Pitzer College Student Senate’s executive board has already spent $2,075.72 of its $5,000 annual budget, or 41.5 percent, a financial status report revealed earlier this month. The board's budget is an allocation of the Senate's annual budget, which is comprised of Student Activities Fees, semesterly fees that the college collects from each student.
The report, presented by Interim Senate Treasurer Jacquelyn Aguilera PZ ’19 at an Oct. 1 Senate meeting, stated that the five-person board paid $730.82 for 24 meals at restaurants in the Claremont area during a 10-day executive board retreat and $230 for a bonding event at an escape room.
Among the meals, the board spent $123 for a “Create a Charter Lunch with [the Office of Student Affairs]” and $110 for a “Contentious Issues Lunch with Dan [Hirsch, associate dean of students],” according to the financial report.
The executive board budget is comparatively high for a Pitzer student organization. Newly approved organizations cannot be allocated more than $300 for their initial funding request, according to the Senate Budget Committee's current by-laws.
Aguilera acknowledged that such heavy spending early on in the year is unusual, and has not occurred in prior years, but promised it will decrease to a sustainable level now that early expenditures have been made.
“The spending this year was slightly different in that our expenditures were front-loaded,” she wrote in an email to TSL. “The executive board arrived at campus 10 days early and meals were purchased for this preparation period. This has been the greatest expenditure thus far from this fiscal year's budget.”
Some senators, like Junior Class Representative Shivani Kavuluru PZ ’19, think some of the executive board’s expenses are acceptable. Kavuluru was the Senate secretary last year and ran for president against Hajar Hammado PZ '18, the current president, in last year's election.
“I definitely do think that some of the purchases were smart and worthwhile,” she wrote in an email to TSL. “The team bonding activities [and] meals … were definitely smart choices.”
Other senators and Pitzer students, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation from members of the executive board or the Senate, voiced dissenting opinions.
“Their spending is hella sketch,” one senator said. “It worries me that they have $5,000 that they don’t have restrictions about what they can do with it. We don't even give clubs with 10 people that much money.”
The senator further questioned the executive board's financial structure generally.
“I personally don’t think they need a budget. I don’t see why their spending can’t just go through the [Senate as a whole],” the senator added. “I think Senate would run the same if they didn’t have the $5,000.”
One Pitzer student described the spending as a symptom of what they described as the Senate's general extravagance.
“It epitomizes the wasteful, ineffective, and self-serving spending of Pitzer Student Senate as a whole,” the student wrote in a message to TSL. “They spend absurd amounts of money on tons of stuff that doesn't matter, like bonding dinners, and then are really stingy about giving money to students for research, attending conferences, or other academic-related experiences.”
The student went on to criticize the Senate as a whole.
“Overall, [it is] a very cliquish, outwardly hostile group that holds Pitzer's money allotted for all the students hostage,” the student wrote. “A ton of people feel this way about Student Senate, but are too scared to speak out because they're afraid of being shouted down at or ostracized for having the 'wrong' political beliefs.”
In addition to the heavy spending from its own budget, the executive board is also using the Senate's reserve fund to pay off $1,800 in charges from last year's executive board. Last year's board paid for tablecloths and Pitzer-branded items – including stress balls and smartphone wallets – with money from this year's operating budget. These items were used at orientation events for new senators and students.
Last year's board intended to pay for these items via an outside donation to last year's executive board budget, but the board credit card was declined because the fiscal year had ended, and so they drew funds from this year's operating budget instead, Hammado wrote in an email to TSL.
“The Pitzer College Student Senate executive board will be writing a bill to take around $1,800 out of the reserve fund and restore it to this year’s operating budget after a series of card declines which forced them to cover last year’s expenditures,” Hammado added. Hammado declined to comment further on this year's spending.
Kavuluru disputed the necessity of this orientation spending.
“I felt the orientation memorabilia was excessive and those funds could have been spent reasonably throughout the year after discussion with the entire senate,” Kavuluru said. Kavuluru added that she thought the phone wallets were a smart purchase, however.
Generally, Kavuluru thinks the board needs to be more open with its finances and spending, and should consult with other senators before making large expenditures.
“This should be a group discussion, not a unilateral closed decision,” Kavuluru wrote. “In the end, I think transparency is integral to relationship between the executive board and the Senate, and the Senate and the student body because transparency begets trust.”
This article was updated on Oct. 13 to correct a misspelling of Kavuluru's name, and to reflect that the anonymous senator spoke to TSL in person and that the anonymous Pitzer student communicated with TSL via messages.
This article was updated on Oct. 15 to correct a misspelling of Aguilera's name.
Marc Rod PO ’20 is from Rye Brook, New York. He previously served as TSL’s managing editor, news editor, news associate and news writer.