Row houses can no longer spend social dues on alcohol

March 9, 2011, 2:06 a.m.

Social dues collected by Row houses can’t be spent on alcohol anymore, according to a Residential Education (ResEd) policy that goes into effect spring quarter. The change comes as ResEd increases its oversight of Row finances and revises some unpopular policies put in place fall quarter.

The policies are part of a larger push by ResEd that is attempting “to bring the Row program closer in line with the rest of the University” and increase equity between houses, ResEd Assistant Director Zac Sargeant wrote in a Feb. 15 e-mail sent to the Row managers list.

“The only thing that we have been unable to accomplish yet, along this social dues policy transition, was to create a standardization of social funds for non-alcoholic purposes to be collected on the University bill instead of in house,” he said.

A new social policy

Row residents are required to pay social dues, part of which are traditionally used to buy alcohol. However, this practice could be in conflict with a Stanford policy that prohibits buying alcohol for undergraduate audiences using house funds held or collected by the University. The rationale, according to the policy, is that “most undergraduates are under the legal drinking age of 21.”

According to some financial managers (FMs), the most evident loophole to this change would be to collect unofficial social dues. However, this practice might not work if too few residents contributed.

“We’re allowed to collect voluntary dues from our residents that we can go buy alcohol with, we just can’t do it through the University,” said one FM, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I can see why the University would want to do it, but I think it’s absolutely a terrible decision when it comes to the social life of the Row,” he added.

Other financial managers said they understood the rationale behind the new policy, but were nonetheless unenthusiastic about it.

“If you’ve got sophomores living in the house and you charge them social dues that you’re going to go buy alcohol with, it’s basically encouraging underage drinking,” said the anonymous FM. “And it also comes to the fact that all the money we control under the University, so they’re essentially buying alcohol for underage students through us.”

Haus Mitteleuropa (Haus Mitt) FM Alison Dame-Boyle ’11 said she is concerned that residents would spend more time drinking in their rooms with friends than at house functions, making it tougher for staff to watch for alcohol problems with residents and party attendees.

“I think it will probably be harder for houses that do not have a pretty close-knit group already because the temptation in college, obviously people on the Row are going to drink anyway,” Dame-Boyle said.

In another change, the board budget will be made available to FMs in installments, rather than as a lump allocation. ResEd is also hiring a new staff member for the Row Office; this staffer’s job will be responsible for scanning weekly receipts turned in by FMs.

Though some FMs said the change wouldn’t significantly impact day-to-day operations, they foresee potential hassles.

“I’m not really sure what that’s going to mean,” Dame-Boyle said of the change.

It remains ambiguous as to how official these social dues changes are. That aside, Dame-Boyle said ResEd was “very clear” that houses would retain all of their money and be entitled to use it at their discretion.

“It will probably just mean more work for financial managers and more communication between financial managers, kitchen managers and chefs,” she said.

Dues refunds

It is still unlikely that Row residents will see significant refunds of their social dues.

Row management documents from two years ago suggest Student Organized Services (SOS), which manages Row house accounts, strongly encouraged refunds in the past. However, Sargeant’s e-mail said students’ $100 damage deposits are the only refunds that will be issued this year. As previously reported by The Daily (“Row dues lead to confusion,” February 4, 2011), financial managers were told that excess social money would no longer be refunded to residents and instead would be rolled into the house’s restricted-use “capital reserve funds” (CRF).

At present, social budget surpluses can be rolled forward from quarter to quarter and unused money placed into a fund to pay for house reunion parties. It is unclear what happens to the funds at the end of that year, although FMs reaffirmed that the money could be moved to CRF.

SOS director Nick Peters declined to comment on the issue.

“I feel that excess money, rather than trying a way to spend it, should just be given back to residents,” said Roth FM Lyn Mehe’ula ‘11.

According to a document on the Row’s Student Management website, CRF contributions were capped at $90,000 per year, a figure set to decrease annually by $10,000 through the 2014-15 academic year. If a house exceeded the cap, the surplus money would have been washed into a general University account. This year, Kappa Alpha Theta and Pi Beta Phi exceeded the cap. The latter surpassed the cap by $12,000.

According to FMs, the caps have been discontinued.

Some FMs say that the ResEd change is well intentioned, but they noted that it is not the ideal solution to ResEd complications they desired.

“We want a little bit of cushion so if we spend a little bit more than we think, we’ll still be fine, and I think that that money, if we don’t spend it, should be given back to residents,” Dame-Boyle said. “If the financial manager makes an error and charges too much, it can go back to the people that paid it and not into the CRF fund that has $30,000 or however much sitting around in it that we can’t really do much with.”

An Le Nguyen contributed to this report.

Corrections and amplifications: This article has been updated to clarify that CRF caps have been discontinued. In addition, Stanford policy dictates that house funds collected or held by the University cannot be spent on alcohol for general undergraduate audiences because most undergraduates are under the legal drinking age of 21. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that University funds cannot be spent on alcohol.

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