AAS Shakes Up Budget Process Amid Fiscal Uncertainty

Amid an ongoing budget deficit and lack of clarity over fiscal figures, the Association of Amherst Students Budgetary Committee has not yet allocated club budgets for this semester, and has adopted a new standard of “urgency” for evaluating budget requests.

AAS Shakes Up Budget Process Amid Fiscal Uncertainty
The delay in fulfilling budget requests has left some club leaders anxious about planning for the semester. Photo courtesy of Claire Beougher ’26.

In a deviation from typical procedure, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) has yet to set club budgets due to ongoing uncertainty about the amount of money available for allocation. Beginning next week, the Budgetary Committee (BC) will be reviewing club budgets in order to set aside funds for events later in the semester that are integral to the campus community, according to AAS Treasurer Dania Hallak ’24.

With the situation still in flux, some student club leaders expressed concern about how to plan their club's activities due to confusion surrounding the BC’s funding decisions.

Budgets for Registered Student Organizations (RSO) are normally reviewed by the BC during the preceding term. Hallak attributed the postponement of the process to the budgetary crisis that began last semester, when the AAS reported a significant depletion in their funds.

While they continue working with the Office of Student Activities to sort out the numbers from last semester, the BC has implemented a provisional procedure through which they will review allocations for certain essential RSO functions, like league fees. This process will take place over a period of several weeks, beginning next Monday, Feb. 13.

Hallak says that, in addition to the Student Activities Fee, the AAS has historically dipped into its rainy day fund — money accumulated from past budget surpluses — to finance RSOs after exceeding its discretionary fund, the money allotted for clubs to request on a weekly basis. However, as The Student reported last semester, the rainy day fund has been significantly depleted since the onset of Covid, falling from about $200,000 to $70,000.

Hallak explained that the losses in the rainy day fund were not immediately known to her, citing undocumented historical overspending as the reason for the discrepancy. “We allocated [throughout the pandemic] based on the assumption that we had all that money,” she said.

The reduction in the Student Activities Fee during Covid has also contributed to the crisis. The fee is still not back to pre-pandemic levels, despite significant inflation since then.

At the end of last semester, the exact amount in the account was still unresolved, and the BC voted unanimously to delay setting club budgets, Hallak said. Allocations for the spring semester would have normally been negotiated over a period of three weeks, culminating in a Senate vote during the AAS’ last meeting of the fall semester.

“We had no idea [what the figure] was at that point, and to this day, I do not have a good read on what the [value of that] account is,” Hallak said.

Amid this uncertainty, the BC is aiming to ensure that their limited resources are as impactful as possible, Hallak said. The committee is prioritizing "hallmark" events and “urgent” needs in reviewing next week’s club funding requests.

Hallmark events are long-standing annual events that contribute to defining a club’s identity, a commonly-cited example being the gatherings that religious affinity groups host during holidays. This priority is not new; since the onset of the budget crisis, BC has made other policies, like caps on food and travel expenses, more stringent in order to accommodate hallmark event costs.

“We have to fund them regardless of how much money we have,” said AAS Senator Zane Khiry ’25, a BC member, when asked whether the uncertainty around club budgets would affect hallmark events.

Hallak stated that the BC’s other priority — “urgent” funding needs — is a standard new to the upcoming budget review. It refers to anything that is timely or “integral to the functioning of the club.”

“We cannot pick and choose what we think is most urgent,” Hallak explained, “we’re just following policy.” She cited the date that payment is due as a relevant factor, as well as the certainty of the cost. If a club sport has a league fee due in April, for instance, Hallak said, the BC would allocate funds in advance.

Hallak said that next week’s budget review, rather than being a blanket negotiation of each RSO’s total funds for the semester, will look more like an approval of certain line items based on their urgency. Hallak believes that this procedure will allow RSOs to continue operating smoothly while the AAS resolves the uncertainty surrounding its fiscal figures.

“Right now we are at a healthy point where we do think it’s possible to fund everything that’s urgent,” Hallak added, “And this is an accomplishment because last year, we were not so sure.”

