Tightened budget amidst National Act and ‘pizza money’

Just three weeks into the spring semester, the Student Senate is grappling with a budget crisis. Currently, the Senate has only $30,000 remaining in unallocated funds, a figure that represents under 10% of the annual budget. As a result, the Senate will face tough decisions ahead to balance its books.

At the first Senate meeting of the semester, over 20 student clubs requested their budgets for the entire semester. Many of them received full funding. However, several did not. More alarmingly, with only $30,000 remaining in unallocated funds, many student clubs are just now submitting budget requests, exacerbating fears of a budget shortage.

Student Body President Bryce McCullough ’23 (pictured in blue) weighs options during a Student Senate meeting in September 2022. Photo by Elijah Greene ’25.

“At the end of the day, it’s a good problem to have,” said Student Body President Bryce McCullough ’23. “People and clubs want to do things again. What we’ve seen is that a lot of organizations are requesting more money than they did last year, and even last semester. So, we’re having to make decisions on where to put that money, which is putting us in a tough position.” Other members of McCullough’s cabinet seemed to agree.

“There is no problem,” said Student Body Secretary Sarvik Chaudhary ’25. “What’s new is we have a lot more people requesting budgets than we usually do, which is a great thing. We have more clubs, being active, more clubs requesting more money, but the thing is, they’re doing a lot more events now, and they’re asking for a little more money.”

One of the factors that may be distorting the somewhat-shocking remaining unallocated funds is the number of clubs that requested their full semester budgets at the beginning of the semester. This was one of the McCullough Administration’s goals, and it may have led to a higher portion of remaining funds allocated in the initial Senate meeting.

“Last semester, we actually saved a good portion of money,” said Student Body Treasurer Ian Rollins ’23. “We had a lot of roll over to the semester and because of that, Bryce [McCullough] and I both were encouraging clubs to be proactive and send in their budgets as soon as possible to cover their entire semester. So the reason why it’s so tight at this point is because, two weeks ago, we had upwards of 20 clubs get most of their budgets approved or at least recognized in Senate.” Student Chief Justice Thomas Joven ’24 agreed.

“What Bryce and Ian [envisioned] was to more fully utilize the funds than had been done in the past so not to have so much leftover at the end,” said Joven. “And so they really encouraged club leadership to get their budgets in at the beginning of the semester. When people heard this, they requested so many things in the beginning [of the semester.] So that’s why we’ll see some lower numbers.”

But with a post-pandemic rebirth of student clubs, and many requesting ever-increasing budgets, the Student Senate faces some form of a budget crisis.

“Student Senate is effectively a business that can’t modify its revenue stream,” said Coordinator of Student Success Vic Lindsay. “What we did was increase costs without increasing revenue. And sooner or later, that was going to catch up to us.”

Student Senate’s $325,000 budget comes exclusively from student activity fees—though the Senate does not receive the entirety of those fees, which also go to other student services on campus. The College’s 2020-21 enrollment was 868 students, creating a total student activity fund of just over $412,000. With a budget of $325,000, the Student Senate receives around 80% of student activity fees. Without increasing the annual student activity fee, Student Senate cannot increase its budget.

“Last week, 20 clubs showed up with budgets,” explained Lindsay. “That was great, but they asked for more money than even existed at that point. And we have another group of clubs that have submitted budgets this week, which probably exceeds the amount of money that is still leftover. I think we have to figure out how to allocate the rest of the money that’s left and make sure that we can protect the most important functions of clubs. But I think there also has to be a longer-term conversation about the purpose and the value of students’ money.”

In the short term, the Senate currently has just under $30,000 remaining in unallocated funds. Given this relatively low figure, the McCullough Administration will need to be choosier going forward this spring.

“That [$30,000] obviously is going to limit things a little bit for the rest of the clubs that didn’t get their budgets in early,” Rollins said. “So I guess the whole problem kind of stemmed from certain clubs getting entire budgets in on time and early so that we can at least allocate them.”

“Student Senate is effectively a business that can’t modify its revenue stream… What we did was increase costs without increasing revenue. And sooner or later, that was going to catch up to us.”

Vic Lindsay, Co-ordinator of Student Success

McCullough outlined what his Administration would prioritize in funding the remaining clubs.

“The first thing that I think we’re going to have to do is make sure that we limit the allocations to on-campus activities,” said McCullough. He explained further that the Senate’s priority should be campus-based student events, not student events occurring off campus.”

“Our plan as an exec is to be relatively conservative with what we’re approving and what we’re recommending,” said Rollins. “That doesn’t mean that clubs are going to be completely shut out of a budget. But at the same time, we really want to scrutinize over what exactly we’re funding for each of these clubs. All these clubs have a lot of events and interests that they’re trying to uphold. But at the same time, the budget is limited, and I have that interest to keep in mind as well.

