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At first town hall of the semester, familiar themes arise

At the first Student Government Association town hall of the spring semester, student organization leaders voiced concerns to SGA about prominent issues this year: chief among them were the limited amount of space on campus and funding issues.

Despite ongoing campus construction, space has been a perennial issue for student organizations. Many organizations have begun meeting in areas like hallways, which student leaders claim is uncomfortable and sometimes unsafe.

SGA sent an email on Sept. 25, 2017 informing organizations that the Performing Arts and Humanities Building would open for student organization use. However, UMBC administration halted discussions with SGA and left the PAHB closed to students. The reasoning for this remains unclear.

This was a particularly unwelcome development for performing arts clubs like Theatre Council of Majors, which planned to open its production of Steel Magnolias in the PAHB on Feb. 16.

Sophomore theater design and production major Max Hromek came to the town hall representing TheatreCOM.

“We were offered PAHB, but then we found out we couldn’t use it,” said Hromek. “Now we are working to stage [a show] that we have designed for a PAHB theater in a completely different space.”

Political science major and senior Meghan Lynch, the Vice President of Student Organizations, ran the meeting. Lynch said that SGA wants to open the PAHB to students, but is struggling to communicate with the UMBC administration.

“We are equally confused [as to] why this has been stopped,” Lynch said. “[However], we are at the mercy of administrators.”

Some students in attendance also expressed frustration about the prohibitively expensive cost of using the new Event Center. One student in attendance said that, upon inquiring with Event Center staff, he was given a $3,500 starting quote for the arena space.

Lynch said that SGA has meetings scheduled next week to address the PAHB and Event Center issues. She also said that the creation of the Event Center means that RAC spaces might now be available. There are not, however, any concrete plans to open new spaces for student organizations.

Confusion and frustration about SGA funding practices also emerged as prominent themes. Senior computer science, math and economics triple major Max Poole said that SGA regulations for fundraisers prohibit the use of Venmo and other digital platforms for fundraising, even though few students carry cash.

Students also complained that funding regulations are not conducive to all clubs and sometimes lead to wasteful spending practices.

“We can’t thrift clothes [for the theater productions] because we need to use a campus card,” said Hromek. “The way that budgeting is structured does not fall in line with how a theatre production comes together.”

Hromeck reported that because TheatreCOM could not thrift its costumes, its final budget request of approximately $10,000 was unnecessarily high.

Other concerns included confusion over when financial requests could be submitted, a lack of treasurer training dates, and frustration about limited funds.

Lynch responded by expressing her sympathy while also emphasizing that the finance board has limits.

“The way you leave after finance board is very important to us,” said Lynch. “[We always ask] how can we manage our funds throughout the year to make sure that a maximum number of orgs are funded and that’s very hard.”

In some cases, funding the maximum number of organizations means cutting expensive items that student organizations consider integral to their events. In other cases, the finance board denies funding to items that it believes will not serve enough UMBC students.

This year, the finance board has a budget of $275,000, which is taken from the $98 student fee that all UMBC students pay.

Towards the end of the town hall, Lynch and SGA President Joshua Massey, a senior computer engineering major, repeatedly called for students to continue submitting feedback. Massey urged attendees to participate in the fee forum and complete the fee survey, both of which the finance board uses when setting its allocation priorities.

Lynch sees conversations like those held in the town hall as integral to the functioning of SGA: “We are only as strong as the input we get from student leaders.”