At College Council’s (CC) weekly meeting last Wednesday, an act of censure on the women’s rugby team was passed in a 13-5 vote with two abstentions. Censure will include the removal of women’s rugby from the first meeting of the subgroup allocation process in the fall but not completely from funding. “The September subgroup allocation process is privileged first access to funds for CC groups that have been approved for at least two years and have proven themselves responsible at managing their finances,” CC treasurer April Jenkins ’14 said. While the team will still be allotted funding next year, the specifics of that allocation process have yet to be decided, Jenkins added.
Benjamin Fischberg ’14, Wood representative, motioned to censure the group and Rani Mukherjee ’15, Dennett representative, seconded the motion. Although there was nothing on the CC meeting agenda regarding the censure of women’s rugby, when Fischberg motioned to censure the team, “[CC] had to recognize that motion. [CC] had the full length of deliberation and discussion,” said Peter Skipper ’13, CC co-president.
No rugby representative was present at the meeting.
According to Skipper, there was also a motion raised to table discussion for the next College Council meeting in order to allow time for individuals representing the women’s rugby team to speak to the full Council, but CC voted to reject this motion.
Skipper also stressed that this was not the first time the team’s financial transgressions were made aware to CC. “A majority of Council members felt that regardless of what might be said by the rugby team in the Council, that would not change the facts that we had been provided with,” he said. According to Jenkins, in the 2011 fiscal year, women’s rugby amassed a deficit of $4665 in unexpected charges. The team had to “carry forward [its] deficit” when it was given its allocation for the 2012 fiscal year, which was a little over $13,000. “Additional penalties were not assessed,” Jenkins explained. This meant that the deficit would be subtracted from the team’s group allocation for 2012. However, women’s rugby overspent an additional $2157.75 in the 2012 fiscal year, totaling a deficit of $6823.75 to date.
The debt came from “general expenses over time that added up, but the buses [the team rented to drive to games] added up the fastest,” Jenkins said.
The team’s deficit began in the spring of 2011, “when we did our Guinness world record attempt [Scrum for a Cure],” said Soraya Membreno ’12, president and acting treasurer of women’s rugby. “We approached CC with this idea [over] Winter Study.” CC pledged financial support but asked that certain paperwork be filed by July 1, 2011.
“The way College Council funding works is [women’s] rugby requested $6500 for Scrum for a Cure and they were allocated as such,” Jenkins said. “When they submitted their co-sponsorship evaluation … they only used $4072.53. So from our perspective, at the end of last school year they came in under budget on this event.” As rugby listed that they only needed $4072.53 to cover Scrum for a Cure events and CC-pledged funding was only for use in the running of that event, CC only reimbursed women’s rugby the amount the team had spent, not the full $6500.
“[CC] balanced all the accounts before [July 1], even though we were told we had until then,” Membreno said. As a result, the money spent on Scrum for a Cure that was supposed to come from additional subgroup allocations from CC became a deficit the women’s rugby team had to carry forward in its allocation for the 2012 fiscal year, which came to total $4665. “There was a deficit there that was more an issue of paperwork … Because [the debt] rolled over, [CC] reduced our funding by that much,” Membreno said.
Jack Noelke ’13 was the acting CC treasurer for the spring semester of 2011 and so dealt with the team’s request for its charity event. “I sat down with [Associate] Dean [and Head Coach of Women’s Rugby Gina] Coleman in the fall, and we established that the $4665 debt would be on the books for this year. CC would not cover it. Thus, women’s rugby would essentially have to operate $4665 below their fall  allocation to balance the account from last year,” he said.
In response to a statement made by Coleman that the Office of Student Life (OSL) had pledged to erase the team’s deficit, Director of OSL Doug Schiazza indicated that no such agreement had been officially documented. “On April 5, [Coleman] … mentioned to me that she thought somebody in my office had agreed last year to absorb the debt [from Scrum for a Cure],” Schiazza said. “That’s not something our office would typically do, so I asked her for some documentation to support that and to date have received no supporting documentation.”
The additional $2157.75 deficit from this year came mostly from team transportation costs, as the team was not allocated CC funding for the buses and vans it ordered. CC subgroups are encouraged to utilize personal cars, for which CC reimburses gas receipts.
However, only one member of women’s rugby has a personal car this year. “We can’t rely on personal cars,” Membreno said. Additionally, “varsity sports have first dibs on College vans. It’s not a reliable means of transportation,” she continued. Without proper transportation, the team cannot attend games.
“The nature of [rugby] is immensely physically intense,” Coleman said. She expressed worry about students driving themselves back to campus after away games. “It’s unsafe,” she said.
“[Coleman] has been trying to keep spending down with the exception of the buses,” said Controller Susan Hogan. She explained that there are costs that the team has no control over, like supplying on-call EMTs and ambulances during matches, as well as certain membership fees and hiring referees. “Periodically, we do a review of accounts in the negative and research them,” Hogan said. It was the “beginning of April  when we started asking about it,” said Christina Gregory, accountant in the Controller’s office.
Groups pay for expenses with purchasing cards, or p-cards. “The way that the purchase card is supposed to work through College Council is that [a group] requests a p-card through the Office of Student Life under the purview of [Student Activities Coordinator] Ellen Rougeau,” Jenkins said.
“[The CC treasurer] will receive that request and check [that group’s] account to make sure they’ve been allocated and have that amount left in their account. If they have the money, [the CC treasurer] will approve it. Then, that works through Student Life,” Jenkins said. “Dean Coleman has her own p-card as a dean, and so how that system works is that it’s not under the purview of the CC treasurer or [Rougeau] in Student Life.
“[Women’s rugby] didn’t use Student Life p-cards. They used Dean Coleman’s p-card,” Jenkins continued. It was not until the Controller’s office brought the team’s debt to Jenkins’s attention that she was able to address the issue of women’s rugby not putting in p-card reconciliation requests.
“Administrative staff regularly pay for expenses outside of their department using their own p-card. They then reconcile the charges and transfer them to the appropriate accounts,” Coleman said. “I have used my department’s p-card for rugby expenses for the past 15 years. I was only issued a p-card directly linked to the women’s rugby account last year, and all of my cards look exactly the same, so I use them interchangeably. Additionally, my rugby card was issued to me through the Controller’s office without any instruction that charges made for rugby had to be vetted through CC. All purchases I’ve made for rugby were reconciled through the Controller’s office.”
The key factor that led to CC’s decision to censure the team was women’s rugby’s lack of adequate oversight of its accounts. “[CC] was very open to communicating with [women’s rugby] over the issue … [and] trying to get everyone back on the right track,” Jenkins said.
“We have 10 officers. Everyone knows what’s going on,” said Dilia Ortega ’13, chief of women’s rugby. Although Membreno took over the position of the treasurer from Mai Okimoto ’13 in February of this year, lines of communication within the team remained open regarding the state of the deficit.
The team has recently been having discussions regarding how to resolve its deficit. “We’ve been speaking to the Controller’s office,” Membreno said. “[The plan was to] try to raise $2000 per year until we paid it back.” As of a few weeks ago, “We [thought we] were set,” Membreno said.
Because of that settlement between the team and the Controller’s office, the act of censure by CC “definitely came out of the blue. [It was] really a lack of communication between CC and the officers of our team,” Ortega said. Although there had been some exchange between CC and women’s rugby, “I didn’t get a sense of urgency or a deadline. [The impending act of censure] was never voiced,” Membreno said.
“When groups deviate from College Council bylaws, CC is supposed to assess the situation and act according to our bylaws,” CC secretary Adrian Castro ’14 said. In the context of CC measures, censuring a team is one of the least punitive measures. “Financial missteps of this scale are incredibly inappropriate and harmful to other College groups,” Jenkins said.
Rugby will have opportunities during the year to acquire additional funding. “Women’s rugby can apply for extra funding during the year, so as a non-subgroup, they’ll be considered the same as any other student organization that does not receive a yearly subgroup budget. What this [censure] prevents them from doing is being able to have the kind of autonomy that they had this year that resulted in the situation we are in now,” Skipper said.