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$1.784 million. That’s how much money the Undergraduate Assembly allocated last year.

I’m willing to bet that you, the average student at Penn, has no idea where that money has gone or how it is being spent.

You’re not alone.

The UA budget committee, which formulates the entire budget for all six branches of student government, has three members: the UA treasurer and two general body members. In the past, the budget committee has done a poor job of communicating the student government’s budgetary needs to the UA general body.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. During last year’s budget meeting, Engineering senior and then-UA member Matthew Feczko pointed out a minor discrepancy in the budget as the committee was presenting the budget to the entire body: Penn Course Review was receiving funding from both the Student Activities Council and the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education. But due to the complexities of the way the budget meeting runs (parliamentary procedure takes itself pretty seriously), Feczko’s concerns were brushed aside. Today, Penn Course Review is, essentially, being doubly funded. Your student fees at work.

This is a perfect example of why the current budget system is broken. Parliamentary procedure is used to ensure a fair and democratic process, but it’s hindering the ability of UA members to point out logical errors and correct them.

Fortunately, this is not going to be one of those “throw your hands up in the air because there’s nothing we can do to fix this problem” columns. After sitting down with both Alec Webley, the UA chairman, and Sakina Zaidi, the UA treasurer, it became clear that this issue has been recognized and they are taking great pains to fix it. Webley told me that he and the entire executive board believe that “the budget process, particularly the budget meeting, is a hot mess.” He went on to say that “it is tangled up in enough parliamentary procedure to strangle anyone to death.”

Zaidi said “the budget meeting is always a scary process but it’s something we’re working on. It’s not fair to have groups only have their voices heard during one budget meeting.” In an effort to make the process more clear and open, Zaidi and Webley said that they will attempt to release a preliminary UA budget at least two weeks before the budget meeting in the spring semester.

Dasha Barannik, president of the Social Planning and Events Committee, which also receives funding via the budget meeting, said she “certainly appreciates their efforts” to clean up the budget process. A member of the budget committee has already met with Barannik and the rest of SPEC’s executive board, and it’s only a few weeks into the fall semester. This is certainly an improvement over the past.

And meeting with groups earlier is not all the UA is doing.

Webley said that he wants the budget to be posted on the UA’s website, published in the Daily Pennsylvanian, and sent out through an all-school email. Students would then be able to attend a meeting that would be separate from the UA’s annual budget meeting, and here they would be able to offer their input without the constraints they would face in a more formal setting.

I’m not one to shy away from criticizing the UA (see: my first column), but this seems like an issue that the executive board has already started to tackle. Webley and Zaidi should be commended for their efforts to clean up a notoriously messy and drawn out process.

If the UA is able to follow through on these changes (which I believe it can and will) I think the budget process will be infinitely more transparent and accessible to students this year.

Dennie Zastrow is a College senior from Wilson, N.Y. and the chairman of the Lambda Alliance. His email address is

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