Last year, Santa Clara Mock Trial students personally covered over $800 to attend an out-of-state tournament, according to junior Mock Trial President Shivani Dharanipragada. After initially expecting to be reimbursed–at least in part–they never got their money back.
“The school said they were going to try to help out as much as they could,” said senior political science and philosophy double major Emma Samaniego, a Mock Trial executive board member. “It is a lot for students to put a couple grand on a credit card and just hope for the best 2-3 months later.”
Associated Student Government (ASG) Vice President of Finance Jocelyn Hsiung said student organizations can request access to a Center for Student Involvement (CSI) staff credit card to avoid paying out of pocket for allocated funding. Both Chartered Student Organizations (CSOs) and Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) can utilize these cards to purchase goods with approved discretionary funds. However, Hsiung said it can be difficult to accommodate all requests given the card’s daily, monthly and transactional limits.
According to Dharanipragada, the burden of funding travel costs for Mock Trial often falls on members because of how frequently Santa Clara’s ASG credit card reaches its limit.
A credit card with fewer restrictions could alleviate the pressure of awaiting reimbursements for Mock Trial’s big ticket items like lodging, tournament costs and flights.
“When we all have to share one credit card, what ends up happening is we all try to stand outside the door of an office and try to get access first,” Dharanipragda said. “It maxes out very quickly, and then we have to wait weeks before we can use the card again.”
Tedd Vanadilok, the CSI director and ASG advisor, said CSI and ASG have $141,000 annually to disperse across all 170 RSOs, an increase from the $96,000 allotted just three years ago.
Senior Zafir Chowdhury, ASG Student Affairs Committee (SAC) chair, recognized the difficult task ASG has of distributing funds equally across all RSOs. This quarter’s requested funds of $190,000 alone exceeded the total money allotted to ASG to finance clubs for the entire year.
Chowdhury said there is not much ASG can do about the increasing demand for funds, but predicted reimbursement process improvements over the next few years.
“ASG has been coming up with ways to speed up the reimbursement process because it is an issue,” Chowdhury said. “Waiting for reimbursements for such a long time is a financial burden no student should have to go through.”
In the wake of unfulfilled reimbursements, Mock Trial is not the only RSO that has turned to more sustainable means of funding. Ballet Folklórico, Santa Clara’s Mexican heritage dance club, has had to scale down events in the past due to insufficient funds, according to co-chair and junior Bella Estrada.
“You never really get as much as you ask for with discretionary funding, and I don’t want it to be the only source of funding we rely on because it is volatile,” Estrada said.
Ballet Folklórico began charging for performances to alleviate funding concerns. The team also created a GoFundMe page to accept donations this year after seeing other folklórico clubs in the area fundraise this way. If fundraising is successful, the club plans to put on its first full performance event on campus this spring.
Chowdhury expressed empathy for RSOs that have had to cancel or modify their events due to insufficient funding. He recommended, although not always easy, for clubs to first turn to their respective departments when short on funds.
Senior Kira Hofelmann, president of the Maker Club, said 90% of her RSO’s funding comes from coordination with the manager of the Robotic System Lab.
“Our funding process may seem unorthodox, but I think that comes entirely from having no idea what to do and how to get things,” Hofelmann said. “I’ve chipped in myself, but we also get funding from the School of Engineering. I don’t know how many people know about their funding because it’s not advertised.”
Wishing ASG could support clubs financially with no limitations, Chowdhury feels responsible to point students in the direction of resources.
“I think there’s this feeling that SAC is pitted against RSOs and that is simply not the way it should be,” Chowdhury said. “I can feel the tension, and perhaps it’s ASG’s fault for not educating the clubs exactly on how funding works.”
Echoing this, Samaniego said it can be confusing trying to understand the full extent of what funding is available to Mock Trial through non-ASG sources.
“ASG recommends supplementary measures, but I think there is a lack of understanding, especially for new members,” Samaniego said. “How do you ask the dean of the business school for money? At 18, 19 and 20 years old, a lot of people do not have experience with these things.”
In order to provide more funding to RSOs, CSI needs to submit a proposal that is approved by both the University Budget Office and the Board of Trustees. During his 14 years at CSI, Vanadilok recalled the funding allocated towards RSOs only changing periodically. With immediate changes to the budget being unforeseen, CSI is actively searching for other opportunities to ensure RSOs can best utilize their funds.
“One tangible change we have made is if you are catering less than $750 dollars you can go through an outside source and do not have to go through Bon Appetit,” said Vanadolik. “Before September of this year that threshold used to be a lot lower. It’s a big win because the cost of feeding people at events got a lot easier to do.”
Some improvements Chowdhury foresees include centralizing student expenses and lending student organizations their own credit cards.
“It’s a long term project because only some members of ASG have the privilege of making recommendations on a policy level,” Chowdhury said. “It’s not going to happen in a quarter or two. It’s a change we are looking at for hopefully next year.”