Harvard Undergraduate Association officers said at their weekly meeting Saturday that the body does not review most receipts for spending from grants and stipends — instead, officers “selectively audit” purchase records.
HUA officers clashed over the way the body monitors how funding is spent by clubs and students during a vote for a proposal to provide academic stipends for textbook purchases. The proposed stipend — which aims to provide 180 students with $50 each toward textbooks — would rely on an honor system to ensure funds are used exclusively for textbooks and other academic purchases.
Though the initiative passed 8-2, some officers raised concerns over the stipend’s structure.
“If I participate in this program and I win the lottery, and I get my $50 and then I buy a book for $10 and I submit my receipt, what happens to the other $40?” asked HUA Co-President LyLena D. Estabine ’24, who voted against the proposal.
HUA Co-President Travis Allen Johnson ’24 said it would be up to recipients to “use their morals and discretion” to spend the stipend on “academic-related purposes.”
He added that students unable to provide proof of purchase would not be barred from participating in the program, as the HUA is “not here as a receipt police.”
“The truth is, the receipt collection process isn’t to be punitive,” Johnson said. “It’s just as we do with club funding to say, selectively audit and make sure people are doing it. And so I could foresee a situation where someone said, like, ‘Hey, I bought these with cash. I don’t have a receipt.’ And I think that’s fine.”
The HUA received $450,000 to allocate to clubs during the 2022-2023 academic year, but officers do not typically monitor the spending of clubs that are approved for funding, according to Johnson.
“With club funding, we don’t review every receipt. We can’t,” Johnson said.
Under the textbook stipend program, HUA officers would allocate the money based on applicants’ self-indicated financial aid status without considering the amount each particular student needs for textbooks.
When Estabine suggested reimbursing students up to $50 after they provide documentation of spending on textbooks, Johnson shared concerns over potential delays to the program due to the manual review process.
Johnson justified the plan’s urgency, claiming the HUA needs to spend its remaining budget before the end of the term to avoid a surplus.
Unlike the now-dissolved Undergraduate Council, budget surpluses are not carried over into the next term, but instead returned to the Dean of Students Office. A failure to spend the entire allotted budget will result in budget cuts to the HUA in future years, officers said during the meeting.
“We’re running out of time,” Johnson said. “[The Academic] Team has over $11,000 left, and that money has to be spent by the end of the academic year.”
The UC faced accusations around verifying proper grant spending by student organizations, with a 2019 Harvard Open Data Project article alleging that more than $100,000 of grant money was spent improperly or undocumented.
Still, a 2022 financial audit by Harvard Risk Management and Audit Services was unable to find “evidence of any financial irregularities,” citing unavailable or inconclusive financial records.
—Staff writer Natalie K. Bandura can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Jonah C. Karafiol can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahkarafiol.