The Student Government Association wants a larger operating budget in order to reach students who are left out of the decision-making process on campus. In light of the current budget crisis, however, that may be an unattainable and, some say, unnecessary goal.
The 30 SGA senators who represent the Northern Kentucky University student body requested an increase in funding consistent with a 26 percent increase in tuition over the past two years. Their proposal was presented to President James Votruba at the SGA August retreat. The increase would be used for public relations efforts, advertising, campus-wide mailings and campus events, according to SGA President Chris Pace.
“(The) overall feeling throughout the Senate is a lot of people want to do a lot more,” Pace said. “They want to maybe have SGA to sponsor more events, have SGA to reach out to more commuters, to more of the non-traditional population that really get left out.”
NKU has a student population of approximately 14,000, yet only 483 students voted in the last SGA election. Pace said there is “definitely…an outreach problem.”
“I think a lot of senators want to find other ways to reach out to new groups and new student populations…and you just can’t do that kind of stuff for free,” Pace said.
The 2003-2004 SGA budget is $33,263. According to Joe Myers, SGA vice president for administrative affairs, the proposed increase in funding would put NKU’s student government more in line with other universities in the Commonwealth.
“Our government is the least funded in the state,” Myers said.
Pace said it seems odd to him that other departments’ funding has been increased in congruence with the 26 percent tuition increase but that SGA funding has not.
“SGA is supposed to be the representative voice for the students on campus,” Pace said. “It just seems somewhat out of context that the students are the ones that they’re putting the burden of this tuition increase on…and yet they’re not funding the only student lobby that is available.”
“With the students, knowledge is power,” said Eric Fegan, executive vice president for SGA. “The more that we can get the word out and the more that we can tell them and teach them about the things that are going on, the more power as a student lobby we’re going to have.”
“It comes down to the 26 percent (tuition) increase,” Myers said. “The student representative body is not getting enough money when the university is getting more. It’s the students’ money.”
“By looking at the university budget, it would seem to us that there is money out there,” Myers said.
President Votruba said he understands why students think that there should be excess money somewhere in the $125 million budget. But, he said, “I have worked at five universities, and this university’s budget is as lean as I’ve ever seen.”
“It is going to be difficult to increase anybody’s funding this year,” Votruba said. “The difficulty we confront across campus is to prepare ourselves for what could be severe budget cuts from Frankfort.”
“I will do everything I can to help keep SGA funding (as it is),” Votruba said.
While the university hasn’t increased funding to SGA, it has increased funding directly affecting students, such as First-Year Programs and need-based financial aid both received a boost in funding this year, Votruba said. He said they tried to put as much as possible into need-based financial aid to help offset the tuition hike over the last two years.
SGA Senator Brandon Hill said that even amid the current budget crisis faced by the university, “we (SGA) have a budget that many organizations would love to have.”
Hill agrees that there is a need to get more students involved on campus, in student government, and in the decision-making processes that affect them, but asking for more funding is not the answer.
He said that SGA can only guess at what students want because so few students actually vote in SGA elections.
“Pretty much the people that you know voted for you,” Hill said.
“It is not an accurate representation of what exactly the students really want.” “(It) should be addressed and needs to be addressed in order for SGA to be a viable organization of the future,” Hill said. “(But) we should fall in to line with the budget cuts.”
“Maybe we need to make some sacrifices ourselves…maybe we need to set an example for the rest of the university,” he said.
“We can make more of a statement…if we use the money we have to the best of our ability,” Hill said.
“If we really care about the students…we have to stretch those funds because, of course, it’s very limited.”
Pace said the Executive Board is looking for ways to cut back on spending. “That is something we struggle with every day,” he said.
This year the board limited expenses for their retreat to less than $1,000, when up to $5,000 was typically spent in the past, according to Pace. “We were able to constrain the (Executive) Board spending and we’re going to use that money to do some other things within the operating budget,” he said.
“We’re looking for ways to cut back, but when you’ve got a budget that really hasn’t been increased much over the past couple of years and inflation still happens even in a bad economy, it’s tough, it’s really tough,” Pace said.