Let’s Talk Dollars and (Common) Cents


(Paul Gramieri) – “Why I Think Social Clubs Are A Bad Idea” could stand to be a reprisal of my past role as a Staff Writer for AC Voice, or it could serve to be the subject of another article about my role as AAS Treasurer that will inevitably make it to the front page of another edition of the Amherst Student. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Paul, I’m a junior, I’m the AAS Treasurer, and I do not speak on behalf of anyone on the BC or in the AAS. As I have been since the start of my tenure as Treasurer, as many students saw at my informational funding meeting on September 15th, I am going to be blunt: I think social clubs are a bad idea.

That’s not to diminish the work that the Social Club Work Group has done or the problems that they think will be solved in their implementation of social clubs on this campus. The primary objection that I have toward social clubs is that the funding aspect is impractical and not thought out, at all. And upon asking members of the Social Club Work Group exactly how they plan to fund these social clubs, the disheartening “we’ll figure that out later” answer that I got every time makes me even more weary about their incomplete proposal. Perhaps I’m just curious as to what Virginia Hassell meant when she said that “there is the possibility of receiving funding through existing student funds on campus,” because that means the money would come from the AAS.

Since the AAS is tasked with full transparency to the student body, I will be honest with you: there is no room in our budget for social clubs, and I never mentioned the possibility of social clubs receiving AAS funding to anyone (nor has anyone discussed it with me). We get $540,000 a semester from the College to fund the activities and events of the various student groups on campus, and that money comes from the $315 Student Activities Fee that is levied to your tuition each semester. There is no wiggle room to include social clubs on this budget without either going grossly over budget, eliminating the already tight funding for established clubs on this campus, or significantly increasing the Student Activities Fee that you’ll have to pay in tuition (as a point of comparison: Williams charges a $145 activities fee and Bowdoin charges $234 per semester).

Obviously going over budget is bad, because if we run out of money, then our checks won’t be worth anything and we’d be in a shitty situation, unable to fulfill our obligations, which are mandated by you, the students. The AAS routinely pays for some items every semester because past and present student demand requires we pay them:

  • You like Spring Concert and TAPs? We pay CAB $87,000 a semester to fund those events.
  • You like having a copy of the yearbook? We pay the Olio $35,000 a semester to fund these for each student.
  • You like the convenience of having AAS Vans? The bills for gas and repairs to our vans (because students crash them more often than they should) amount to $11,000 a semester.
  • You like having free bus rides on the PVTA? We contribute over $10,000 a semester for you to be able to take the bus around the Pioneer Valley for free.
  • You like it when the Powerhouse puts on cool events? We contribute $5,000 a semester for these to occur.
  • You like the newspapers in Val? The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal cost us over $10,000 a semester.
  • You like it when the AAS offers free shuttle services to Boston, NYC and Bradley for Thanksgiving Break and Spring Break? Those cost us $10,000 a semester.
  • You like being able to participate in Five College events and being a member of the Five College Consortium? We contribute $11,000 a semester to make that possible.

Right there, I’ve told you $179,000 worth of obligations that the AAS must pay for each semester. That’s one-third of our revenues. That does not include our operating costs: the cost of student payroll, the cost of our auditor (since the AAS is an incorporated entity separate from Amherst), and the cost of supplies (fun fact: each check we write out costs 25 cents! They’re expensive, especially when you go through about a thousand checks a year!). It is a challenge to fund everything that every student wants on the budget we have. Somehow, we do it, but not without making unpopular cuts to the budgets of certain clubs, because money doesn’t grow on trees.

If we cut funding from established clubs to pay for social clubs, then suddenly we’ve begun to exclude students with common interests from having the chance at a social life because there would be no money available to cultivate their interests (so much for the social clubs being inclusive for everyone then; clearly the indirect effects of implementing social clubs weren’t thought out). This semester, $277,779.90 is allocated for club budgets, and that is after making painful cuts that force clubs to rely on the Discretionary Funding that the BC allocates every Wednesday night, and even there, we are very stingy with our distribution of funds because we try to limit ourselves to $12,000 in allocations a week. For those of you who might not know, the AAS pays for the salaries of club sport coaches, the publishing of most publications on campus, the conferences and conventions and cool trips (like skiing) that students attend, a majority of the speakers who come to Amherst, and most of the concerts and performances at the Powerhouse each week, and much more. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s totally worth it because our clubs do an amazing job to ensure that we have an active, vibrant, and inclusive student life here.

