AAS Received $200,000 Admin Bailout Last Fall

In addition to a $200,000 bailout of the AAS’ debt, the administration has committed to providing permanent structural support for the AAS by incorporating their finances into the college’s broader fiscal system.

The Association of Amherst Students’ (AAS) finances will be incorporated into the college’s broader fiscal system, a move that will reduce members’ legal responsibility without compromising the organization’s independence. The changes come after the administration provided a $200,000 bailout to the AAS last fall, said Dean of Students Angie Tissi-Gassoway on Feb. 12.

It is currently expected that by the beginning of the upcoming fall, the AAS’ finances will go through an official Amherst College system. The primary goal of financial integration, according to the administration, is to provide permanent structural support for the AAS, which is otherwise entirely run by students.

The funds came after years of post-Covid budgetary issues, policy changes, and fiscal uncertainty, as the AAS spent beyond its budget and depleted its rainy day fund. Although students and senators knew that the AAS was going through financial difficulties, for years nobody understood the extent of the issue.

The AAS’ fiscal projections had been significantly inaccurate, causing debt to build up over time as a rotating group of student treasurers took on the financial responsibility for the corporation, which oversees a budget of $1.2 million annually.

Beyond the $200,000 infusion, the administration aims to assist the AAS financially by sponsoring salaries for club coaches, who are currently under the umbrella of club funding, Tissi-Gassoway said.

The shift is expected to allow greater oversight from professionals, and will protect the AAS’ treasurer from fiscal responsibility. Historically, the treasurer has been legally responsible for the AAS’ financials. The structural overhaul will end the practice of AAS treasurers signing their names on the organization’s debit cards, which makes them liable for any deficit.

To help the AAS understand its finances, the administration also offered to provide a professional consultant to look over the AAS’ budgets to ensure that everything remains under control.

The consultant could also assist in providing greater fiscal transparency, Tissi-Gassoway suggested. She believed that publicizing where the AAS’ funds are going could bring attention to currently underfunded clubs.

Although the AAS’ financial systems will be incorporated into the college’s, the responsibility of maintaining a healthy budget will remain primarily on the AAS, in order to preserve its power separate from the administration. Tissi-Gassoway framed the changes as a partnership, and repeatedly emphasized the importance of cooperation.

They said, “We want to help them infrastructurally; make sure that the money stays current and is in compliance. But how they manage it remains their responsibility.”

The administration first learned that the debt had reached approximately $200,000 during a meeting last spring with previous AAS leaders. At the time, AAS publicly estimated its deficit to be about $30,000 to $40,000.

“I wasn’t aware of the actual depth of the issues. I don’t think anybody really was,” said Min Ji Kim ’25, the AAS’ current treasurer, who was then a member of the Budgetary Committee (BC).

Even now, she has not seen all of the AAS’ budgetary documents. The BC wasn’t told about the situation until last week, during the public announcement.

The administration itself found out through students’ concerns about receiving club funding.

“We started hearing, ‘There’s a deficit,’ ‘We’re in the red,’ …  And we started having some raised eyebrows, like, what’s actually going on?” Tissi-Gassoway said.

Once it had discovered the unexpectedly large deficit, the administration stepped in and began the unusually long, complicated auditing process. Tissi-Gassoway explained that before then, the organization had never audited “how they actually allocate or spend their resources.”

In addition to confirming the $200,000 in debt, the audit revealed roughly $70,000 in stale checks — checks approved by the AAS that were never cashed, for which the AAS is responsible.

Beyond stale checks, further legal concerns were raised surrounding the audit. The auditor expressed that until the AAS’ finances are significantly cleaned up, they will refuse to perform any further audits. The Massachusetts attorney general was also made aware of the AAS’ compliance issues, but is not investigating the situation.

The question of how the AAS found itself in debt has provoked repeated examination. Tissi-Gassoway mentioned that the AAS is responsible for many financial commitments, a factor that Kim and Jesus Ramirez Tapia ’25, a member of the Budgetary Committee in his first year, repeated. Both AAS members emphasized the price of funding the Olio, which costs about $65,000 per year, transportation — including shuttles and PVTA access — at around $60,000 per year, and the spring concert, at roughly $50,000.

Previous attempts to reduce the deficit have focused on increasing the student activities fee, but Tissi-Gassoway pointed out that the activities fee rises at the same rate as the comprehensive fee.

She added that the AAS’ budget is generous compared to other NESCAC schools, surpassing those of many peer institutions by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“I’m not sure why [AAS] finds themselves in tighter financial constraints than maybe other institutions find themselves,” they said.

She mentioned possible solutions that the AAS could borrow from similar schools.

“Other institutions have different parameters. They say, a club budget is tied to how many students are in your club. It doesn’t matter what your club is; it doesn’t matter if you are underwater basket weaving or if you are Dungeons and Dragons,” Tissi-Gassoway said. “They create a more equitable playing field that everyone just gets; you don’t have to ask for [funding] every time.”

Tissi-Gassoway also suggested that the AAS could implement funding caps, or limitations on the number of times a club can petition the AAS for discretionary cash.

Kim expressed concern about the alternative solutions. “I don’t know if that would actually pass in a school like Amherst … if we decide to do that, some clubs are not going to be able to work at all.”

Kim emphasized that during her first semester as treasurer, the AAS had not gone into the red. “I kept my budget pretty, pretty solid. We also have $6,000 in a rainy day fund from last semester,” Kim said.

Looking forward, Kim and Ramirez Tapia believed that budgetary success could be achieved through a more considered approval process.

“There’s clubs that come asking for like eight pairs of shoes, every year, or every semester. And we’re like, ‘what happened to the other eight pairs of shoes we just gave you last semester?’” Ramirez Tapia said, “That’s how we do want to start limiting [clubs]: asking them to make an inventory of … whatever equipment they have, where they got it from, what condition it is in.”

Still, Tissi-Gassoway, Kim, and Ramirez Tapia all blamed the general financial infrastructure for the AAS’ budgetary issues, rather than previous AAS administrations.

While Tissi-Gassoway argued that AAS should consider greater fiscal transparency with the student body, Ramirez Tapia and Kim both felt that financial transparency was not the issue. The two referred to the AAS’ regular Instagram posts and weekly newsletters, which provide information on the AAS’ budgeting policies.

However, Ramirez Tapia agreed with Tissi-Gassoway that unequal funding to clubs is an issue, but felt that the cause was a lack of awareness of the budgetary process.

Those issues aside, Kim was cautiously optimistic about the AAS’ future.

“My ultimate hope is that nothing will be changed in the way that [the] AAS runs things and students will still have a say within Senate, even under the new administration,” she said.

Ramirez Tapia recalled how he initially felt concerned about the merge, but became less worried as he learned more about it. “Having the legal backing is going to make everything feel safer, flow easier … we’re probably never going to touch red again.”

Tissi-Gassoway expressed hope that the changes will create broader shifts in relations between the AAS and the student body.

“If we can take this pressure valve off of them … knowing that their budget is moving forward, the checks are being written … their taxes are going to be done and their compliance is going to be in place, they are going to be able to come back next year with a clean slate,” they said.