At Tuesday’s Undergraduate Student Government senate meeting, Treasurer Donielle Bunyard presented the 2017-2018 budget — one that allocates over $2 million in total to USG branches and programs. Among the typical distribution for programming, communication and cabinet salaries, one change stands out: the defunding of the Volunteer Center and the LEAD program. Next year, these programs — which provide a direct link between USC students and the surrounding community — would be defunded completely if the budget is passed at next week’s Senate meeting. This means they will lose over $92,000 in funds from USG, and it is unclear whether they will receive support from any other source.
As a university located near the heart of downtown Los Angeles, USC has a critical role to promote volunteering and encourage students to engage in opportunities for public service, community involvement and leadership development. The proposed budget, which primarily affects the Student Affairs Programing Department, reflects shifting priorities that could potentially inhibit USC’s service culture and its dedication to cultivating and inspiring service among students.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Bunyard stated that USG believes it is more appropriate for Campus Activities and Student Affairs to cover the costs for the defunded programs. Historically, USG has funded these programs, and last year, the Volunteer Center received $13,250 more in funding while the LEAD program was cut by only $1,000. But Student Affairs has not confirmed whether it will be picking up the tab, and if these programs are left without support, the likely result is a massive scale back in major service opportunities for all students.
The Volunteer Center programs provide signature service opportunities, from the Friends & Neighbors Day to Alternative Breaks that provide valuable benefits for the South Los Angeles community. Furthermore, LEAD provides students with impactful leadership retreats and mentorship resources.
If funding for these programs is slashed, it’s important to look at the distribution of the newly available funds. The budget indicates that the $92,250 would be divided among other branches of student government. Most assemblies and committees will receive more funding, including $11,000 more for the Speakers Committee and $5,000 more for the Academic Culture Assembly. Furthermore, the Executive Cabinet expects $14,170 more for development, and staff salaries will increase by $6,475. Notably, Concerts Committee’s budget will increase by $25,000 — an odd reward for a group that butchered USG’s most-publicized signature event in the spring semester.
The question remains whether increases in other budgets could justify the cuts made to the Volunteer Center. Perhaps groups like the Concerts Committee warrant increased funding to improve security for upcoming events. There’s no doubt that assemblies that received more funding — such as the Queer and Ally Student Assembly, International Student Assembly, Latina/o Student Assembly, Black Student Assembly and others — would put the money to good use in serving their respective communities.
However, this does not discount the issues potentially raised by the full defunding of the Volunteer Center. The Student Affairs volunteer programs are all-inclusive, meaning these funds are available for use by all students, unlike the assemblies — which are helpful, but focus solely on specific niche groups. It’s also important to note that the full $92,250 cut does not add up to the increases for these assemblies.
Even if the defunded programs could actually procure more money from other sources, it is unclear how much this would entail. If even some funds come up short, the funding of one program, such as LEAD, may alternatively reduce funds for another, such as Friends & Neighbors. This could also lead to rising costs for Alternative Breaks — whereas before students could receive financial support to fund their travels, in the future the money could all come out of students’ pockets. This could prevent lower-income USC students from participating in these meaningful programs.
USG cannot afford to take this risk. Volunteering and service are central to the Trojan identity. Students have an obligation to engage with their community, their world and themselves, and the Volunteer Center paves the way for them to do just that. Programs such as Friends & Neighbors are crucial for acquainting new students with the local neighborhood and ingraining in them a commitment to service that can last for the rest of their lives. Alternative Breaks immerse students in a wide variety of social issues, from homelessness in New York City to environmental degradation around the globe. And leadership conferences develop USC’s new generation of thinkers and doers, enhancing the student experience for everyone.
If the Volunteer Center and LEAD programs are defunded by next semester, it will be a tragic loss for the student community. USG wants to maximize the student experience, but these drastic changes would slash opportunities for students. The USG administration must not ignore the value of volunteer and service programs to the community and to the USC experience.
Daily Trojan Spring 2017 Editorial Board