By: Avi Strauss  | 

Wilf and Beren Student Council Budgets, By the Numbers

Student councils are responsible for a wide range of campus activities throughout the year, aimed at appealing to the sizeable and broad undergraduate student population at Yeshiva University. However, with seven different councils on two campuses, the process of allocating and utilizing student council funds is more complex than simply dipping into a supply of money and spending it on club requests and programming.

Student council money is used to sponsor and fund a variety of campus activities, including large scale events like Chanukafest, Yom Hazikaron commemorations and Yom Ha’atzmaut festivities, several Chagigas, and the Syms dinner, as well as day-to-day club affairs and other smaller events.

Each council, primarily the president, determines based on the size and significance of any given event, as well as the event's’ relevance to that specific council, how much money should be allotted for its programming.

Councils work closely with the Office of Student Life (OSL) to navigate the spending process, since student council leaders do not always have the benefit of being involved in the budgeting process from year to year.

Stern Student Council President Lizzi Peled reflected: “Throughout the year, the OSL helps us ensure that we budget money for the various large events we run. They show us how much was spent on the events last year, and use feedback from how they went to help determine what we should invest in this year.”

Funds for the councils are provided directly by the $150 “activity fee” ($75 per semester) matriculated students are charged at the beginning of the year. Activity fees paid by students at the Wilf campus go to the pool of money for the Wilf student councils (YSU, SOY, YCSA, SYMS) and activity fees paid by students at the Beren campus go to the Beren student councils (SCWSC, TAC, SYMS). This ensures that funding between campuses is equally and fairly distributed.

The entirety of this money is channelled into the student council budgets, with funding for Office of Student Life salaries, and non-student council events and activities coming from separate university funds.

On the Beren campus, funding for the three student councils are divided as follows: SCWSC receives 52%, TAC receives 38% and Syms-Beren, 10%. In the Fall of 2015, the most recent year in which student populations are available, this amounted to $74,412 for SCWSC, $54,378 for TAC and $14,310 for Syms-Beren, for a total of $143,100.

According to the Office of Student Life at Beren, these percentages are based on an outline in the Beren student constitution, and were determined back in 1995. The Commentator was unable to retrieve a copy of a Beren constitution with such a clause as of printing.

These percentages have not changed since then, despite some minor fluctuations in student enrollment in either undergraduate college on the Beren campus. Based on available data, from Fall 2012 to Fall 2015, Syms-Beren saw an increase of 47 students (an increase of about 50%) to 138, while Stern College decreased to 816 students, from 968.

The budgeting on Wilf is slightly more complicated, with some allotments changing from semester to semester based on student enrollment in Yeshiva College and Syms-Wilf.

According to Director of Student Life on the Wilf Campus Rabbi Josh Weisberg and OSL Director of Events Ms. Linda Stone, this is based on a contract, signed by the Wilf Student Council presidents in the year 2012-2013, whereby the council presidencies were consolidated to four, from seven. A copy of this contract was presented to The Commentator as part of this investigation.

When asked about the origins of the agreement, newly-minted musmach and 2012-2013 SOY President Gabi Weinberg (YC ‘13 Revel ‘15 RIETS ‘17) explained: "The document was created after an effort was made by student leaders to get a clear breakdown of how the student activities fee was disbursed among the student councils. We hoped this would lay the groundwork for clearer communication of the budget of different councils for the future.”

Additionally, this agreement restructured the morning programs’ representation, giving each morning program its own vice president (as opposed to its own president) in a greater morning program council with a singular SOY president and vice president, which, as per the student constitution, come from the most highly populated morning program. From then until now, the Mazer Yeshiva Program has been the most populous.

According to Rabbi Weisberg, the Wilf campus presidents have yet to insist on reorganizing the breakdown created in 2012.

In Fall 2015, with 1,205 students on the Wilf campus, there was $180,750 in total Wilf student council funds via the activity fee. Yeshiva college enrollees totalled 654, while 551 students were registered for Syms-Wilf. These numbers have approached parity this year, with a five year, semester-over-semester increase in Syms-Wilf students. In 2012, Syms-Wilf had just 334 students compared to Yeshiva College’s 800.

