JFC budgeting process must improve transparency

Each semester, every undergraduate and graduate student pays an activities fee of $123 and $99, respectively.

The Joint Funding Committee (JFC) allocates most of the money — over $1.5 million — generated by the activities fee to all campus organizations recognized by student government. This money includes 90 percent of the money generated by the undergraduate student activities fee and 30 percent of the money generated by the graduate student activities fee.

The JFC includes 10–15 students, and it is led by the Student Body Vice President for Finance. This year, organizations had to submit their proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which includes the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters, to the JFC by Jan. 23. According to the schedule on its website, JFC planned to release preliminary budgets for every organization on April 1.

In the following week, it was originally announced that organizations could submit appeals for the proposed budgets. However, the JFC did not release preliminary budgets until April 7, almost a week after the proposed date.

Last week, student organization leaders met with their respective assigned JFC representatives as part of the appeals process, leading up to the Undergraduate Student Senate and Graduate Student Assembly joint budget ratification meeting this Thursday.

The JFC plays an important role on Carnegie Mellon’s campus; its budget decisions shape the upcoming fiscal year for every JFC-recognized student organization. This year, the JFC process has frustrated many with its inefficiency and lack of transparency.

Because budgets came out a week later than planned, student leaders and members of the JFC had to rush through the appeals process the week of Carnival.

For the first time, organization leaders cannot view the rationale for the budgets of other organizations, cutting out a crucial aspect of what should be a transparent budgeting process.

Although this may be a result of the JFC’s new online budgeting system, Campus Labs Budgeting System, it has made this year’s budgeting process more difficult for many. The new system itself is confusing, compounding other difficulties in the budgeting process. The Tartan wishes that the JFC accounted more for possible roadblocks when switching to a new system from the previous budget tracker.

Although the JFC and SBVPF work hard with the money raised from the student activities fee to make fair budgets for every organization, the reasoning behind their decisions can be murky for student organization leaders. A clearer enumeration of this year’s changes to budge metrics could have been provided.

SBVPF-elect and junior mathematical sciences and economics double major Benjamin Zhang wrote in his election platform that he plans to increase student involvement and transparency in the budgeting process. The Tartan hopes that he follows up on these promises in the upcoming academic year to make the JFC process simpler and more streamlined for everyone involved.