In a closed meeting Tuesday night, the USG discussed amending the charter and practices of the Projects Board, which has been closely scrutinized by USG members all semester. The changes would be enacted in the 1998-99 academic year.
The Projects Board, which receives $26,000 of the USG's $100,000 budget, helps to fund events organized by student groups. It also receives $9,000 from the four classes, raising its total budget to $35,000.
While the Projects Board charter states that the board is a funder of last resort, the popularity and generosity of the Projects Board has attracted more student groups to apply for funding.
With three meetings remaining, the Projects Board has spent more than $32,500 of its $35,000 total budget, prompting some members of the USG senate to question the largess of the board.
For student groups to receive funding, a majority of the USG senate must approve the Projects Board's recommendations for the grants. The senate has been hesitant to approve particularly large grants this semester, sometimes sending them back to the Projects Board for reconsideration.
"During the course of the semester, we have seen some problems with the way the Projects Board works and with the way its charter works," said USG president David Ascher '99 at Monday night's USG senate meeting. "This is not an indictment of the Projects Board. They are very thorough."
Ascher and USG treasurer Luis Guzman '99 have said additional USG funds are available if the Projects Board spends its allotted money. Rather than searching for reserve funds for the Projects Board, the USG could place a cap on the amount of money the board is allowed to spend in the future.
"I really object to the idea that a cap should be put on the Projects Board budget," said Janelle Wright '00, chair of the Third World Center governance board, adding that student groups must fund their planned events regardless of the USG's total expenditures during the course of a semester.
Proposals include a funding limit for each weekly Projects Board meeting, a cap for the amount the board can spend during bimonthly or quarterly meetings, or a tight Projects Board ceiling for the semester, said USG academics chair Todd Rich '00.
USG campus and community affairs chair Brad Saft '00 said, "The problem with the Projects Board is that its charter does not encourage fiscal responsibility on the part of the student groups because the knowledge that the Projects Board will cover most expenses allows student groups to spend more liberally, knowing that the USG will pick up the tab," Saft said.
Wright said it is infeasible to expect student groups to know the details of their events at the start of a semester. She said she believes the USG should take money from its large social budget of $45,750 and place it in the Projects Board's accounts. The social budget of the USG, which funds the concert each semester, caters to entertainment needs, whereas student group events are more educational, Wright explained.
"A large number of the student groups that come to the Projects Board for funding are minority and ethnic groups who don't have the traditional sources of funding," said USG senator Teddy Nemeroff '01.
"People just don't realize that these events are important academic components of your experience here – not just your classes," Wright said. "The USG's social budget is enormous; it's out of control. They make assumptions about what the student body wants when they say, 'The Wallflowers.' "
The USG debated whether social budget funds should be reallocated to the Projects Board in future USG budgets. USG social chair Jeff Leven '00 said students must take part in the deliberative process. "Which is more important to them–a bigger band or a lot of smaller events?" Leven asked.
However, during Tuesday night's meeting, Leven asserted that, unlike some student-group events, the large concerts serve the entire student body.
According to a transcript of the meeting obtained by The Daily Princetonian, Leven said, "Attendance figures of students turning out for Projects Board-sponsored events are deceptive because it is the same group of students attending each event. The USG should not be catering to a subculture of the Princeton University community."
Student groups must exhaust all other funding sources – such as academic departments, college councils and President Shapiro's discretionary fund – before they apply for USG funding. One proposal being discussed would have the Projects Board act as a regular funder rather than a last resort.
Some disagreed with that notion, however. "The Projects Board has to be a funder of last resort," said Projects Board member Gary So '00 at Tuesday's meeting. "If we become like a department, funding becomes arbitrary. If the Projects Board is lined with people who are anti-environmentalist, the environmental groups will suffer."
USG senator Lee Vartan '00 predicted a more severe diagnosis for student groups in the event that the Projects Board were no longer the last line of defense. "If the Projects Board looks like just another department or regular funder, there won't be anyone to pick up the slack, and the events might not happen," Vartan said.
In informal polls taken at the meeting, voting was split on the question of being a funder of last resort.
All 16 USG members and class officers who attended the meeting agreed attendance at events should not be the sole criterion the Projects Board uses to grant money to student groups. Though the Projects Board charter lists event attendance as the criterion by which grants are determined, Leven said Projects Board members also consider the contribution of the event to campus life and the status of the student groups asking for funds.
Those at the meeting voted 13-3 that the USG should increase the amount of money it grants the Projects Board. However, the vote was only 9-7 in favor of increasing the board's budget if such an increase would come directly from the social budget.
Ascher said though the USG may have one or two more closed meetings, the Projects Board discussion will be open to all students.