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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Investigation into MCAB uncovers months of unchecked spending on concerts, $250 jackets

Unprecedented spending. Comped dinners. Aritzia jackets.

Amidst student anticipation for the upcoming spring concert, the Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) has faced mounting questions for these spending decisions, among others, from this academic year. 

The nine-person board has misused funds for personal gain, failed to communicate with the student body and blown past budget allocations, according to a draft of a Student Government Association (SGA) bill.

The draft bill is still being revised; its current proposals include increasing SGA oversight over MCAB and creating a separate concert committee with a cap of 17% of total student activities fee revenue. The final version of the bill will be voted on this Friday, May 10.

The issues plaguing MCAB this year were confirmed to The Campus by over ten sources, including several SGA senators, the co-director of the SGA Finance Committee and current MCAB board members. The draft resolution was obtained by The Campus from a public website but has not yet been shared widely with the student body.

MCAB’s budget includes 33% of the revenue generated by the student activities fee, and its total budget last year was $405,786, according to documents from the SGA. The activities fee reached $500 per student for the 2024–25 academic year, according to the college’s web page.

One major concern that prompted the upcoming vote by the SGA was the MCAB-sponsored spring concert, which features Flo Rida, a well-known American rapper who will be performing on Battell Loop this Friday, May 10.

The board voted to spend significantly more than what was spent last year to secure the artist Ferg as the spring 2023 concert headliner, according to current MCAB board member and business manager Erik Budo ’26.

“[The spring concert] is a lot of money, far more than we were allocated to spend and more than has ever been spent on a spring concert,” Budo said. “We voted on that as a board. However, we reallocated funds in a way that kind of disadvantaged other clubs on campus.”

Several other members of MCAB who asked to remain anonymous shared a similar figure for Flo Rida. They stated that the overall expense for this year's spring concert will be over $200,000, which they claim is not unprecedented. These MCAB members cited combined costs for the separate concerts by Ferg and Sage the Gemini in 2023; and Flo Milli, Crumb and Amine in 2022; and did not specify in other years. In the figures provided to The Campus, they compared costs of the one concert with Flo Rida to multiple concerts in past years that featured several artists.

“Naturally, more popular artists charge higher prices. We’ve spent more to accommodate the artist fee and inflation. Flo Rida will also be bringing dancers and a larger stage. Considering these additional components, the price is reasonable,” the MCAB members wrote to The Campus.

One of the consequences of repurposing funds to pay for the spring concert was limiting the funds in the Small Concert Fund available for incoming requests. According to several SGA senators interviewed by The Campus who asked to remain anonymous, the Black Student Union [BSU] submitted a timely request to MCAB for funding from the small concert fund this spring but said they were unfairly denied.

“They were denied because MCAB wanted to save the money to use for this larger concert, even though the money is supposed to be reserved for smaller concerts,” one SGA senator said.

In a statement to The Campus, the executive board of BSU confirmed their request to bring an emerging Black artist to campus for their Night of Black Culture was rejected by MCAB.

“We find it interesting that there was a small level of grace offered to our Black Student Union, being that MCAB out of all clubs would know the necessary levels of planning, direction and understanding that goes into wanting a concert,” the BSU board members wrote. “It’s disheartening to learn of MCAB’s lack of respect for cultural organisations such as BSU, especially when it comes to initiatives that they put out themselves in a directive to boost student-ran organisations.”

BSU board members added that they felt unsupported by MCAB, and took issue with how MCAB blamed them for making a request close to the deadline when the organization failed to provide adequate information upon their initial inquiry.

A staff member at SAO confirmed the presence of an issue, writing that the past one to two years of MCAB funding were “a-typical,” and then proceeded to criticize the SGA resolution as a disproportionate response to the issues at hand, according to several members of MCAB.

One of the most egregious examples of MCAB’s misappropriation of funds was the purchase of Aritzia Super Puff Jackets, which the board voted to order for themselves in the fall, according to Budo. Budo said he voted against the order, as MCAB had already received its traditional Executive Team sweatshirts and the puffer jackets had no Middlebury or MCAB branding.

