Administrative Concerns Stall Proposed AAS Treasury Reforms
By Brianda Reyes '14, Managing News Editor
After a month of discussion and lawmaking, the Amherst Association of Students (AAS) has run into last-minute obstacles facing its proposed Treasury reforms. Members of AAS, including the Treasurer Commission, spoke with Associate Dean of Students Hannah Fatemi and AAS auditor Ilse Shummway this past week about the by-law, which would split the role of treasurer into two separate positions: a treasurer and a comptroller. Fatemi and Shummway both expressed reservations regarding this proposal.

“The responsibilities of the treasurer position should not be separated,” Fatemi said. “The allocation and administration of funds, while separate responsibilities of the Treasurer’s Office, are so intricately intertwined in a small organization, such as the AAS, that these responsibilities require one person to have an intimate understanding of both.”

Taking their disapproval into consideration, the AAS decided to discuss the by-law during the Senate meeting on Mon., March 7. During the meeting, AAS Senator and Chair of the Treasurer Commission Jared Crum ’11 presented the proposed by-law that would create the new comptroller position. Although the Senate had previously discussed the treasury and had come to a general consensus that reform was necessary, the body hesitated to put the by-law to a vote on Monday night, opting instead to continue conversations and work out the concerns that arose over the proposed change.

One recurrent point of contention was whether the Treasury’s turmoils of this past year were merely a “hiccup” in the larger scheme of things or a strong sign of systematic flaws. A handful of senators, including Jasjaap Sidhu ’14, felt that the AAS had perhaps overreacted in response to Katrina Gonzales ’12 resigning as treasurer and had made the problem seem much worse than it actually was.

Other senators, however, believed that there were larger problems in the treasury as it currently exists and that reform is necessary. Senator Andreas Shepard ’11 was particularly concerned with the fact that no treasurer election in recent memory has been competitive. Shepard traced this to the requirements of the position: the treasurer must understand budgetary policies and be knowledgeable of finance software, in addition to being detail-oriented. Reforming the position so that the technical burden would fall on the comptroller would make treasurer elections a more open and democratic process, Shepard thought.

Crum remained in support of the Treasurer Commission’s proposed by-law, disagreeing with Fatemi’s concerns regarding the reforms.

“Dean Fatemi is concerned that communication between the treasurer and the comptroller will be hard to coordinate, that legal and fiduciary responsibilities will be divided or unclear,” Crum said. “Our committee, including a former treasurer and budgetary committee members, agreed that legal and communications problems would not be a problem, and any difficulties could be resolved before implementing these reforms. Some members of the committee have since changed their opinions.”

Newly re-elected AAS treasurer Phil Johnson ’11 was one such member. Johnson initiated the conversation last semester that led to the proposed treasury reforms, when he and Gonzales jointly proposed to the Senate that the position of treasurer be paid due to its time-consuming nature. After speaking with Fatemi and Shummway, however, Johnson became “re-convinced” of how closely tied a treasurer was to the account books and found splitting the position to be inadvisable.

Fatemi and Shummway advised that the treasury can become more efficient with infrastructure updates, such as finding better office space, purchasing new computers for the office and creating new emails for the budgetary clerks.

“The Treasurer Commission was successful by evoking the need to have conversations about how the treasurer position functions,” Fatemi said. “Through these conversations, the AAS has highlighted the need to provide more administrative support to the Treasurer. Rather than divide the responsibilities of the Treasurer, by increasing the administrative support …the Treasurer can continue to maintain all the responsibilities of the position but will have the necessary support to fulfill the duties and provide services to the student community.”

Senator George Tepe ’14 agreed that it was the administration’s job to provide greater infrastructural support. However, Tepe and various fellow senators believed that the problems the treasury has experienced lately cannot be taken so lightly and regarded as just a minor problem.

“Several treasurers in a row voiced their concern that the role of treasurer was becoming so large it was unmanageable and prevented all but the most financially-secure students from serving in the position,” Crum said. “As many students have noticed, this ever-expanding workload meant the quality of work in the budgetary office slipped over time.”

However, Crum acknowledged the importance of resolving the remaining issues before passing anything into law. The majority of the Senate agreed on this. A straw poll during Monday night’s meeting resulted in a majority preferring to delay the vote until a further time. Crum believed this was the right decision and was not overly concerned with the current pace, insisting that the legislation is moving forward “in a way that is usual and unsurprising.”

“The process is healthy, and it’s working,” Crum said.

Issue 18, Submitted 2011-03-09 03:20:03