Underspent ResLife Budgets Elicit Concern About Lack of Transparency
Issue   |   Tue, 03/06/2018 - 21:06

The tendency for residential counselors (RCs) to underspend their budgets, coupled with a lack of clear communication to RCs on Residential Life policies, have raised concerns among some RCs about the Office of Residential Life’s lack of transparency.

On-campus student residents are charged a fee — $59 in Fall 2017 and $60 in Spring 2018 — part of their semester bills, which is intended for residential programming and community activities such as Tea Times. This fee is the basis of each RC’s budget for student programming within the dormitories.

The amount that each RC spends varies significantly by dormitory. Spencer Quong ’18, a RC for North Dormitory during the 2016-2017 academic year, spent less than his floor had originally been allocated.

“For my own floor, I estimate that I spent about half of the budget in the fall and two-thirds of the budget in the spring,” said Quong.

He added that this was likely a slight underestimate of the total spending on his dorm; occasionally, he noted, he went shopping with his area coordinator, who paid for the dorm supplies directly.

Quong added that, in his experience, the Residential Life staff encouraged him to be creative with the ways he used his dormitory budget to engage with residents.

“I would say that my area coordinator did discourage us from spending too much money on food. I actually appreciated that advice, because I think it forced me to think more creatively about how we could go about spending our budget,” said Quong.

“The bigger question was how were you spending your budget thoughtfully, not how much of your budget were you spending,” he added.

A current RC for an upperclassmen dorm, who requested anonymity for fear for job security, raised questions about Residential Life’s budgetary decisions.

In particular, she voiced concern with the RC budget policy — from what her area coordinator has told her in the past, she said, unspent money from one semester’s budget does not necessarily roll over into the next semester’s budget.

In a joint email response with Director of Student Affairs Budget Chad LaDue, Andrea Cadyma, director of Residential Life, said over email that unspent portions of RCs’ dorm budgets do, in fact, roll over to the next semester, according to Cadyma.

“[P]revious year net residuals would augment the current year per-capita allocations and used in the same manner — to support hall programming,” she wrote.

Unspent money is divided up across dormitories for the next academic year.

The anonymous RC, however, expressed frustration over Residential Life’s lack of communication on the use of unspent per-capita dormitory funds, both with its student staff and the larger campus community

“At the end of the year, you don’t get your [unspent] money back. It just kind of vanishes,” she said, estimating that she spent only 70 percent of her budget last semester.

She added that Residential Life never discussed with her or her peers where the unspent money from their budgets is used.
“I think there should be more transparency about what happens to the money, and accountability for the residents — because that is their money,” she said.

“I don’t think people are aware of it, necessarily. Like, I don’t think people know that their money is going to [dorm programming … especially when] some of it isn’t being spent,” she added.

RCs work with supervisors to host events within the breakdown of their budgets, according to Cadyma.

Though Cadyma said that Residential Life encourages funds to be utilized to the fullest extent possible each year, there is no penalty for RCs who choose, intentionally or unintentionally, to spend substantially less than their budget allows for.

Oftentimes, she added, RCs are not intentionally underspending; rather, they are trying not to exceed budgets.

Residential Life works with the Office of Student Affairs to determine budgets, which are typically determined a year in advance, according to Cadyma.

When asked why the college does not just lower RC budgets instead of allowing underspending, Cadyma said the question has not been raised for discussion but may be on the table for the future.

Frequent underspending of the dorm’s programming funds, however, combined with a lack of information regarding where leftover dormitory funds go at the end of each academic year, often results in frustration on the part of some RCs, who seek more clear, consistent communication from the Residential Life office.