The Amherst Association of Students (AAS) Senate, which counts among its constitutional purposes a goal to “serve as an advocate for student interest, and present a forum for opinions and issues to be raised,” manages a budget comprised of the Student Activity Fees and a percentage of the tuition paid by each student. The budget, which exceeds $800,000, includes funding for all recognized student groups and publications, as well as a Master General Fund, which includes funding for a variety of other projects and initiatives related to student activities, including The Olio, ACEMS, PVTA expenses and Senate projects. While the Senate has recently been working to incorporate more input from the student body in the hopes of better advocating for student interest and increasing transparency about its purpose and power, much of the crucial information regarding its track record of managing money — details about AAS budgets from years past — is either unavailable or simply does not add up.
The Senate, which meets weekly on Monday nights in the Red Room, has minutes of meetings going as far back as 1995 posted online. But the Senate’s record of spending is less clear. Some of the budgets from previous years were posted online as well, but the data sets only included budget information from fall 2004 to spring 2007.
Budgetary data from the fall semesters of 2008-10 and the 2007 and 2011 spring budgets was made available, shortly after an inquiry by The Student. The data provides a line-item list of club funding allocations and discretionary funding for the past semester, but it does not provide complete financial data for the past two years.
The absence of the spring 2009 budget, in particular, is the crucial missing piece of the puzzle, as the AAS gave the College $100,000 in emergency funds to help stabilize financial aid and prevent staff members from losing jobs during that time. The donation, as well as the increased financial responsibility for student activities the AAS took on to help lighten the administration’s load, spawned cuts across the board for AAS-funded projects and activities. But current AAS budgets have retained vestiges of the increased spending and responsibility brought on by the recession. The AAS, for example, still funds the TYPO program for upperclassmen.
In addition to the absence of pertinent financial data, many of the budgets are inaccurately or unclearly reported. For example, the fall 2005 budget lists the operating budget at $322,190. But when the line items are added up, the sum is over $10,000 less than the reported operating budget. In addition, the columns delineating the amount of money budgeted, spent and remaining for each club implies that many clubs did not spend the money that was allocated to them for several semesters in a row. The Olio, for example, was allocated $25,000 in each semester of the 2005-06 academic year, but it apparently did not spend any of the money it was allocated while publishing its 150th Anniversary Edition in 2006.
In an effort to save money, the AAS recently asked students to opt-in for a copy of The Olio. The yearbook, after having its funding cut in half in fall 2008, received major funding increases in the fall semesters of 2009 and 2010; last year it cost the AAS $15,000 more than it had in 2007.
In another example, in fall 2008, ACEMS, which had been funded $8,000 the previous fall, received less than $1,000 in funding as the effects of the recession hit campus. ACEMS was then funded $6,000 the following fall, but the AAS budgets available online do not state how much of the money provided to ACEMS was spent.
The AAS budgets also show that some Senate projects have struggled to remain solvent. FLICS, which showed recently-released movies in Keefe Campus Center up until last year, saw vastly fluctuating funding over its short life at the College. It first received funding in 2006, lost funding in 2008, was re-funded in 2009 and finally lost funding again this semester.
The AAS budgets also provide important information about services students, staff and faculty use everyday, like the popular Newspaper Readership Program, which provides the free copies of The New York Times in Val. The program, which was a contentious issue in the Senate in the early 2000s, received $2,500 from the AAS in fall 2005 in the earliest available budget where it is listed. And despite incremental increases to accommodate a vaster readership, as well as experiments with offering other newspapers, the program still only offers the Times. It received $9,000 from the AAS in fall 2010.
The largest chunks of the AAS budget are predetermined by the AAS constitution and its bylaws. The AAS is bound by its bylaws to appropriate 40 percent of its budget (within a five percent error) to the Master General Fund, 40 percent (within a five percent error) to clubs, groups and publications, and 20 percent (within a five percent error) to discretionary funding. The AAS recently passed several new amendments to the constitution, and the passage of more is expected, which may affect how the AAS divides its resources.