After a student organization allegedly cheated the university out of at least $9,000 over several years, Loyola has been able to reclaim some of the missing funds.
The South Asian Student Alliance (SASA), a large on-campus cultural organization, was suspended from the university for four years in September after a university investigation found some executive board members allegedly used false reimbursement requests to steal at least $9,000.
Reimbursement requests are used by student organizations to receive refunds from the university for various operational and event costs that members pay for out-of-pocket. The refunds come from the Student Activity Fund (SAF), a pool of money created from a small fraction of each undergraduate student’s annual tuition used to fund student organizations.
Reimbursements are one of the ways student organizations can obtain funding from the university. The other primary method is credit card payment requests, in which Loyola will purchase requested items for an organization.
Now, new restrictions and regulations have been placed on how Loyola student organizations can get reimbursed.
Jeff Gardner from the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR) said, in addition to submitting false reimbursement requests, SASA obtained funding for an event through the SAF without holding the event, while keeping the cash to fund other events like SASA’s annual formal.
Gardner was part of the SASA investigation’s resolution in the fall. He confirmed that while criminal charges were considered for the responsible SASA members, the university chose to resolve the matter within its conduct system. He said Loyola was able to get back the $9,000 it was certain SASA allegedly took from the university, but more money was possibly unaccounted for.
“I do think it’s possible that it was more than [$9,000] because we didn’t receive confirmation from some vendors and from some students as to whether or not they were fraudulent or not,” Gardner said.
One former board member of SASA couldn’t be reached, and another former board member of SASA declined to comment.
After OSCCR learned of the potentially fraudulent financial activity, its investigators sent emails out to any SASA member who’d received a reimbursement in the past and asked them to reverify their purchases with the businesses they used.
“The people who were not able to verify their items were clearly in charge of all this scheming,” an unnamed former member of SASA said when The PHOENIX broke the story in September.
Gardner wouldn’t elaborate on how the money was reclaimed from the responsible students but said it was through the conduct process.
The Department of Student Activities and Greek Affairs (SAGA), which is in charge of student organization funding, implemented new rules for reimbursement requests to keep better tabs on where its funds are going. Reimbursement requests now require signatures from the organization’s president and treasurer and have been capped at $500 per request.
Additionally, only one person can make a reimbursement request per club event, and multiple reimbursements for a vendor for the same event have been prohibited. A new reimbursement form must also be submitted with each request. In the past, only receipts and full documentation of the purchase were required.
Leslie Watland, assistant director of SAGA, said in an email to The PHOENIX while the previous funding rules were strong, the members of SASA found responsible for the alleged fraud abused the trust SAGA had placed in them.
“It would have been easy to simply prohibit reimbursements,” Watland said. “But we did not want to penalize the entire student organization community for the actions of one student organization.”
Watland said the amount of funds reclaimed for the SAF is enough to fund new student organizations for the next two to three years. Start-up funding for new organizations is $100, and Watland said the reclaimed money will allow SAGA to allocate more start-up funds to new organizations in their initial years.
Some students said they’re happy SAGA moved swiftly to amend the rules in the wake of the alleged financial abuse.
Nikil Chari, the treasurer of the Hindu Students’ Organization, said he thinks the new rules will encourage student organizations to plan ahead with their budgets.
“These new rules are a systematic encouragement for organizations to be proactive with their budgeting decisions,” the 21-year-old information systems major said.
Chari said the new rules for reimbursement requests show an attempt to build back trust between students and SAGA.
“It makes it very transparent,” the junior said. “It makes it very easy for us to say … this is exactly how much money we need and this is how much we spent.”
Loyola Neuroscience Society vice president Snehal Garg, 22, said funding is an essential facet for student organizations.
“[The reforms] gives different organizations the opportunity to still build their program and general body members the chance to come to their events,” the senior human services major said. “If they had taken [those policies] away from us, I think it would’ve really harmed the student body.”