As per the Wilf council contract, thirty percent of the Wilf student council funds are allotted for YC and Syms-Wilf, and they are split based on student population in each school at the beginning of each semester. Of that designated percentage, 54.27% went to YCSA (or 16.28% of the total) and 45.73% go to Syms-Wilf (13.72% of total). In the Fall of 2015, this amounted to $29,426 and $24,799, respectively.

This breakdown likely altered slightly at the turn of the semester mid-year, with students graduating in January and first-time students beginning their undergraduate study in either school in the spring. The current percentage breakdown between the two men’s undergraduate programs is 51.35% for YCSA and 48.65% for Syms-Wilf.

In reference to this method for dividing funds, YCSA President Tzvi Levitin said “It makes sense that our budgets are split by student breakdown because our budgets are for mutually exclusive groups of students.” He continued to say “nonetheless, Akiva (Syms-Wilf president) and I coordinate on funding and planning larger events and contribute what we think is appropriate on a case by case basis.”

The remaining 70% of Wilf funds are divided on an annual basis, with 42% going to YSU  ($75,915) and 28% going to SOY ($50,610).

Although councils may not exceed their budget for any given semester, there are a variety of other means in which councils (and individual clubs) secure funding for large and important events. Both the Office of Student Life and the Dean of Student Life, Dean Nissel, have departmental discretionary funds that they can allocate to events that are broad and aimed at the undergraduate student body as a whole.

According to Nissel, it is in the interest of these various offices on campus to “create a robust campus experience” and ensure a wide variety of large and small-scale events for a diverse student body.

Other offices on campus, like Vice President Rabbi Brander’s department for University and Communal life and the Office of the Provost, can kick in funds as well for events related to those departments’ missions. For instance, The Office of the Provost contributed some of the funds necessary for the first ever TEDx event last Fall.

Any funds not used by the individual councils by the end of the academic year roll over into the accounts of that specific council for the following year. Although he didn’t go into further detail, Rabbi Weisberg stated that all 7 councils began the year with anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, respectively, in roll-over funds, which they were free to use at their discretion.  

When looking at the varying percentage allotments, it is important to consider the considerable coordination that takes place between the councils, which co-sponsor nearly all large scale events and work together when planning them. In this regard, the presidents and the Office of Student Life work together to ensure every council contributes in an appropriate and responsible way.

Some of the differences between intra-campus and intercampus funding, however, can be parsed based on the responsibilities and constituencies of each individual student council.

For instance, SCWSC, TAC, YSU and SOY all represent the entirety of their respective campuses’ populations, necessitating more funding for larger programming and a higher volume of clubs, while YCSA and the two Syms student councils represent only select portions of the student body.

The fact that SOY benefits at times from the presence of RIETS and coordinates programming with the rabbinical seminary could explain why it is allotted a smaller share of its campus pie than TAC is at Beren.

When analyzing the numbers in this way, there is only one particularly glaring discrepancy--namely that the Syms-Beren student council is allotted nearly two and a half times  as much money as the Syms-Wilf council on a per capita basis. Based on Fall 2015 enrollment numbers and the current Syms-Wilf percentage split of the total Wilf budget, Syms-Beren council represents around 150 students, while Syms-Wilf council represents around 580 students.

However, even this discrepancy doesn’t tell the whole story. Of all the councils, the Syms student councils coordinate the most closely, investing a large share of their resources in the Syms dinner, which is a joint event open to men and women. Similarly, out of all the councils, the two Syms councils share nearly all over their clubs--a higher percentage of sharing than any other two councils.

When asked why the Syms-Beren budget didn’t more accurately reflect the breakdown of student enrollment on the Beren campus, Beren Program Director Tami Adelson stressed that every council needs a minimum amount of money to effectively sustain quality programming throughout the year. In this regard, she noted, the percentage floor set for the Syms-Beren council ensures they have sufficient funds to contribute to joint student council programming, and provide essential business oriented clubs for future Beren students that may be interested.

As far as the question of whether or not the current allotment system is working effectively, according to a recent survey conducted by the Office of Student Life, 70% of student respondents believe the number of events on campus is “just right.” Just 17% answered that there were “too many” events, while the remaining 13% responded that there were “too few.”

Dean Nissel was more than satisfied by that overwhelming response, although he stressed there is always room for improvement in bringing new and innovative events to an ever-changing student body.