If the AAS is required to contribute to social clubs, clubs will find it increasingly difficult to get funding from the AAS, and they already know how difficult it is to secure funding from us. We have a set of policies and guidelines because we need a mechanism in place to ensure that we do not overspend; last semester, we were under budget by only $400, but two years ago, we overspent by a couple thousand dollars. It’s hard enough for clubs to get money allocated for their events, and if the AAS contributes to the cost of social clubs, then clubs will find it even harder to secure funding. When clubs are unable to secure funding, then they are being left in the dark, unable to plan events, and then suddenly we’ve excluded an entire other group of students who share much more in common than just the social club that they are in.

One last option would be to raise the $315 Campus Activities fee that we each pay every semester, which is already high in comparison to our peer institutions. Raising the fee wouldn’t really benefit anyone, since it will cause an increase in tuition, which will be a cost that is eaten up both by our parents and by the College through their providing of Financial Aid. The inherent injustice in raising tuition just for the AAS to fund these exclusive clubs, which would be contrary both to the purpose of having a student activities fee and to the funding policies of the AAS, stands to let no one benefit. Besides, since the College also operates on a budget, one that is heavily reliant on gifts from our endowment, that would mean less money would be going to other departments.

“But Amherst has so much money!” you might say. Yes, Amherst has over $2 billion in its endowment, but that money is invested in the stock market and other illiquid assets, not just cash (if it were all in cash, then there would be no return on the money and our endowment wouldn’t grow). It’s not supposed to be used for little projects like funding social clubs (and I’d go out on a limb and postulate that the staff of the Investment Office would laugh at you if you walked into their office and asked them to raise $150,000 to pay for social clubs for the semester – and that’s more money than what most departments operate with each year). It’s there to support large capital projects, like the construction of the new dorms and science center that costs on the scale of tens of millions of dollars, if not more.

Other departments would have difficulty contributing to the cost of social clubs. In my discussions with various departments on campus about co-sponsorship, it became very evident very quickly that the AAS is by far the most significant and largest source of funding for student life on this campus, by a lot (shall I add more emphasis to that? We have at least five times more funding available than the next largest source of funding). And a good number of these other departments have already set their budgets for the entire school year, so any funding from them would mean a reduction in programming on their end (just like how any funding from the AAS would mean a reduction in funding for clubs to put on events! See, it’s all coming in full circle).

This is why I’m voting “no” on the social clubs proposal on Monday. I personally believe that the costs of having social clubs, especially the monetary costs (since each social club will be required to hold events “regularly”), outweigh their benefits. Students will be excluded because AAS funding will be more tight and established clubs on this campus will suffer as a result. I am sure that if there had been a discussion about how social clubs would be funded, we would have figured out a solution that would not have required me to write this article. But no resolution has come to the AAS to amend its funding bylaws in our Constitution to make a provision for social clubs, and we all know that things don’t just happen in the AAS overnight. Passing this proposal will affect clubs that have already began thinking about their budgets for next semester, and will affect how I formulate the AAS budget for next semester. Personally, I expect social clubs to cost anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 a semester, because each social club is required to put on so many events, including at least one campus-wide event. Perhaps the money to pay for social clubs will be taken away from CAB, so we won’t be able to have Spring Concert? Perhaps the money will come from not having newspapers in Val or requiring students to pay for gas to use the AAS vans? Who knows, that may be up for the students to decide too.

In the mean time, I encourage you all to explore our list of RSOs (registered student organizations) and to come to a BC meeting on Wednesday night at 7:30pm in Paino to discuss creating your own club and how the BC and AAS can help.