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SEAL proposal sparks controversy, opportunity

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This article was originally published Nov. 16, 2015.

The Student Engagement and Leadership (SEAL) Office has drafted a proposal for a new position, as well as changes to budget management, which would significantly impact the way student life operates at Beloit College. To be approved, the proposal must pass Beloit Student Congress (BSC) General Assembly, followed by senior staff members.

The proposal, which would be enacted next academic year, calls for creating a new full-time position: Assistant Director of SEAL. Currently, Director Jen Walsh and SEAL and Campus Center Secretary Kim Larsen are the only two full-time staff members, working with 30 student workers during the academic year and 25 Orientation Leaders in August, according to Walsh. The new employee would be paid a yearly salary of $32,000 — $24,000 in salary, plus benefits. Similar to Walsh’s existing position, the new employee would act as co-advisor or liaison to student activities, according to the job description. They would also “create, support and be present for more weekend, specifically late-night, substance-free events,” according to the proposal.

This would mean SEAL’s budget would be increased from $26,000 to $58,000, with the additional funding coming from cuts made from the Student Activity Fees budget, according to Beloit Student Congress President Nadir Carlson’16.

According to the proposal, each student pays a yearly Student Activities Fee of $280, totaling about $330,000 depending on student enrollment. For the 2015-16 academic year, the fees totaled $336,000, with $26,000 allocated to SEAL as follows: $12,000 for SEAL programming, $5,000 for SEAL weekly shuttles, $5,000 for off-campus theatre excursions, and $4,000 for Student Leadership Development.

These changes would directly affect any group that receives funding from Student Activities Fees, which includes, in descending order of budget size, C-Haus, Programming Board, 40 student clubs, Funding Board (off-campus), SEAL, Funding Board (on-campus), the Round Table, WBCR, B-Link, Accounting Office funds, BSC funds, two student financial workers and the Rocky Horror Committee. These groups must go through SEAL for any financial management processes, such as purchases, contract negotiation and vehicle rentals.

General Assembly has considered “several options,” as to where to make cuts, Carlson said, and  the Budget Committee will present an estimated budget of reallocations on Monday, Nov. 16. That same day, Walsh will create a document answering common questions about the proposal.

“Dean of Students Christina Klawitter has confirmed that there are no college funds available for this position,” Walsh said. “If there were other available sources of funding available for this position, SEAL would not be asking for the help of Student Activities Fees.”

The second part of the proposal changes the structure of fee allocation. Currently, BSC has full management over all Student Activities Fees funds; if the proposal passed, SEAL would manage their portion of funds, leaving BSC to manage the remainder.

The proposal was brought to the Executive Board and “looked over before it was brought before General Assembly for a vote,” according to Hannah Devereux, BSC Communications Director.

While it was on the agenda for the Monday, Nov. 9 General Assembly meeting, because quorum was not reached, the vote was postponed until Nov. 23. Time is given before every vote to explain the proposal, ask questions and discuss. While only members of General Assembly can vote, students are encouraged to voice their concerns during the discussion.

According to Walsh, “This idea has been kicked around for several years, but this is the first time it has been proposed since I started in Spring 2013,” she said.

Carlson noted this proposal is a bit unusual. “We typically don’t add new line items, so there’s no clear procedure with how to do it,” he said.

Typically, Budget Committee drafts a budget estimate every spring semester for the following academic year, which General Assembly then approves or changes.

According to Carlson, who has been in close contact with Walsh, Walsh wanted to present this proposal before other budget items were decided to avoid overwhelming the process. “I’m focused on making sure all voices are heard and making sure we’re following our [existing] procedures,” Carlson added.

Walsh is a strong proponent of the proposal. “SEAL has been understaffed since the 2008 budget cuts that affected nearly every staff department on campus,” she said. “This is an effort to recover a staff member, with the intention of providing more effective advising, supervising, programming, leadership and educational opportunities for all students.”

SEAL currently advises Programming Board, which coordinates events such as Folk and Blues and Spring Day. SEAL is also responsible for planning events such as New Student Days, Beloit Leadership Series and Beloit Leadership Awards, and managing all hiring processes for student workers, among other oversight.

The new salary was decided in conversations with the Human Resources Department, according to Walsh. “The way that the college determines the salary for new positions is by looking at benchmarking resources from other similar institutions, so we will have a better chance at attracting high-quality applicants for a position, while increasing the likelihood that the person stays in this position for longer than a year,” she said.

According to BSC General Assembly minutes, this would give SEAL a fixed set of money, without Walsh having to re-apply every year. Walsh feels the proposal would balance a power dynamic between the bodies. “There has always been something odd about a college department asking for student fees on an annual basis,” she said. “I feel that it sets up a power dynamic that is not entirely fair to our students. It can put students in a tough spot if, for example, they are trying to decide whether a college department or student club should receive a reduction in funding. This is an attempt to avoid that situation by separating the management of fees.”

The proposal has sparked concern among students.

Gabriella Onikoro-Arkell’17, student representative and member of Policy Committee, would like to see the money used differently. “If the College is going to hire a new person, they should hire someone for the Intercultural Center to provide resources for women or queer students,” she said. “There’s not enough trained, paid professionals providing programing and resources for women and queer people on this campus. It’s left to unpaid, untrained students through [Feminist Collective] and SAGA to provide all the programming for women and queers, and they can’t do everything.” She doesn’t attend many SEAL-sponsored events. “I think fewer events of better quality is better than more events of less quality.”

Aaron Glavin’18 is also concerned the new position would jeopardize student activity. “I would argue that SEAL’s programming is unnecessary,” he said, elaborating, “It is simply too much money that would have to be taken from what student activities fees are supposed to go towards- primarily student run, employed, planned, facilitated and attended events, projects, clubs, organizations, and facilities on campus,” he said.

He is also worried how the cuts would affect his own involvement. “I am currently hoping to raise my club’s budget because I have new ideas of how to use money to do events that will reach more students on campus in positive ways,” he said. “If my club funding is cut, I won’t have the ability to bring as many cool programming opportunities to campus.”

Glavin also doesn’t find the new position’s duties necessary. He helped organize a substance-free event with Beloit Cross-Disability Coalition and SPIEL on Friday 8 to 11 p.m.,  which was “well attended.” He elaborates, “What I have found from asking people when planning this event was that students do not want substance free events between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. They do like having substance free events from 8 to 11 p.m., though, and clubs are already doing that.”

The proposal will be “first on the agenda,” said Carlson, at General Assembly on Monday, Nov. 23, at 8:30 p.m. in Mathers.

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