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Credit: Yolande Yan

Penn Student Government has kept busy the past two years. Together, the six branches passed resolutions sanctioning Amy Wax, showed support for Fossil Free Penn, and initiated funding for marginalized communities.

Meanwhile, $1,300,000 of surplus funds have piled up in the hands of PSG behind the scenes. The cash in question is the PSG reserve fund.

At the end of every school year, the Undergraduate Assembly is tasked by Penn’s administration to distribute roughly $3 million for the following school year to the five other PSG branches — Class Board, SAC, SPEC, SCUE, and the NEC. Ultimately, the goal is for all this allocated money to be spent toward student programming throughout the school year. When money goes unspent by the branches of PSG, the leftovers are pooled into the reserve fund for subsequent distribution at the discretion of student leaders.  

COVID-19 budget disruptions led funds to pile up into the unprecedented amount of $1.3 million.

At the beginning of the semester, the problem of unspent funds was heavy on the PSG’s mind. Carson Sheumaker, the newly elected president of the UA, saw an opportunity to guide the money into the hands of students. On Sept.18, Sheumaker introduced the Reserve Fund Bylaw Amendment with co-sponsors Alex Eapen and Yash Rajani to create a formal process for fund distribution, transferring control to the UA. 

The past three weeks of behind-the-scenes work on the Reserve Fund Amendment reveal a commendable story of checks and balances between leaders. Prominent UA leaders liaised with branches of SPEC, NEC, and SAC to gather qualitative data on how to best handle funding. Representatives submitted thoughtful changes to the amendment and engaged in hearty debate, as evidenced by pages-long meeting minutes

This very thoroughness, however, comes at a price: Does the student body understand who controls the money that directly comes from a portion of their tuition

The new changes to the reserve fund raise a question of transparency within PSG.

Despite the amendment’s heavy implications on the internal structure of PSG  and the student body at large, little public commotion arose prior to the vote. In fact, the vast majority of Penn’s campus had no idea the $1.3 million fund even existed. UA meetings are public to all, but the only easily accessible source of information on happenings are meeting minutes. And while the Reserve Fund Amendment was first introduced on Sept.18, meeting minutes weren’t made publicly available until over a week later on Sept. 26.

When a system of checks and balances fails, students pay the price. If the vote had occurred on its originally scheduled date of Sept. 25, the only chance that the student body had to observe UA workings — the meeting minutes — would have been withheld. 

Furthermore, even if full transparency on the subject was granted, the complex nature of the amendment proves difficult for the average student to digest. A quick glance at the 12-page Reserve Fund Amendment document confirms this. It’s difficult to parse out the committee relationships and requirements of the newly passed amendment, making even the most financially savvy student’s head swim. 

Silence speaks volumes. Limited communication between the UA and the general student body leaves students in the dark. As Penn ranks second-to-last among United States colleges in free speech, a hesitance to communicate with each other is the last thing our campus needs. 

The successful distribution of $1.3 million into the arms of student groups hinges on PSG’s willingness to increase transparency. PSG must ditch its inclination to keep its workings internal. Students care about where their money goes. Despite elected representatives receiving the mandate of the popular vote, students still deserve knowledge about what issues are on the table. 

This means that the visibility of the voting process of the UA should increase beyond simply posting meeting minutes online. How we communicate matters just as much as what we say — or don’t say — to each other. 

The Reserve Fund Bylaw Amendment, while a mouthful, is ultimately an impressive work of bipartisanship. The nearly unanimous passage of the amendment is a testament to the dedication and passion of our student leaders. If its purpose is realized, it will reshape student access to pivotal funds. 

Yet, the power of an additional $1.3 million brings additional responsibility. If the UA wishes to fulfill its mission of representing student values, they must work harder to build their relationship with the general student body. A mandate to lead demands transparency from those who lead us. 

Right now, PSG has the opportunity to educate the student body on new funding changes. The only question: Will they take it?  

FIONA MILLER is a Wharton junior from Roanoke, Va. Her email is