that the moratorium was enacted, that number was approximately 30 percent . Long before the moratorium was enacted, SAC realized that PAC-recognized groups are not allowed to choose their performance venues. Rather, the PAC Executive Board assigns performance spaces due to limited venues and the availability of performance dates. As a result, some performing arts groups have no choice but to use more expensive venues. Oftentimes, these spaces require additional amenities to convert them into adequate performance spaces. This conversion can be quite costly and is only compounded with unavoidable labor costs, housekeeping charges, ticketing expenses and tech fees.
As a result, the partial lift of the moratorium will specifically mean that we are projecting the moratorium to remain in place for performing arts groups, but to be lifted for groups that fall within other categories.
Before the moratorium can be lifted for performing arts groups, SAC and PAC must jointly re-examine the funding model for performing arts groups. The current funding model dates back many years, when the membership of both PAC’s and SAC’s general body was much smaller; thus, this funding model is no longer viable.
Additionally, SAC and PAC must jointly explore ways to negotiate lower facilities rates and minimize the amount of money performing arts groups are spending on their events. PAC Exec has already implemented a limit on the number of tech hours each group is allotted, and has agreed to contribute 20 percent of PAC-group ticket revenues to SAC to subsidize facilities expenses.
The exact terms of the partial lift of the moratorium will be released prior to the start of classes this fall and published on our website. In preparation, SAC will be reviewing the guidelines for recognition while closely consulting with all relevant governing umbrella boards including, but not limited to, PAC, the Civic House Associates Coalition, the Publications Cooperative, and the Sports Club Council, among others.
We are very excited to be able to announce a timeline for the moratorium to the Penn student body. We also really appreciate your patience, as we evaluated and tested theories about what was happening and why. Ultimately, the problem we’ve uncovered is a good one — we realize that Penn students are more engaged and active than ever. As the SAC Executive Board, we will continue to encourage and support a robust student life on campus, while upholding our duty to make fiscally responsible decisions.
The Student Activities Council is the branch of student government responsible for allocating funds to student groups. The Chair of the SAC Executive Board, Kanisha Parthasarathy, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.