McCullough and Rollins pointed to some unexpected costs from last semester that contributed to the current situation. One such cost was the price of student tickets for the Monon Bell game in Greencastle. Student Senate covered the cost of student tickets after DePauw increased its ticket prices from $15 to $30 after a steep hike in the cost of expanded bleachers. Though McCullough and Rollins firmly supported this spending, they have both pointed to it as one contributing factor to the current dilemma.

But there is another specter that features in virtually every student senator and official’s comments on the budget shortfall: exorbitant spending on food for clubs, what several have shortened to as “pizza money.”

“We’re trying to cut down how much ‘pizza money’ we give up,” said Chaudhary. “Last year we found out that we gave a lot of money to clubs, a lot of money that was spent just on pizza and food so that people would come. We’re trying to limit that and target events and clubs that focus on the majority of the campus. That’s what we’re trying to do. Have fun activities and clubs that involve more and more people in, not just give $50 for a club where five people will show up just for the pizza.” Lindsay, among others, echoed the “pizza money” sentiment.

Mac Miller performs at the 2012 National Act at Wabash College. Courtesy of Communications and Marketing.

“We spend a disproportionate amount of the Student Senate budget on food, and most of that is probably food for the sake of food,” said Lindsay. Lindsay explained how students are looking for and requesting more opportunities for events on and off campus—events that would undoubtedly take up more of the Senate budget.

“But that means diverting money away from pizza and chicken wings, and it means asking clubs to be intentional about what they’re spending,” Lindsay said.

But is there a bigger drain on the budget than “pizza money”? The most expensive Student Senate budget item—by far—is National Act, the annual big-budget concert that the Senate organizes. This year, the Senate has allocated $60,000 for the one-night event—roughly one-fifth of the Senate budget. But the weight of the National Act budget may go further.

The Student Senate split its $325,000 budget over the two semesters, meaning each semester had roughly $162,500 to work with. Yet, though National Act is an annually recurring event, the Senate allocated National Act’s $60,000 budget exclusively from the spring budget, with nothing from the fall. Sure, National Act takes around one fifth of the annual budget. But because this year’s National Act budget came exclusively from the spring budget, National Act may cost up to 37% of this semester’s budget.

“It’s one of the most anticipated events that the Senate does,” said Chaudhary. But other members of McCullough’s cabinet seemed less attached to the event.

“I think the campus over the past couple of years has been pretty split on National Act, whether it’s really worth whatever amount that we’re spending,” Rollins said. “I think last year there was mixed feedback. I think it was unclear whether people were really on board with spending upwards of that amount versus getting a different experience. I don’t know if there is a right way to do it.”

“Personally, I don’t think [National Act is worth it],” said Rollins. “But it’s not because of the amount. I think it’s more based off of the way that the students typically react when there is a large amount. There’s no way to please everybody, especially when it comes time to pick a musical artist. In my opinion, I think that maybe we should be focusing those funds on something that maybe appeals to more people.” McCullough mentioned similar concerns.

“I have mixed feelings about National Act, and I’ve raised questions about it in the past,” said McCullough. “But at the end of the day, people expect it to happen, and people are always going to judge who the artist is without realizing how much this costs. So we may look at some things there.” McCullough noted that no artist has been signed for National Act at this time.

Outside of student government, other campus leaders have expressed similar conflicted feelings about National Act and its cost.

“I think National Act is a great idea,” said Inter-Fraternity Council President Brett Driscoll ’24. “I think it’s an awesome way to bring campus together. How many other schools can say that they brought a big-time artist to their campus, sponsored by the college?” But Driscoll further explained that National Act has not always lived up to his expectations.

“I think the campus over the past couple of years has been pretty split on National Act, whether it’s really worth whatever amount that we’re spending.”

Ian Rollins ’23

“With last year’s National Act, I wasn’t particularly pleased,” Driscoll said. “That was a lot of money we spent last year, and I wasn’t pleased. And we’re on pace to spend even more money than we did last year. While I think it’s a great thing, I think there are cheaper alternatives in which we can establish the goal we want.”

Regardless of the future fate of National Act, it seems that Student Senate is developing plans to address the current budget situation and considering options for the future. What changes could prevent a similar shortfall in coming semesters?

One proposal that McCullough, Driscoll and Lindsay discussed was moving towards beginning-of semester full budget requests. Under such a plan, clubs would meet over the summer to draft and pro- pose budgets, allowing the Senate to see a semester’s demands at once.

“With all these events that occur every single year, we wouldn’t have to continuously have to work around them and wonder how much additional funding we’re going to have to allocate,” Driscoll said. These forward-looking solutions don’t necessarily involve increasing the Senate’s revenue. Though Senate’s income is fixed, few argue that the solution is increasing the student activity fee. Instead, it seems that policy and cultural changes are necessary.

“To me, the immediate solution is not charging students more money to increase the Student Senate budget,” said Lindsay. “There’s enough that we’re paying for that we could live without to put toward the things that have a greater benefit to the campus. And I think changing that culture is more important first.”