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ASWU discusses budget concerns in Feb. 10 meeting

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Piper Lehr

Lifestyles Editor

At the Feb. 10 Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) meeting, President Giovanni Bautista (‘22) gave several University Council updates, and meeting attendees discussed where a recently submitted proposal to increase the student minimum wage to $15 per hour would leave ASWU financially.

During public comment, former senator Ainsley Moench (‘24), who was there as a proxy for Senator Inéz Nieves (‘24), spoke as herself on the recently proposed [Student Labor Initiative] (SLI). The SLI will be covered in a later article to be linked [here].

The next section was officer reports. Bautista said that he nominated a press secretary candidate to Vice President Angel Park (‘22). Pending Park’s acceptance, this person could be introduced to the Senate as early as the next ASWU meeting. Despite receiving “low engagement” from his emails to members of University committees, Bautista said that he plans on relaying what information he has learned at next week’s meeting. Next, he mentioned that Bon Appetit, Willamette’s catering service, is currently searching for a student representative to provide “comments or feedback on the food at Goudy,” and encouraged people to apply.

Bautista then moved on to his next point: He said that the University Council, which is composed of a wide range of administrators and faculty and provides “general updates on University-related matters,” met last week. They gave several COVID-19 updates. First, they noted that cases have fallen week by week post-Omicron surge. This decline in cases reassured Council members, who now plan to continue with an in-person commencement ceremony. However, Bautista wanted to emphasize that the pandemic brings a lot of uncertainty and that things might change. The University Council then stated that undergraduate applications for the 2022-2023 school year are on-track with the desired numbers. The goal is to get to 4,150 applications by the March 1st extended deadline, and the amount received as of Friday, Feb. 4 was 2,297. There are also under 1500 financial aid applications and no current plans to host “overnight stays” for prospective students in the near future. Additionally, the Board of Trustees will be meeting next week for their first in-person meeting in a long time to submit recommendations for hiring new faculty for tenure. They will potentially be hiring ten new faculty for the incoming school year from a variety of departments, including some from Data Science, PHEAL and English.

According to Bautista, the last big update from the University Council was regarding the University budget. Apparently, they said that we are in a “strong” financial position at the moment, but given COVID-19, the University is still looking for ways to “defer expenses and cut costs.” Bautista emphasized that “there are no plans for layoffs,” but did mention that how exactly they will defer expenses is undecided at the moment. He gave some examples of what these budget cuts might look like -- for example, he reminded attendees about how the University has previously borrowed funds for certain facility improvements, and also stated that the University Council itself said that potential ways could include deferring certain types of maintenance, among other strategies.

Next up, Treasurer Michael Burke (‘23) gave some finance updates. ASWU currently has $44,935 available in the budget. “That’s doable, we’re fine…that being said…we are in trouble a little bit going forward,” he stated. This is since the only reason they’re in a decent financial situation is because they keep rolling-over due to zeroing, or taking back money given to but unused by student organizations. “Our income is not matching our expenses,” he pointed out, even when they’re cutting costs as much as possible. He asked ASWU to be “cognizant” of how much money they’re using in the future.

Senator Gus Gunter (‘23) then asked Burke where the $15 minimum wage proposed by the SLI would leave ASWU financially. Burke said ASWU is already experiencing a gap between income and expenses: ASWU currently needs around $198,000 to properly cover all of their expenses, whereas last semester they only had around $140,000. To cover just those existing expenses, ASWU would need to raise the student fee to $180. Adding the SLI on top of that would require raising the student fee to $216.75. Burke’s strategy would be to propose an increase to $140 and then wait a few years, since students surveyed were critical of going “anywhere near $150 even.”

Next came the judicial reports. Chief Justice Alexander Knorr (‘22) said that the main thing that the judicial branch has been doing is making sure that the newly appointed justices are up to speed with how to best serve ASWU under their new titles. Knorr noted that the number of absences senators can have from senate meetings was no longer in the bylaws, and asked whichever senator had the time or interest to re-add that information.

Gunter then opened the discussion for spring round one funding. Funding rounds consist of requests from student organizations and clubs that ASWU’s finance committee will approve before the senate votes to pass it as a whole. Moench questioned the denial of a funding request from Choice Action Team for supplies for the club expo, telling Burke: “equality is different from equity, and if we have the funds, if it’s not a big difference to buy stuff for club fairs, then we should change that.” Burke reiterated that while, “it looks like we have $44,000,” ASWU still has to carry over $60,000, stressing that where they are currently in terms of funds right now is “already limiting organizations.” He pointed out that the Willamette Events Board (WEB) and The Collegian have already cut their funding, so ASWU seriously needs “every penny” of that money and they can’t just do what they want with it.

During good of the order, Senator Athena Marvitz (‘22), who was running the meeting, said she was told to remind people to send proxies to ASWU meetings if they aren’t able to attend, and further asked them not to converse with proxies during the meeting but to prepare them ahead of time. The meeting adjourned at 7:31 p.m.

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