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Multiple MCAB members from this year confirmed to The Campus that the majority voted in favor of the jackets, which all members then received. 

“It was not a close vote at all,” Budo said. 

Other MCAB members shared their perspective on the group’s vote in favor of the expenditure.

“When it came down to anonymously voting, the majority voted in favor of the purchase and all board members opted to purchase a jacket,” the MCAB members wrote. Board members did not make any direct contributions to the costs of purchasing the jackets.

A member of MCAB told The Campus that they understood the questions over purchasing the jackets, but their advisor was consulted and approved of the expenditure.

“On the topic of the jackets, although it could be argued that purchasing them is a question of moral standing, in the least we consulted with our advisor at length and did not violate any college policy,” they wrote.

David Wilder, Student Activities Office (SAO) Director of Programming and Events and advisor for MCAB, wrote in an email to The Campus that he did not believe that MCAB has misused its funds in the jackets, since it was within the historical range of expenditures on MCAB merchandise, but the club would follow additional guidelines in future “team building expenditures.”

Budo added that he informed the SGA president and other members of SGA of the situation this spring after the jackets were ordered because he disagreed with the organization’s decision to purchase them.

“That was a huge misstep in my opinion,” Budo said. “I don’t have a problem with club merch. I know a lot of clubs do it, there’s nothing wrong with that. But these jackets were not branded at all. They were straight from the website”

According to Aritzia’s website, the jackets can range from $250 to $375, depending on the style.

Multiple members of MCAB confirmed that they spent $1,011.53 of their budget on the Aritzia jackets. In addition to further subsidization from SAO and their gift account, the total expenditure was approximately $2,600.

“I feel like the money should be returned, because that is theft in a lot of ways, or at least misuse of student resources,” one senator said, adding that they believe MCAB members from the fall should not be allowed to return to the club next year, but such a decision is out of the SGA’s control.

SGA senators also discussed how MCAB is a paid position, a fact which they said was not widely known among the student body. According to a current MCAB board member, members of the organization are paid a $500 stipend each semester.

Another senator also cited other concerns regarding the operational budget for MCAB — which is provided via the SGA Finance Committee for many clubs on campus — being used for meals and other improper expenses in the name of team bonding, according to multiple SGA senators.

“[MCAB] mentioned in the Senate meeting they attended that they purchased meals during orientation week for team bonding. SGA also does eat together, but we eat in the dining hall, as most students do during that week,” said one SGA senator

One SGA senator who spoke to The Campus agreed that the reasons for the jackets did not justify the expense.

“[MCAB] said the jackets were for team bonding,” the senator explained.

MCAB members defended their decision to purchase Aritzia jackets, however.

“In lieu of team bonding or other types of merchandise, we thought it would be best to invest in more practical club merchandise like winter coats instead of using this portion of the operations budget on additional meals or team bonding,” wrote the MCAB members.

Another senator objected to the fact that MCAB did not bring up the jackets at various meetings with the SGA this spring, although the members admitted to other expenses, such as catered dinners.

“This is something that they intentionally hid,” the senator said. 

Representatives from SGA met with MCAB at least four times this spring, and most recently discussed the SGA draft bill on Wednesday, May 7. One particularly tense moment was when an MCAB board member attended a recent SGA General Assembly meeting and, unprompted, defended their spending on the jackets.

Multiple sources told The Campus that the amount of money spent on the MCAB Aritzia jackets was more than combined annual budget allocations for six of the least funded clubs on campus.

Budo first reported his concerns regarding the organization’s expenditures this spring to SGA after excessive spending on jackets in the fall and reallocated funding from the Speaker Symposium as well as the Major Speakers fund and Small Concerts fund.

Multiple members of MCAB confirmed that their spending on concerts exceeded the SGA Finance Committee allocation by over $60,000.

“I'm hoping that MCAB leadership can really step it up next year to ensure that some of this stuff doesn't happen again,” Budo said, adding that he does not intend to rejoin MCAB next year. “I think a great place to start is by lowering the budget and keeping people more accountable.”

