Budget Q&A with Mishka Narasimhan, Vice President of Finance
Senior Mishka Narasimhan, who serves as Vice President of Finance for Student Union, sat down for an interview with Aliana Mediratta, Junior News Editor for Student Life, to offer insight into the annual budget process. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Student Life: Can you explain what you do as Vice President of Finance?
Mishka Narasimhan: I’m responsible for the collection, disbursement, and accounting of the revenues and expenditures for WashU’s Student Union (SU). I lead SU in allocating our annual budget of $4.2 million, set the financial guidelines for the year, and educate student group treasurers about SU’s monetary processes.
SL: What responsibilities does the Treasury branch have?
Narasimhan: Treasury’s role is to allocate financial appeals from student groups that are above $1,000, specifically Category One student groups. Of our 418 student groups, 206 of them are Category One groups, which have the ability to submit yearly budgets in the spring for the next year, and can submit financial appeals throughout the year for events that come up.
SL: You mentioned that part of your job is helping with the general budget. What does that process look like?
Narasimhan: In the spring of every year, we have a big budgeted process when the SU legislative bodies, the Treasury and Senate, vote on our $4.2 million overall budget that we get from the school. That number comes out to be about 1% of tuition, so as tuition increases, the Student Union budget increases as well, to be able to accommodate increasing student population and student groups.
SL: How does the budget get broken up?
Narasimhan: This budget is split up into four different categories. For the first, about $2.7 million goes towards direct student group programming, which is what the Treasury and SU financial branch allocates throughout the course of the year. The next largest part is $800k for other student group resources, such as space reservations, and also the Campus Life support staff. Next is $678k for school councils, like Architecture School Council and ArtSci Council, and some SU entities like Senate, Treasury, and the Social Programming Board (SPB). So WILD would come out of this section of the budget! This last section is about 90 to 100k and it is for student group resources like printing, or using performing arts spaces.
SL: What does it look like when a student group submits a budget?
Narasimhan: When we receive all these budgets from student groups, the Budget Committee, which is about half the Treasury, will meet individually in small teams with those student groups to review their budgets and get clarification about any of their requests. We call these BAT team meetings, budget allocation teams. Over the course of four weeks, the entire Budget Committee meets to review each student group’s budget. They will take the recommendation from the BAT teams, and they’ll review everything, then allocate money towards each of the line items that the groups requested.
SL: Do student groups usually get the funding they ask for?
Narasimhan: We can’t fund everything in full because otherwise we would have no money left during the school year to allocate to student groups. For example, sports groups might not know about a competition but something comes up, we want to be able to fund things like that. It is pretty reasonable to say that we do fund a good portion of things. The total amount requested by Category One student groups was $2.4 million, and the amount that the budget committee ended up allocating to those groups was about $1.8 million.
SL: What would you say is the primary reason for line items not getting funded?
Narasimhan: Sometimes it’s just items at events that aren’t necessarily for the event happening, like food at events where food isn’t necessary for the event happening. When Treasury reviews these budgets, they’re both looking at how does the event fulfill the group’s mission, but also, how do line items within events satisfy the purpose of that event? We also have a list of restrictions that we prohibit funding and spending on. Some of these restrictions come from policies that the University has told us student groups can’t engage in, for example, alcohol is something that student groups can’t spend on.
SL: What’s an example of a restriction that SU came up with?
Narasimhan: For example, fines, damages, or cancellation fees that a student group might incur as a result of leaving their hotel room a mess when they went to travel, that’s something that SU doesn’t want to spend, and the undergraduate student body who’s paying into the student activity, want to spend the money on that.
SL: What do student groups include in their budgets?
Narasimhan: Students are able to budget for three events in addition to overhead and equipment costs that they might need. Overhead expenses are anything a student group needs to “keep the lights on,” for example, if the hockey team needs to, like rent out the ice rink for all of their practices over the course of the year.
SL: SU’s Budget Committee Chair, Sam Hogan, sent an email to club treasurers with some financial guidelines including a funding limits document. Can you explain what that means?
Narasimhan: We have specific funding limits for high cost events: travel and social events. Some guidelines only apply if the group appeals less than four weeks in advance. When you get to under four weeks in advance this is when hotel and flight prices skyrocket, and then Student Union doesn’t have the ability to fund anymore, so we’ll cap you at $120 per room per night for hotels and $300 per flight. The overall travel funding cap is $850 per active traveling member per school year. The social cap is student groups can be funded at maximum for one non mission social event per year.
SL: What’s a non-mission social event?
Narasimhan: It’s a social event that is not directly connected to the stated purpose of the group. The caveat to that is that for a lot of student groups, social events are really core to their mission, like Ashoka will have their formal events, but it’s really core to the mission of that student group to build community and socialize. In the case of cultural, diversity and inclusion, and affinity groups, those social events are considered mission related and so they won’t count towards your cap.
SL: How do you differentiate between those two types of events?
Narasimhan: If the request was coming from Ashoka, they are classified as a cultural group, and so if they believe that that event is critical to their mission, Treasury will consider that a mission related event and not count towards their social capital. But this is the reason why we do have a Treasury: to be able to have those conversations. Maybe Treasury would come to the conclusion in session that this really is not mission related at all.
SL: What’s something that you want clubs to know about the budget process?
Narasimhan: When budgeting for events, this spring, Category One student groups have to prioritize three events. You might not only have three events over the course of the year, you might have 10, but you have to be smart about the three that you budget for. My recommendation for student groups to get your funding in early for the events that happen early. You don’t want to deal with the stress of coming right into school and then having to appeal for your funding later.
SL: Is there anything else you want the students to know?
Narasimhan: I want to see more cultural, diversity and inclusion, and affinity groups putting on fun programming that builds community! Our new financial guidelines are designed to specifically accommodate these groups and allow them more flexibility to have social events without having a cap. I would really encourage these groups to just submit appeals because if you don’t request funding, we’re not going to fund it.
Full financial guidelines and more information about Student Union budgeting for clubs can be found on their page here.