Iowa State student organizations discuss past misuse of funding


Courtesy of Josh Appel on Unsplash

According to Iowa State students, misusing club funds is an ethical problem. 

Cherry Tran

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated and some sentences have been reworded for clarity. 

As he was digging through past documents in Iowa State’s Student Government basement last semester, Mason Zastrow, a senior in political science and Student Government’s finance director, found a four-page letter dating back from 2006 asking for help.

“It was like this four-page letter asking for help of someone who just became president… they realized that their treasurer has been pocketing the same amount of every exchange or purchase the organization has made,” Zastrow said.

The letter belonged to the Russian-Speaking Students Association’s past president. They were asking for Student Government help, claiming that their treasurer was pocketing club funds.

Zastrow said he doesn’t know if anybody present in the club at that time is still around the university, nor does he know what happened after the club’s past president sent the letter. It remains a mystery; even the Russian-Speaking Students Association’s adviser doesn’t know what came after.

“The current president would not know anything about this.” Marina Kraeva, the Russian-Speaking Students Association’s adviser, said. “This happened before I became the advisor… It was a long time ago. What I remember, I can be mistaken though, is that the new treasurer [at that time] did some research in spending and then sent out an email to club members [about] what he found out. I don’t even remember who that treasurer was.”

Club funds are generated through fundraising, charging membership fees, or from money given by Student Government or departments on campus. With the amount of money clubs draw in, the misuse of funds—whether members are purposely taking them for personal use or using them in ways unrelated to the club is a concern many clubs face.

Yeonsoo Cho, a senior in psychology and the Korean Language Club’s current president, said that the club could not use Iowa State’s Procurement Card (P-Card) because their account was suspended by the university.

Iowa State’s P-Card is a system for on-campus organizations “designed to improve efficiency in processing… purchases” and organize club spending.

Cho said she thinks it’s because of the club’s past president and his team from four years ago using club funds for their outings. The Korean Language Club’s previous president from two semesters ago, Jaeyeon Won, also recalled how the club attained its debt.

“So, from what I’ve heard, he [the Korean Language Club’s past president] misused the funds for having themselves, the E-board having some good foods from time to time when he knew what he was doing was wrong,” Won said.

Clubs are generally run by a team consisting of their president, vice president, treasurer, secretary and other positions they deem necessary. The executive board, committee or club officers refer to those running the club.

Jung Ho Suh, a senior in computer engineering and the Korean Language Club’s current treasurer, said he doesn’t believe anyone in the club’s previous executive team would purposely misuse funds, citing that their previous presidents before Won, Woojin Lee and Jaehyun Jin, were not those types of people.

“Woojin was complaining about our P-Card, so it happened before that,” Suh said. “I don’t know how it happened, but it’s weird. They’re rich; the officers before Woojin were rich… like Jaehyun and his friends. If funds were being misused, it wasn’t done purposely as there’s no reason why any of them would steal club money.”

According to Suh and Won, the Korean Language Club currently owes the university about $500. Because of the outstanding balance on the club’s P-Card status, the club cannot make purchases with it. Instead, they collect and keep track of funds independent of Iowa State’s P-Card system. The Korean Language Club’s debt will have to be paid off before they can start using the P-Card again.

Student Government is currently not charging interest on debt clubs owe, according to Zastrow. He said it’s unfair for current club members to atone for something past members did.

Much of club funds are accumulated through charging (by the semester or year) membership fees, where non-executive members pay a certain amount to keep the club running. The money is used for events, conventions or club upkeep.

Amy Nguyen, a junior in interior design and the Vietnamese Student Association’s president, said membership fees are used for food and prizes for events and materials for their general member meetings. Cho said the Korean Language Club’s membership fees also pay for events meant for club members. Funds collected through membership fees end up back for the members.

Depending on the team running the club, some are more willing to use the funds for executive board outings with the justification that it’s well-deserved. Others are against using funds in a way that doesn’t benefit all the members.

Cho and Won were against using club funds for their team outings, agreeing it was an unethical use of club money. However, other clubs believe using funds for executive dinners is justified because of the executive members’ work.

“We only have like annual committee dinner, which is sufficient I guess because the committee does all the work and we need to appreciate their work,” Baganesra Bhaskaran, a senior in cyber security engineering and the Ames Students Association for Malaysians’ treasurer, said.

Opinions are divided among executive team members across clubs on whether misusing club funds is a pursuing issue and if it should concern Iowa State.

“I think it’s the gray area, honestly,” Suh said. “Theoretically, you should open up all the things and investigate all the clubs, but in reality, I think you should consider the size of the club and the amount of funds they roll.”

With the variety of club sizes and amount of money they generate, each club has different ways to monitor its spending.

“I do regard fund misuses as one of the most important issues that need to be more carefully addressed, especially when it comes to student organization because it directly connects to the trust issues between the funder and the club,” Won said.

Cho said misusing funds is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

“It’s the funds that are the basic and most important part of the club,” Cho said. “Clubs rely on funds to support their activities and the misuse of money limits activities meant for all the members… Funds that are raised by the other club members, misusing it is like, unethical.”

Some clubs are not so worried about the misuse of funds and rely on trusting each other and the executive team to be honest and open about club spending.

“I don’t think it’s an issue, at least from my point of view,” Nguyen said. The Vietnamese Student Association’s funds are handled only between the president, the vice president and the treasurer, and all club spending is reported on a spreadsheet. Nguyen doesn’t believe anyone in her club would misuse money with the limited number of people accessing it and their clear organization method.

Similarly, the Ames Students Association for Malaysians also reports its spending on a spreadsheet. Having records of spending, the executive members can see where funds are being spent and if they have been misplaced.

“As a treasurer, I have a few Excel sheets,” Bhaskaran said. “I have like a cash log, which is open to all committee members, not just the treasurer. It means if I do something that’s not ethical, the committee members would also be able to look at it”.

Club funds received from Student Government are reported and inspected through their process.

Zastrow said that Student Government sets aside approximately $1 million for club allocations. Club funds received from Student Government are managed through their auditing process. At the end of each year, the Campus Organizations Accounting Office audits each club’s expenditure, and if it doesn’t align with what Student Government funded them for, the money will be returned, he said. The process is to make sure funds a club receives are used on what Student Government originally gave them money for.

Each club has its method of monitoring expenses, and Student Government has its procedure to monitor funds they gave out. These processes are meant to reduce the misuse of funds.

“To reduce club misuse of funds, I think preventing before happening is much more important than detecting after happening,” Won said. “I also think having a system that tracks the use of money more restrictively should be a good reducer of this problem.”

Zastrow also believes a club’s treasurer holds a big responsibility to prevent funds from being misused.

“It’s a lot of work and people who just assume the treasurer– they don’t realize it’s an important position,” Zastrow said. “Just do your job.”