According to the SGA draft resolution, 11 people applied for nine positions on MCAB next year, and six people on next year’s board will be returning members.

The resolution has been shown to members of MCAB in recent discussions, and the SGA senators interviewed by The Campus stated that no one disputed the numbers listed in the draft resolution.

SGA Finance Director Bruno Coelho ’24 shared that the MCAB budget and finances are under the purview of its SAO advisor, who works with MCAB and coordinates their expenditures. 

Coelho shared that the MCAB budget is approved by the SGA Finance Committee, but has undergone changes in recent years.

“As of two years ago, due to a lot of different complex processes, the SGAFC ceded control of both MCAB and club sport funding to org advisors in the SAO who are more knowledgeable in the inner workings of day-to-day operations and are able to make better decisions on how funds are used,” Coelho explained.

“I still believe that institutional knowledge to be very important and necessary, but that it may be good to explore the return to SGAFC approving MCAB’s budget on a yearly basis,” Coelho wrote, adding that all the parties involved needed to meet and identify the problems as well as solutions together. “The issues that have been raised cannot be addressed by one party alone.”

The draft resolution also criticizes MCAB on other issues, including how its internal allocation decisions may not suit the needs of the student body, its failure to solicit student input for the spring concert or sufficiently advertise events to students, and its inability to be communicative with and accountable to the SGA.

Budo, who helped develop the resolution, looks forward to the structural reforms for MCAB next year.

“I really do think that the budget reallocation will be very effective. It is definitely a little bit radical. I don't think we've ever seen a club change this much over one summer, essentially. However, I think this is the way to do it,” Budo said.

Wilder, MCAB’s advisor from SAO, agreed with the general ideas of the SGA resolution, but did not approve of all the detailed points listed.

“The SAO and MCAB are in support of these recommendations as presented in broad strokes,” Wilder wrote in an email to The Campus. “However, I believe there are aspects of the resolution that are too specific to the detriment of its own efficacy.”

Multiple SGA senators and MCAB members, in addition to Wilder, shared that they met together in March and April to discuss these issues and find solutions prior to the resolution’s draft.

The SGA senators also described a possible violation of MCAB’s constitution with the recent appointment of MCAB’s co-presidents for 2024–2025. The president of MCAB is required to have served at least one semester on the club’s executive team, but the organization is still supposed to advertise its open positions to all who qualify.

“The Selection Committee shall publicize open Executive Board positions in the spring for the following fall,” the organization’s constitution states. 

However, multiple SGA senators told The Campus that MCAB did not send out any such notice to the school about the open presidential position. The student body received an email on April 5, 2024, which advertised a variety of positions, but not the presidency.

Multiple MCAB members shared that their organization had not included three former MCAB members who were eligible for the presidency in their initial communications, a mistake which their SAO advisor corrected.

“Since we haven't concluded the selection process yet, there is nothing unconstitutional about this year’s presidential appointment,” the members stated, after admitting to the initial violation of their constitution’s election procedure.

Amidst its issues, MCAB will be hosting the spring concert this Friday for hundreds of students to attend, and it will remain one of the most well-funded student organizations on campus next year.

It is unknown whether the proposed SGA reforms will be passed on Friday, and if so, whether they would be accepted and implemented by the SAO for next fall.

Correction 5/9/24: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Aritzia jackets had a total cost of $1,622.85. The total cost of the jackets was approximately $2,600; MCAB spent $1,622.85 in total on executive merchandise. 

The funds MCAB repurposed to pay for the spring concert came from allocations for a Speaker Symposium, not the Spring Student Symposium as was originally written.

Ryan McElroy

Ryan McElroy '25 (he/him) is a managing editor for The Middlebury Campus.  

He previously served as a news editor and staff writer.  

Ryan is majoring in History with a possible minor in psychology or English. He also takes part in Middlebury Mock Trial and on campus. He spent this past summer working as a research assistant in the History department studying Middle Eastern immigration to New England.