Students and faculty plead with Board of Trustees to reconsider S&A funding cuts

On Wednesday, May 20 at 2 p.m., the Bellevue College Board of Trustees held a public virtual meeting to begin reviewing the S&A committee’s 2020-21 budget recommendation.  

With many proposed cuts to student activities and organizations, a finalized 2020-2021 budget could change the way many student organizations operate on campus. Programs such as Dance and Drama and the Business Leadership Community rely on S&A for a portion of their funding and, under the projected 2020-2021 budget, could potentially be given no money for the upcoming year. This board meeting was important because the Board of Trustees is getting closer to the deadline of approving the S&A budget, and this meeting gave the students and faculty a chance to share the effects budget cuts will potentially have on their programs and the whole of the BC community for years to come. 

The committee is supposed to be composed of four students and three staff. At this meeting the budget was proposed to the Board of Trustees by Michael Kaptik, the Dean of Student Affairs. No students from the S&A committee were present to share their perspectives. While Kaptik is not a voting member of the S&A committee, he spoke on their behalf and described the process of creating the budget. The process consisted of the committee dedicating time to review all funding requests, having appeal hearings for fiscal changes, and then finalizing those appeal hearings. The committee then sends the recommendations to the Associated Student Government for approval, but the final decision rests with the Bellevue College Board of Trustees. 

The ASG unanimously favored the budget recommendation on April 28, and the president’s cabinet voted on passing the recommendation on May 5. The final S&A budget proposal for 2020-2021 is $2.87 million. 

Some notable proposed changes for the upcoming fiscal year are a 41 percent increase in funds for affinity groups, such as the Black Student Union or Asian Pacific Islander Student Association, from the S&A Committee. Additionally, the overall academic-related programs budget will be cut in funding from 10 percent to 7 percent, with the 3 percent of funds spread evenly between student provided services, affinity groups and all student programs. While the overall budget cut is a decrease of 3 percent, various academic-related student programs are still scheduled to be allocated $0 for the upcoming year, or a complete loss of their funding. Model United Nations and the Belletrist, according to the S&A Fees Committee, fall under academic-related programs as they are associated with a class’s curriculum. 

Kaptik also discussed the committee’s concerns about the fiscal sustainability of the budget, due to less full-time equivalent students enrolling at Bellevue College. He cited student groups having unused funds from year to year. Kaptik shared that the committee suggests, “those groups use the money that they have leftover, which we call rollover, rather than giving them additional funds.” Many professors and faculty have questioned the lack of available new funding for various student groups, as well as concerns of student representation and the committee’s overall training on evaluations of budget requests. Kaptik acknowledged those concerns and responded, “That’s not the case, they [S&A committee] would just rather draw down balances rather than giving them new money.”

                Kaptik emphasized that S&A funds are supposed to go towards co-curricular or extracurricular activities and not curricular. Co-curricular or extra-curricular activity is defined as activities that happen outside the scope of college education, whereas a curricular activity is a part of a class’s curriculum. The Killian Guideline, a document that asserts how S&A funds can be used for college student organizations across Washington State, states that “S&A fees are for the purposes of supporting student activities and programs.” While budget cuts were issued under the premise that the activities scheduled to receive $0 funds are curricular, many student organizations have since shown proof that their clubs are extra-curricular and thus in compliance with the Killian Guideline and able to receive S&A money. 

At the end of the presentation, Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors Greg Dietzel asked, “with this process that we implemented, does it meet the intent of the legislature that the students proposed the budget to the board?” To which Mr. Kaptik responded, “I believe it does, yes.” But as no participating students from the S&A committee were present at the meeting to voice their decisions, many faculty members felt that authentic student voice was not recognized in the S&A recommendation process. 

The meeting then opened to a public comment session where attendees on the virtual meeting could address the Board of Trustees. But as the session was a public comment and not public question, members of the board were not required to respond. Thus, the Board did not respond to any of the remarks by the attendees during the meeting. Many program leaders and organizers spoke to the issues they felt with the S&A Committee’s budget proposal. They expressed, in agreement with each other, the necessity for the Board of Trustees to consider their remarks and the potential consequences of changes to the livelihood of student programs, before making their final decisions. 

Ms. Judith Paquette represented the Bellevue College Business Leadership Community and gave voice to the proposed budget cuts of faculty advisor stipends. The S&A cuts to advisors was stated in the meeting to be an equity issue. Paquette, however, in recognition of the role of advisors in student programs shared that without paid coordinators for the BLC and other programs, “This will result in the eventual termination of these hallmark programs and seems particularly cruel one and a half months before the end of the quarter.” 

Professor Cassie Cross spoke on behalf of the Belletrist, Bellevue College’s literary arts journal. Professor Cross shared the most recent issue of the Belletrist on climate change, and the importance of a space for students to experience design, editing, and being a part of a publication. She stated, “this year, it is especially troubling to me to see many arts programs have their funding cut. If this many of the arts programs are allowed to wither under these budget cuts, it will be a staggering loss to the college. These programs, including Belletrist and the incredible work done by students for the Belletrist, make this college exceptional. This college cannot lose them.”

Michael Reese, the Director of program development for the RISE Learning Institute, expressed the importance of accessing transformative learning experiences, as well as the value of internships in a student’s academic journey. These experiences, which have historically received S&A funds, offer networking and career-building skills that serve to benefit students in their futures after college. Mr. Reese highlighted the importance of internship experience and equity access for college students, conveying, “A majority of our white interns found their internships through their own existing networks, but 82 percent of our Latinx and African American interns found their internships through the resources and connections of Bellevue College’s Academic Internship Program. So, the loss of some of these programs has a potentially large equity impact.”

Professor Tammi Doyle from the Drama and Dance department discussed the cuts to both the Dance and Drama programs. She shared that both the Dance and Drama programs are scheduled to receive $0, which covers inviting choreographers, materials, set design and supports the productions. She also said that neither Dance nor Drama is allowed to use their rollover funding, which alongside S&A funds, supports all Drama and Dance programs on all other two-year campuses in Washington State. She spoke to the importance of casting diverse characters in the matters of LGBTQ+, race, ethnicity and gender identity. Doyle spoke to the value of the Drama department on campus saying, “our students get a chance to potentially see themselves on stage and address some both internal and external problems of our culture. I cannot stress how important that is to the college.”  

Professor Jim Sisko, head of the instrumental music program, told the board of directors of the Jazz Choir and Jazz Bands accomplishments. Stating that the Jazz Choir has been awarded the number one Jazz Choir for community colleges in the country, alongside the Jazz Band’s success at festivals on the west coast. He then told the Board of Trustees, “We are the Bellwether program, and we have been taken to zero funding. We love representing the college, we love being an extension to the community through music and through art. To consider this decision to basically defund us is an indication of the value of our program and is really disheartening.” 

There will be a second reading of the budget, and the Board of Trustees will continue to assess the remarks of students and faculty, alongside recommendations from the S&A Committee. We will continue to provide updates as decisions are finalized.