For the last few weeks, the Student Programming Allocation Committee was put on pause.
Now, with a plan in motion, the committee will open the process for the Spring semester on Monday.
“We're just ... excited that organizations will be able to receive funding for the spring and that the programming will continue like it normally has,” Owen Flomberg, senior in College Scholars, vice president of membership of Campus Events Board and co-president of ORG, said.
Prior to Saturday evening, SPAC temporarily paused, looking at the expenses of certain organizations and events. Funding had been allocated for events planned through Feb. 28, but the rest of the Spring semester has not been allocated.
“I think the question came to rise that are we effectively making sure the money is being spent wisely and the right way, so I think right now we are seeing an evolution,” Ovi Kabir, SGA president and senior in political science, said in an interview on Oct. 29. “Right now it is a pause on it, a pause for it to be something new.”
As of Saturday night, student leaders have decided to continue the same process for the spring semester, but will continue to look at the SPAC process to refine the it for next school year.
With roughly 500 student organizations on campus, only about 60 organizations apply for SPAC funding each semester, according to Kabir. Regardless, Kabir said SGA is trying to keep student organizations updated throughout the process.
“We've had these conversations on student programming,” Kabir said. “There really hasn't been much of an announcement ... to the general student (population) because we've let any student organization that is applying for the SPAC funding know because they are the ones using it.”
“SPAC isn't a sexy issue, essentially, because it's numbers but it's very important,” Kabir added.
What is SPAC?
SPAC was created to determine how funds from the Student Programming and Services Fee (SPSF) are used and distributed. In order to do this, student organizations apply to receive funding for specific events during each semester, fall and spring. Student programming funds come from the $19.46 charge from each opted-in student.
In order to protect students from funding events they do not support, a 2014 Tennessee Legislature request allows students to have two options for deciding how the university spends the money. Students who choose to opt in (option 1) allow the university to use the fee for student programming on campus, and, in turn, those students receive free access or discounted admission to all student programming such as Vol Night Long and guest speakers. Students who choose to opt out (option 2) tell the university to use the fee for initiatives and events that are not student-led.
Reallocation sends SPAC funds to travel fund
The SGA Senate took an unanimous straw poll in favor of a reallocation of $190,000 from student programming funds to a student organization travel budget on March 6. Student programmers and numerous SGA Senators were concerned when the straw poll finalized the reallocation following Spring Break. Typically, straw polls are considered a gauge as to the general climate of an idea. Many did not know the details or dollar amount when voting in the straw poll.
During a March 27 Senate meeting, an open town hall provided students the opportunity to voice their concerns. Around 50 students from various organizations including CEB, Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) and the Women's Coordinating Council (WCC) were present.
“The complete lack of consideration for informing students and certain administrators about this change is very troubling,” chair of the Campus Events Board's issues committee and junior studying political science Dylan Douglas said. “SPAC funding has been highly politicized in the past, and given what was changed (both the budget cuts and new procedure changes) and how they changed it, without informing anyone affected, I can't help but feel this is another extension of that.”
Closed-door meeting held on July 17
Following the meeting, SPAC was debated amongst student leaders and organizations. On July 17, Vice Chancellor of Student Life Vince Carilli hosted a closed-door discussion about SPAC, prompting out-cry from then SGA Chief of Staff Austin Smith.
Smith, who was only included in the call to help a close friend attend over conference call, was “disappointed” when he wasn't originally included in the meeting.
“Earlier this summer, I had spent several hours forming the 20 plus committees, including SPAC,” Smith said after the July 17 meeting. “I was told by the SGA President to hold off on finalizing SPAC because the administration planned to scrap the current committee and restructure it.”
Once the meeting began, Smith said Carilli asked students to not record the conversations and to keep the conversation between those in the room.
“One of my issues with this is that nearly every person in the meeting was a student elected by their respective constituents to engage in conversations about student issues,” Smith said. “As a student representative, I have nothing to hide when it comes to discussing the interests of my peers; though I cannot speak for my fellow student representatives in the room, I do not believe that they do either.”
Conversation during the meeting centered on 12 concerns from the University community, according to Smith. Those concerns were outlined via a document provided to meeting attendees by Carilli.
The concerns were “associated with the allocation of SPSF funds via the SPAC process in recent years,” the document said. Listed concerns were as follows: the equitable distribution of the fees among registered student organizations; the excessive costs of select programs; the calculated cost of attendance, per participant; the use of SPSF funds for controversial speakers/events; the “earmark” of SPSF funds for select student programming boards; CEB's use of approximately 1/3 of its entire budget on Volapalooza; the annual duplication of “similar” programming; the interpretation of the criteria used to allocate SPSF funds; the composition of the SPAC; the complicated nature of the SPAC process for applying for funds for student-organized programming; the cycle of the allocation process (fall & spring semesters); and, whether SPSF funds should be used at all to fund student-organized programming.
Long and short-term solutions for SPAC were also discussed at the meeting. One of the short-term solutions included distributing fall funding as soon as possible.
Smith said throughout conversation “the administration's lack of citing student concern” made it seem as though the grievances were “of lawmakers and parents.” Citing the legal side and the practical side of SPSF, Smith said Carilli cited parents' obsession with the practical side as events like Sex Week go against their beliefs, morals and religions.
“Several times I found myself redirecting the conversation back to focusing on students because Dr. Carilli would be going on some tangent about hard it is to explain to parents and lawmakers why we allow Sex Week and other programming on campus,” Smith said.”
Since the travel's fund's conception, Carilli has struggled to gain footing with students regarding SPAC, but said he thought the July 17 meeting was a step in the right direction.
“It was a productive meeting with involved students,” Carilli said in an email on July 20. “We hope to continue the conversation moving forward.”
What we know about SPAC's future
For now, student leaders are in conversation with Kabir and other officials with the hopes of redesigning the process for next school year.
“We are discussing ... what we can do in the future so we can change the composition of what SPAC will look like in the future to make it more diverse representation as well as student friendly,” Kabir said.
Carilli was unavailable to make a comment at the time of publication.