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Sunday, March 03, 2024
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Engineering clubs are disappointed with Student Association’s policies and communication

Institution for Electrical and Electronics Engineers loses $3,000 after being derecognized by SA

The Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) was derecognized from SA in August, due to an SA error, according to club president Owen Farrell. 

Farrell, a senior electrical engineer major, was initially unaware he had to update the club’s returning e-board members information in the SA database, so he only included new e-board members in the update. Farrell then sent the whole e-board for the 2022-23 academic year to SA Assistant Administration Director Amanda Johnson and said the information was correct on the website in the spring. 

Despite that email, SA President Becky Paul-Odionhin told the club in August that it had one day to complete the e-board on the website or else it would be derecognized. Paul-Odionhin sent them a broken link to the site where he could make the changes. 

“It is a bummer that the link doesn’t work,” Paul-Odionhin said in response to Farrell’s email telling her the link was broken. She then told Farrell to check the SA website and update the e-board again. She said she forwarded the “request” to people who would know more about club affairs. 

A few days later, the SA told IEEE’s secretary that the club had been derecognized. Farrell reached out to Paul-Odionhin, saying he did everything she asked and wanted to know how to resolve it. 

He never received a response. 

Farrell contacted SA Vice President Sammi Pang with proof he had updated the website in May. Pang said the club was “missing two updates by the registration deadline.” Farrell replied, saying that although he originally listed two e-board members with the wrong titles, he had fixed the mistake. 

“I am positive that this was completed,” he wrote to Pang. 

The club was deleted and had to reapply to be a new club, losing its nearly $3,000 budget. Pang originally told IEEE it could get its budget back, but when the club followed up with her, she denied ever saying that and suggested applying for supplemental funding, according to Farrell. 

IEEE became a new club and applied for supplemental funding, receiving $1,000. 

“Right now we’re just using whatever we can find, just scrounging for materials,” Farrell said of IEEE’s projects. “It’s really not ideal.”

Pang told The Spectrum that if IEEE does not fulfill the conditions of the Annual Registration and Requirements for Recognition policy, a club is automatically derecognized. 

She said IEEE’s situation had been “resolved” and did not explain what happened further. 

Another engineering club, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) was preparing for their trip to Wisconsin for the Clean Snowmobile competition when SA voided the club’s request to use its budget money to buy food for attending members. 

“We have to look at our freshmen and ask them, ‘Can you pay? We understand you’re already paying for a meal plan. Can you pay more to go on this competition?’” club president Auburn Schwartzmeyer said. “And that affects whether or not we bring them.”

SAE focuses on two major competitions that require thousands of dollars for parts and travel.

According to Schwartzmeyer, a junior mechanical engineering major, SAE used its budget to buy food on competition trips since 2018.

Less than two weeks before the competition, SAE was told its request to use the budget for food was voided due to “a change in interpretation of the policy.” 

The SA Travel Policy was being updated to specify that clubs can’t use their budgets to purchase food. 

According to Schwartzmeyer, Pang said that they made the change because the student activity fee is not intended to be spent on food, as it’s “not inclusive.” 

When planning a trip to New York City, SA told IEEE  it couldn’t buy food because it was traveling off campus. SAE was given a different explanation. Schwartzmeyer said SA also told her the club’s purpose isn’t related to food, meaning it couldn’t buy food at competitions.

Pang said in an email to The Spectrum that “the travel policy never allowed for food” unless it was related to an organization’s event, such as banquets or conferences related to the club, or in circumstances where “it is not feasible for club members to normally procure food (i.e. remote camping trips).”

SA is working on “a new system for clubs to buy food while traveling,” similar to UB’s per diem food allowance, according to Pang. 

The SA e-board gave SAE permission to buy food on that trip because of the tight time frame. Now, Schwartzmeyer says she is “fighting” to use the club’s budget for food at its upcoming competition in May. 

SA told the club that it wouldn’t change the policy. Schwartzmeyer ended up getting sponsors to pay for food for the upcoming competition. 

SAE’s problems with SA go beyond food.

SAE club members use SA vans, trailers and trucks to get to their competitions in Washington and Wisconsin, costing them thousands of dollars in gas money. 

While SA allows club budgets to cover the cost of gas, it only does by reimbursing club members. 

She says that there are team members who put in the work and contribute to the team but get left in Buffalo during competitions because they can’t afford to contribute to gas money. 

“There is no way to get gas money before traveling, but we are currently working on getting gas cards,” Pang told The Spectrum.

SAE’s club treasurer paid $1,200 in gas money for travel to the Clean Snowmobile competition in February. He still hasn’t been reimbursed.

SAE was on its way to Wisconsin in February when members realized their trucks and vans didn’t have EZ Passes and they needed to pay for tolls out of pocket.

Club members fronted the cost of the tolls themselves and called SA to see if they could get approval to use their budget to cover tolls on the way back, not for reimbursements on money they already spent. The club knew it couldn’t get money back for the tolls it already paid.

SA’s treasurer Alana Lesczynski told the club that it would be in violation of the encumbrance policy if it requested the money, said Schwartzmeyer. 

“‘It will ruin your perfect record,’” Lescynski told the club, according to Schwartzmeyer. 

Pang told The Spectrum that clubs have to get approval for financial commitments before committing to a purchase and said that SA is working on getting EZ passes for SA vehicles. 

The club ended up paying about $120 out-of-pocket for the tolls. 

SAE uses outside vendors such as Online Metals to get materials for their projects. SA has an agreement with vendors to pay within 30 days after clubs make a purchase. Schwartzmeyer said SA didn’t pay vendors until after those 30 days, violating the SA’s contract. 

SA did not respond to questions about their contracts with vendors in time for publication. 

SAE has an annual budget of $40,250, not accounting for contributions from outside sponsors. IEEE had a budget of $2,950 before they were disbanded. 

“I think that there’s a disconnect between what engineering clubs need and what is happening with engineering clubs,” Farrell said. “A lot of things I’ve seen from them [SA] have been very disappointing.” 

Amy Maslin is a sports editor and can be reached at amy.maslin@ubspectrum.com 

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