Drexel’s Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee, which has been criticized by student groups for providing poor customer service, has recently gained a new coordinator in Casey Sharkey.
SAFAC’s purpose is to allocate the $150 annual student activity fee that each Drexel undergraduate is charged as part of the tuition bill.
Sharkey, who has previously served as a customer service specialist for the Health Insurance and Immunizations office, will facilitate the contract process for student organizations seeking funding for various events and projects. Before Sharkey’s arrival, Joseph Gonzalez, assistant director for Campus Engagement and SAFAC adviser, was the sole person responsible for these tasks. Sharkey was hired to help alleviate the amount of work Gonzalez handles in his position.
A number of student groups have encountered problems with what they consider a lack of communication between the SAFAC office and clubs on campus. Kelly Himes, a junior design and merchandising major and president of the Drexel Art Organization, said this disconnect has resulted in late fees and overall frustration for her group.
Himes noted an incident in which the vendor for DART’s annual T-shirt screenprinting workshop contacted her after the event, saying she had not been paid from the club’s account.
“We got all the paperwork in on time — everything was done as we were supposed to,” Himes said, noting that she turned in the invoice to SAFAC and followed up with Gonzalez to ensure everything was taken care of.
“Basically she just recently got paid, and this had been going on since February, so it took about three months and we got hit with a late fee,” Himes said.
In an email statement, Sharkey explained how her role will be to alleviate miscommunications like this.
“My addition to the office will allow student organizations to receive more timely responses and more personal attention,” Sharkey wrote.
According to Himes, there are many issues SAFAC needs to work on in order to better serve its student organizations.
“You don’t get confirmation of when things go through, you have no idea whether or not things are booked, you have to keep checking up or you fall through the cracks very easily,” Himes said.
Himes explained that there were several other DART events that encountered complications because of the procedures of SAFAC. Additionally, the organization’s annual bus trip to visit art museums in New York City and Washington, D.C., wasn’t approved in the budget for the upcoming 2011-12 school year, even though the committee funded it in previous years.
Gonzalez mentioned that student organizations were responsible for clarifying their needs on their budget request forms.
“If a student group was unable to show how the activity or expense met their mission statement, the activity or expense was not funded. There were some groups which were not specific enough for SAFAC to see the relationship of the requested activity or expense to a group’s mission statement and, as such, were not funded that item or activity,” Gonzalez said.
Himes said that because the event pertained specifically to the mission of her club, SAFAC shouldn’t have denied it.
“It’s a little misleading when SAFAC says they’re there to fund you, and even though we have legitimate things that we want to do, they won’t fund them. It’s almost counterproductive,” Himes said.
Steve Pierson, a junior mechanical engineering student, said that timeliness is a major issue for his club when they need to utilize their SAFAC funds. Pierson, who serves as vice president for Formula SAE (Drexel Racing), said that the club requires quick turn-around regarding funding.
“Our competition is in the middle of June, which is when SAFAC starts to close out for the fiscal year, and last year we weren’t able to get funding for gasoline and rentals until we got back from the race. By that time, everything was closed and we couldn’t get a refund for a lot of the stuff,” Pierson said.
Pierson’s team paid out of pocket for their expenses, which included gasoline, for a total of $200 for which they weren’t reimbursed.
“We put so many orders out because of the nature of our competition,” he said. “We’re building a racecar, which can have a thousand different components, so it’s kind of a given that we’re going to have a lot of orders. In the past, SAFAC wasn’t set up for that.”
Sharkey addressed this issue, saying that since she took her post, she and Gonzalez split the student organizations in half to better manage each group and increase their accessibility to students.
“In doing this, we reduce the number of student groups going to one person for all of their financial needs and we hope groups will see improved customer service starting in the new fiscal year,” Gonzalez said.
Other issues remain for student organizations, however. On April 29, each student organization received an email with a letter from SAFAC that noted a deduction from the general fund next year. The committee will siphon $20 from the $150 per-student activity fee during the 2011-12 school year in order to fund a homecoming concert and a winter term “Midnight Madness” concert, as well as other student life programming.
Regarding the email, Himes said, “It’s kind of frustrating because we got even less this year than we got last year. It doesn’t really make sense because we’re improving our organization, so why aren’t we being recognized and appreciated accordingly?”
Pierson said, “As far as funding goes, we can’t really complain; we’re one of the better-funded teams with our competition.”
Both organizations complained about the complex nature of filing for funding. but SAFAC maintains that the process is “relatively easy.” Annual Allocation Applications were available to submit beginning April 1 and were due April 8.
However, according to Stacy Litz, vice president of the Student Liberty Front, SAFAC’s website is out of date, making applying for funding extremely difficult.
“I filled out the form referencing our allocations from last year on my own, thinking I could use it as an appendix and fill out the same details,” Litz said. She noted that the club was happy with its funding from the previous year, as SLF events seldom change from year to year.
At a meeting between the club’s treasurer and Gonzalez to discuss a purchase request, SLF was informed that they had improperly filled out the paperwork and would only receive $100 for the 2011-12 year.
SLF believed they had time to negotiate their funding, because according to the SAFAC website, organizations could appeal within a week if they felt they didn’t receive adequate funding. However, the group was informed that the appeal period was not available this year since all SAFAC funds were already allocated.
SLF didn’t receive the baseline $500 which is guaranteed to all organizations that apply through the initial round of allocations, according to the SAFAC website. Litz is currently investigating why her club did not receive this funding.
“We’re considering finding someone to fight for us legally. It’s almost a discrimination case,” Litz said. “We’re a large, prevalent organization on campus yet I think SAFAC feels like the extra work isn’t worth it for them.”
Litz also said that she thought SLF was penalized for failing to meet with their student liaison to discuss the allocation process before applying — though a meeting with the liaison is not mandatory.
All three student organization leaders interviewed noted that the application process was confusing and that SAFAC did not reach out to accommodate their inquiries.
“The bureaucracy of it is extremely corrupt. Now we’re looking for private funding options, because at this point no matter how much money SAFAC allocates us, it’s not worth it. We’ve sent private organizations funding packets promising to endorse their product if they help fund us,” Litz said.