BSAC brings student concerns to budget process

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Chief Operating Officer at Occidental College,Amos Himelstein, talks about the new Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) committee, the Budget Strategic Advisory Committee (BSAC), at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. Victoria Winter/ The Occidental

President Jonathan Veitch formed the Budget Strategic Advisory Committee (BSAC) in 2012 to help create Occidental’s current strategic financial plan, according to Amos Himmelstein, chief financial officer and co-chair of BSAC. BSAC is a multi-constituent financial advisory group that aims to discuss the larger financial issues of the college as they pertain to planning and budget, according to Himmelstein. Brandon Lehr, economics professor, BSAC member, chair of the Faculty Council’s Subcommittee on Finance (SCOF) and the faculty representative on the board of trustees’ Budget and Finance Committee, described BSAC as an opportunity for students, administrators and faculty to discuss larger budget concerns.

“It’s a place for the campus, traditionally faculty and administrators and now also students, to think about some of the big-picture questions that face the college,” Lehr said. “We’re looking at budget information, the way the college generates money. We’re looking at how many students we have, what they’re paying and what we give back in financial aid.”

BSAC meets once a month and is co-chaired by Himmelstein and Wendy Sternberg, dean of the college and VP for academic affairs. Jacques Lesure (senior), Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Senate president, said that BSAC has provided the student body with a look into the inner financial workings of the college. Currently, Lesure and Micol Garinkol (senior), vice president of financial affairs for Senate, serve as this year’s student representatives.

“[BSAC] represents something beautiful, that is, students being able to engage meaningfully with administrators and have access to information so that we can be competent in our requests and desires to organize,” Lesure said. “The best part about BSAC has been being aware, having myths busted, feeling more comfortable about what’s going on, versus before, everything was a mystery. We had to fill in our curiosity with rumors.”

According to Himmelstein, the budget is a balancing act of revenue and expenses. Occidental’s endowment income is 15 percent of the school’s total revenue, according to the 2017 Annual Report. In an Oct. 22 presentation to Senate, Himmelstein said enrollment — including tuition, room and board, and fees — brought in 77 percent of the school’s income. In total, Occidental’s revenues were $124 million this year, according to the schools audited financial statements.

“People would come to me to talk about what is sometimes referred to as a ‘slice of the pie.’ If you think about the budget as a pie, how is that sliced up into different parts of the college?” Lehr said. “How much of it goes to student affairs, how much of it goes to academic affairs, athletics … how much of it do we spend on fixing buildings that are depreciating? All of those are slices of the pie.”

In Himmelstein’s presentation to Senate, he explained some of the school’s financial statistics. In 2018, the school’s total expenditures were $122 million, 62 percent of which went to paying personnel. Twenty-seven percent went to other expenses such as electricity, food and other utilities, while four percent went to facilities. Seventy-three percent of Occidental’s students are on financial aid, with an average award of $44,000 — Occidental meets 100 percent of need-based financial aid and spent $46 million in scholarships this year.

According to Himmelstein, the committee has discussed the importance of increasing student involvement in the community, manifesting in events such as the talking circle hosted by Garinkol and Treasurer of the Diversity and Equity (DEB) Emily Jiang Nov 2. Eager students like Sam Berger (first year) are the target of such community outreach. Berger said he would be interested in joining a student panel to discuss the finances of the school, but was not aware of any such meetings.

“I would like to see the development of new, modern and inspiring buildings. In order to cultivate a true learning atmosphere, there needs to be good infrastructure,” Berger said. “I would definitely like to see increased representation of students in decisions based on how the money is allocated.”

Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) President, Jacques Lesure (senior) talks about the new ASOC committee, the Budget Strategic Advisory Committee (BSAC) on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. Victoria Winter/The Occidental

Lesure said he would like to increase the ways in which students can express themselves about the finances of the school.

“Right now, I’m interested in structures. If students do have something that they want to see prioritized in the next fiscal year … How do they relay that to where it needs to be relayed so it doesn’t just get stuck in a corner somewhere? That’s what I’m interested in,” Lesure said. “Structurally, where do students’ input in decision making around finances and operations come in? That’s what we’re building right now.”

Berger said student contribution to the committee is extremely valuable, as students are the ones who are most affected by the budget. Both Lehr and Himmelstein said they appreciated the student input on the committee this year.

“[Student input] is very valuable. It adds a dimension that’s seen through a student’s point of view, which is always important,” Himmelstein said. “We haven’t done a lot this year since it’s so early on, but so far this is a good group.”

This article was revised Dec. 22, 2018 at 9:40 p.m. to correct professor Brandon Lehr’s positions on the Faculty Council’s Subcommittee on Finance (SCOF) and the board of trustees’ Budget and Finance Committee, as well as to remove a quote incorrectly attributed to Lehr.