As Covid has rocked every campus operation, from how students gather to how much tuition they pay, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) has adjusted its funding and budgetary policy for the fall semester. Student activity fees have been reduced for students studying on campus and eliminated for those studying remotely. All the AAS funding — drawn only from its discretionary fund — will be used only for in-person activities that comply with the college’s health policy.
According to members of the Budgetary Committee, the changes are a necessary adjustment made in order to accurately fund the activities that will occur on campus this semester, which are limited for health and safety reasons. However, a number of clubs — especially those whose programming centers around hosting events — expressed dissatisfaction with the changes, arguing that it limits accessibility and engagement.
“With the limitations to what is feasible for engagement opportunities on campus, a lot of the costs that are generally allocated from semester to semester are in the form of large community events that are not currently feasible,” said Director of Student Activities Paul Gallegos. AAS typically spends much of its budget funding on activities that involve food, large gatherings, travel off campus and honorariums for speakers who visit the college — activities that are no longer safe or permitted.
“The AAS made necessary fee and policy adjustments in order to accomodate an unconventional semester that limits much of what the AAS funded previously,” said the group’s treasurer Brooke Harrington ’22.
These changes prompted the committee to lower the student activities fee for students on campus and remove it from remote students’ bills altogether. “As a budgetary committee, we have a pretty good idea of what people are going to spend … we think there's going to be [fewer] reasons to spend money,” said James Hulsizer ’23, AAS senator and member of the Budgetary Committee. “We ended up deciding to lower the [student activity] fees because it just doesn’t make sense for people to pay full fees when there’s not going to be the full array of wonderful, vital, campus life,” he said.
According to the AAS, the adjusted funds will still support a wide range of activities, but they do require implementing necessary restrictions. “All AAS-funded programming must abide by college policy as informed by local public health guidelines,” Harrington wrote in an email to students on Aug 24. Accordingly, AAS will not fund the purchase of any food, for example, as it requires interaction with off-campus entities which would be a violation of the college’s Covid policy. Additionally, Harrington wrote, “the Student Activities Fund will only be used for on-campus, in-person experiences.” In particular, this means that AAS will not fund any virtual events. This is both because students studying remotely were not charged the student activities fee, and because, from Hulsizer and AAS’ perspective, “we can’t guarantee that [virtual events] are accessible to everyone” due to varying time zones, internet access or other barriers.
Student-organized clubs impacted by these changes to funding and campus life do have concerns. Clubs such as Amherst Political Union, whose events often include bringing in speakers and hosting large events, are disappointed in the lack of funding for alternatives, such as hosting virtual speakers. “A lot of our members and students in general are studying remotely so it felt like the AAS decision was leaving them out to dry,” said Witter Swanson, APU president. “We believe all students should benefit from senate funds and activities, regardless if they had to study virtually after paying into the fund for many semesters.”
Other clubs now have to go through more steps in order to access funds, as AAS did not issue club budget recommendations last spring and will only be drawing from its discretionary fund. “We are no longer getting recommended club budget amounts, and now to request money we have to go to the discretionary board,” said Clara Vonderheide ’23, Women’s Club Soccer treasurer. “It’s a more involved process.”
Still, through these restrictions, AAS is working to brainstorm funding uses that follow guidelines and provide enriching experiences for students. “There's still a desire to offer discretionary funding and maintain some of the services students will still enjoy,” said Gallegos. “[These] were factored into the aggregated Student Activities fee.” Hulsizer promoted using AAS’ speakers to play music from the Val balcony on Friday and Saturday nights, one example of an engaging and socially-distant activity that AAS has begun working to implement.
As for further ideas, AAS depends upon student requests. “We have a big pot of money and we want to see what people want to spend it on,” said Hulsizer. The next budgetary meeting, open to the public, will occur on Sept. 7, digitally, and the committee will review all recent budgetary requests. Requests can be submitted through the Google request form sent out in Harrington’s Aug. 24 email.
In terms of further budgetary logistics, the Budgetary Committee will keep the same structure it has in past years, with positions for five AAS Senators and five other students studying on campus. Each week, committee members will meet virtually to review budgetary requests and bring them before the Senate to vote on. The Office of Student Activities will continue helping facilitate student access to funds. “The major focus that we’re hoping won’t be impacted too much this semester is the ability to ensure that students can access allocated funds in a timely manner,” said Gallegos.
All in all, every student and staff member involved with these budgetary changes expressed their uncertainty and hope for the future. “We’re just trying to be as flexible as we can… we’re all just trying to adapt to the new changes,” said Vonderheide. Swanson noted the help provided by the President’s Office and Office of Student Affairs, expressing his excitement for the events and “speakers on a variety of salient and important topics” that APU has managed to organize. Harrington similarly expressed hope for the unconventional semester, saying “It is my hope that students will think of creative ways to build community on campus and the discretionary fund will continue to serve that purpose.”