Some club leaders, however, expressed confusion about the application of this new policy of urgency and the situation surrounding club budgets.

Sofia Tennent ’25, Amherst College Outing Club (ACOC) E-board member and Rock Climbing Club treasurer, was confused by the BC’s resistance to allocating just over $9,000 to the Climbing Club for memberships to the rock-climbing gym where they hold their practices. At the discretionary meeting, BC expressed that this number felt high under current budget constraints.

“It’s kind of the definition of arbitrary,” Tennent said, concerning BC’s decision to fund 13 fewer memberships than were initially requested, “and it’s not a policy that’s [written down].”

Hallak emphasized to The Student that the severe budget constraints called for extraordinary considerations beyond normal policy, like “which [requests] have a date on them, which ones have precedent, and which ones are integral to the club.”

Emily Byers ’25, treasurer of women’s club soccer, expressed similar sentiments about the ad hoc nature of the discretionary funding process, which she thinks has been exacerbated by the recent intensification of constraints.

“It’s always been a balance between it being a very formalized process,” where BC simply applies prewritten policies, and something that depends on the BC’s discretion, Byers said.

The delay in budget allocations has caused a sense of anxiety and instability for many club leaders. Because RSOs would normally have their budgets by the end of the fall semester, some leaders reported that they have faced challenges funding events taking place right at the beginning of the spring semester, while others said that, over the past two months, the costs associated with their upcoming events have increased significantly.

Byers is also on the E-board for the Food Justice Alliance, and is planning the club’s annual “Share the Share” fundraising event, where community members gather at Book and Plow Farm for crafts, catering, and music to support the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.

“That’s a case where it would have been really nice to get a club budget to at least get some initial funding,” Byers said, “because we’re gonna have to pull from a lot of different places to make that happen.”

Byers reported having a much easier time obtaining funding for the club soccer league and coach’s fees, which easily met the urgent funding standard.

Mock Trial Co-captain James Minor ’23 struggled to get money for the preparatory and travel costs associated with a tournament during the weekend of Feb. 4 — the first weekend of the spring semester.

“We sent this budget [to our BC representative] on Jan. 8,” said Minor, “and we did email the AAS treasurer [Hallak] directly on Jan. 12.” Despite this, Mock Trial wasn’t able to secure funds until the first discretionary meeting on Jan. 30 — less than a week prior to the tournament.

“Things were a lot more expensive by the time we got around to it,” Minor added.

Tennent reported that the ACOC has had a similar experience when it came to planning their trips for the semester. To organize trips, the ACOC contracts with an outside company that acts as a liaison between them and the outdoor activities companies they use.

“We approached them to come up with a budget in November [2022] for the budgets we wanted to go on this spring,” Tennent explained. “and we were able to negotiate really good prices, especially if we put down payments by Dec. 15.”

Despite first contacting the BC about allocating this money on Nov. 24, Tennent said that the ACOC has yet to hear back from them or obtain the funds.

Hallak explained that some of the communication issues derive from the Office of Student Activities, which is responsible for determining which student groups are active and “in good standing” to receive budgets. This semester’s list of RSOs excluded many longstanding groups, like ACOC, and prevented them from receiving budget communications in a timely manner.

Associate Director of Student Activities Jelani Johnson was out of office and could not be reached for comment.

Khiry recognized that the confusion surrounding these delays, though the budget crisis is an extraordinary circumstance, is indicative of larger communication issues between the AAS and the student body.

“What I’m … concerned about is the student frustration with BC and how to assuage that so that people don’t misunderstand what’s going on,” Khiry said. He has confidence that the AAS’ new public relations committee, spearheaded over J-term by Claire Beougher ’26, will help counteract this confusion in the future.

Both Khiry and Hallak emphasized that a key priority of the BC is still pushing for an increase to the Student Activities Fee.

“Right now, we're doing things that we did pre-Covid at higher prices due to inflation,” Hallak said. “But that decision to raise the [fee] lands back in the hands of the administration.”