On Oct. 17, the Student Government Association (SGA) finally released budgets to the College’s clubs. After fielding budget proposals in the spring, SGA took six months to reach a decision, communicating little throughout the process. For the first month of the academic year, clubs had no money with which to fund events and, unsure of how much they would eventually receive, could not yet plan events for later in the semester. This entire process, from start to end, has been a fiasco.
One of SGA’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that the College’s clubs run smoothly and meaningfully contribute to the student life of Mayflower Hill. So far this semester, it has failed this goal spectacularly.
In mid-April, Nathan Baird, the Associate Director for Student Engagement, sent two Google forms to last year’s club leaders, one for reregistering with SGA and another for submitting a budget proposal. While reregistering was easy, drafting a new budget took much more time. At The Colby Echo, we needed to forecast our printing costs, predict how many staff we would hire, and provide a detailed outline for the entire academic year’s payroll. After a few weeks of analyzing past expenses and consulting last year’s editors-in-chief, we submitted a budget breakdown to SGA.
We asked for a modest increase in our budget — about thirty percent. For years, The Colby Echo has been unable to fairly compensate its staff. Our reporters, on average, spend about four hours per week interviewing interesting people and writing about their findings. They do great work and often share stories that the College community would never hear otherwise. In years past, we could afford to pay them for only two hours of their time — our budget permitted no more.
Compared to our four associate editors, however, our reporters appear fairly compensated. Our editors, who each oversee a section of the paper and manage a team of reporters, spend about ten to twelve hours on the Echo each week. They help reporters find stories and leads, write articles of their own, and work throughout our six-hour layout sessions on Monday nights. Last year, we could afford to pay them for only three hours.
In our budget proposal, we requested more money for our staff across the board. We asked for enough funds to pay reporters for 2.5 hours and editors for five hours. Although our staff members would still earn less than they deserved, we knew that SGA could never approve a budget asking for more than double what it awarded the Echo in 2021. We saw these wage increases as modest but meaningful, hoping that they would lay the groundwork for future increases.
Over the summer, we received no word from SGA on the status of our budget. While we could tolerate this delay in June and July, once August arrived, we began to panic. Because the Echo publishes its first issue shortly after the academic year begins, we hire most of our staff over the summer and fill the remaining positions, which are usually few, after the club fair. While past editors-in-chief could advertise the pay of each staff position, we could say only that each position would be paid some amount. At this point, we were concerned but would happily wait a bit longer if SGA delivered the funding that we needed.
In early September, as we returned to Mayflower Hill and prepared for our first issue, we grew alarmed. Our staff members rightfully asked how much they would be paid, and we had no answer for them. The date of our first issue approached, and we had no funds with which to pay our staff. We couldn’t afford to wait longer.
Frustrated, we shared our concerns with the Office of Campus Life. It input our staff members into WorkDay, the College’s payroll management software, and recommended that, until SGA worked through the budgets, we pay our staff the amount we requested in our proposal. We had no other option, so that is what we did.
We finally received our budget on Oct. 17, more than a month after the academic year began and a few days before we published our fifth issue of the semester. To our horror, SGA had increased our budget by one percent. Forget our proposed increase of thirty percent — this budget wouldn’t outpace inflation in a good year, never mind 2022’s rate of about eight percent.
In its email, SGA didn’t explain why it rejected our proposal. Unlike the detailed breakdown that we provided in the spring, SGA gave us a single number, a dollar amount, for the entire year. We received no updated breakdown or guidance on how we ought to distribute these funds. After delaying this process for almost a half year, SGA now expects us to create a new budget from scratch.
Had SGA rejected our proposed budget increase in the spring or over the summer, we would have been disappointed, but we would have understood. Because it procrastinated for months, however, we are furious. How do we tell our staff that some of them now make significantly less than what they expected, which is already much less than they deserve? After our first four issues, for which our staff collected more money than we could afford, will we be able to pay for all of the issues we planned on publishing? We have many questions that need answers.
In the coming weeks, the Echo plans to discuss these concerns with SGA — we encourage the leaders of other clubs to join us in these conversations. We believe that SGA should provide detailed notes to each club on why it approved some budget items and not others — after forcing club leaders to delay meetings and events, providing a single number with no details is unacceptable. We also believe that SGA, if it doesn’t already intend to do so, should publish the meeting minutes from its Finance Committee, the group that determines club budgets. These would be good first steps toward creating a fairer and more transparent process, and reinstating trust in the College’s club–funding system.
~ Matt Rocha `23 & Avery Rosensweig `23