In April 2020, the NJIT Student Senate elections came to a close and the new senators and executive board got to work on setting up for the Fall 2020 semester. This included $866,000 that the Senate is responsible for allocating this year.
“And then in June-July we started having meetings with administrators,” said Anuj Patel, President of Student Senate, “and we’re like, okay, school’s gonna look really different, and all those budgets are practically meaningless at this point.”
Due to COVID-19, budget requests that all student organizations had submitted in April and Senate had approved in May did not reflect the reality of how clubs would operate on campus.
“So we had more meetings with Lisa Easton [Executive Director of University Budgeting and Financial Planning] and Kristie [Damell, Executive Director of Student Life],” Patel continued, “who are saying get us the final numbers—NJIT is doing a half year budget, so you guys should too…. So then in August, we had clubs resubmit budgets for the half year because Spring could look completely different, enrollment could change depending on COVID-19.”
Clubs were also given the choice to take whatever percentage of their yearly budget that they saw fit, allowing them to spend less in the Fall semester and save that money for the Spring semester when restrictions are hopefully loosened.
The Senate finance committee, headed by Vice President of Finance Michael Moussa, also relaxed rules on how clubs can spend their budget allotment for the year. The amount that a club can spend on merchandise and apparel was raised from 7.5% of the budget to up to 33%, while the limit for the amount spent on prizes was raised from 15% to 33%.
The funding of the clubs, Moussa explained, “goes back into tiering, so depending on your club’s tier.” The tiering is decided by the Student Organization Committee headed by Director of Student Organizations Owen Busler. The committee takes into account event attendees, number of events, size of the organization, competition attendance and overall impact of the organization. The process, as Moussa described it, takes the power out of the hands of any individual and ensures that “there’s not really an agenda against any certain club.”
After that process, the organizations are then split into Tier 1, which receives $8,000 for the year, Tier 2 at $5,000, Tier 3 at $3,000 and Tier 4 at $1,500. Student Senate along with The Vector Newspaper, Nucleus Yearbook, WJTB Radio, Student Activities Council and Society of Musical Arts are classified as University Serving Organizations and have their budgets decided by Senate based on yearly operating costs.
All of the funds that Senate allocates come from the $55 per semester Student Activities Fee that all undergraduates pay. “We were thinking about reducing the Student Activity Fee from like $55 to maybe just $5-10,” Moussa said, “but we thought that the University would bounce back quicker than that. We wouldn’t want to change it for the Fall and then next Spring need to change it back.” The total budget has also not changed drastically from last year to this year, as undergraduate enrollment has only decreased by about 35 students.
If the Spring 2021 semester rolls around with looser restrictions, clubs will already have all of the money that they needed for the year. “The money that was requested for by the clubs, I believe, will be as effective [as previous years],” said Moussa. “So in the spring, they could budget more. Like say there’s a club that holds two events in the Fall and two in the Spring. Now they have the extra funding and if Spring restrictions are lighter they could hold multiple events in the Spring.”
Moussa also suggested that “there’s some clubs who are trying to update their equipment and equipment is expensive, so it’d be effective for the coming years to have better equipment. So if they are trying to hold events in the coming years they have the stuff prepared. The funds do go back to students, but it doesn’t have to be through food or social gatherings. It still goes back in a certain way.”
Any money that isn’t used by Senate or the organizations that were allocated those funds then goes into the Fund Balance where it accumulates interest and is then used in the future for signature events, such as the A Boogie wit da Hoodie concert in Fall 2019, and purchases such as the large tent outside of Campus Center.
“We wanted to use the tent as a way of doing tabling outdoors,” Patel said. “So, it was a risk and online events are not as effective as in person, but we want to do the most we can to encourage clubs to do the most with the resources they’re given.”
Another use of the Fund Balance, which currently has over $300,000 in it, was a $50,000 donation to the Highlander Student Emergency Fund. Patel said that “Dean Boger, and whoever’s on her committee, gets applications from students, like need based for whatever extraneous circumstances they’re in. And they can request up to $1,000 for like, if they need a new laptop and they don’t have the funds for it and school’s starting, like that’s something where the fund can step up.”
Patel continued, “When we did write up that proposal, the fund was at $216,000 at the beginning of summer, and by August, when we did the proposals, it was near $50,000. So it was substantially reduced over the summer. They had a whole phone-a-thon group specifically asking for COVID donations, and then that was depleted also. And then we stepped up at that point.”
The donation “was also inspired from Kristie [Damell] and Dr. Bloom through meetings over the summer,” Patel said. “They definitely encouraged us to kind of change our direction from event based and policies and things like that, and they said try to do a little more philanthropy and community health this year because of COVID. And I think as a Senate, that’s really important as a student body to, when in times of need, step up in that role.”
As for the rest of the school year, Patel said that “There’s still room for proposals to improve campus life during COVID because masks and social distancing are probably going to last a decent amount of time. So, I think there are still ways we can use our money to improve campus life while still maintaining that safety.”
“Everything’s been day by day,” Moussa said, “that’s the only reason for the half budget and everything, right? With every single day, there might be a new phase, we might go back a phase or so. Everything is variable, so we can’t plan for everything. We just hope we get accustomed and accommodate as much as possible.”