Q&A with John Martin Weed, vice president for Financial Affairs candidate


Jonathan Booker, Contributing Writer

Q: What is your year, major and hometown?

A: My year, I am a sophomore. This is my second year at Alabama. My major is political science and economics, and I am from Birmingham, Alabama.

Q: How did you originally get involved with SGA, or if you’re not currently involved, what made you want to?

A: It started early my freshman year. I was encouraged by some role models I had to apply for First Year Council in the fall of my freshman year, so last fall, one and a half years ago basically. And then through that, I got more interested in what actually goes on in SGA and how the thing works, and through that process, last spring, about this time – actually a little earlier than this time – I decided to run for senate to represent the College of Arts & Sciences because I felt like the things I was passionate about and the voices that needed to be heard on campus wouldn’t be heard if I didn’t run. I feel the same way, even more strongly about it, and that’s why I’m running for vice president of Financial Affairs.

Q: What made you want to run for this office?

A: I think the biggest reason that I decided to run was bringing a different perspective to the SGA. My desire is to raise the bar, raise the standard for the fiscal policy of our SGA. We can look at the 1.6 million national average of the American Student Government Association. They average that $1.6 million is the operating budget of the average public university, and our university has one third of that. So the question is why? Why do we not have that money? That’s due to increase the trust of our students and administration so that more money can be spent in student hands and improving student life. When I read that, I was like there is something that needs to be improved in our fiscal policy. Being in senate this last year, I’ve had the opportunity to review our fiscal policy, and I compared it to a similar institution: Florida State University.

Seeing their operating budget of $13.8 million testifies to our student government [not being] the norm. It isn’t on par with the national average of what we should be achieving in terms of student life outcome.

So, for me, it became a question of, let’s raise the standard, because Bama is where legends are made. Alabama deserves a functioning Student Government Association, and a Student Government Association that gives 110 percent to its students. So, the last part of that is going to be, additionally, looking into how non-profits are managed. You basically have three main expenditures. You have programming expenditures, which are achieving your mission purpose. You have operation and administration expenditures, which is everything that helps you achieve your mission purpose. And then you have fundraising expenditures. SGA doesn’t do any fundraising, so we don’t have to worry about that. What we can do to maximize student life outcomes is to prioritize the programming side of those things, is to prioritize the actual direct benefits to student life and achieve the SGA’s mission of ‘students serving students,’ and try to minimize administrative costs. I don’t think that that principle has been applied. I think that we’ve been relaxed in appropriating our administrative costs, whether that’s spending $5,000 annually on phones for the SGA office when I guarantee every member of SGA has a cell phone, or whether it’s $10,000 on a conference room, $30,000 on the payscale. Things like this that could have a huge impact on student life, that’s why I’m running.

Q: What makes you the best choice for your office?

A: I think what makes me the best candidate for vice president of Financial Affairs is I will bring a unique perspective to SGA. While I’m involved with SGA, currently as a senator, the perspectives that I want to bring to SGA have not been heard. Voices that I want to represent in SGA have not been heard in the office of vice president of Financial Affairs, in the SGA’s known history for that matter.

Those voices are voices questioning where our budget goes every year. The budget of SGA is something that is sort of normalized. It’s traditionalized. It’s something that we accept without question going into each year. I don’t know how many people are aware of this, but SGA gets half a million dollars each year, a little bit over $500,000, as the annual operating budget of the Student Government Association. That’s split up between fiscal years and SGA terms, so it gets a little messy, but, per year we get over half a million dollars. That should be bringing a value of $10 to every student every year. I think that somewhere along the way that gets lost. And I don’t think that question or perspective is being raised in our fiscal policy at the SGA, and that’s why I decided to run, because I think that idea needed to be voiced.

Q: What is the biggest problem you see on campus?

A: I think that the biggest problem we see is a lack of dialogue, a lack of genuine reaching across campus to find out the perspective of students that we haven’t interacted with, or that aren’t in our normal circles. Traditionally, this is labelled, independents use this as a rallying cry against the Machine, that the Machine doesn’t care about their interests. But in actuality, what we have to consider is the larger dialogue on both sides of campus. You have to think about things in terms of our independents truly having genuine dialogues about the things that matter to the Greek community, and is the Greek community talking about things that matter to independent students.

Additionally, we have to also recognize that every student is a part of multiple communities on this campus that make up a variety of facets of student life. And that relates to concepts of intersectionality, but more tangibly we have to recognize that we have to have genuine dialogue and connection across campus if we want to achieve a holistic benefit to student life. And so that’s the biggest problem I see as facing The University of Alabama, is that we are quick to presume things, and to be held back by our previous assumptions about things, or our previous experiences of things, when in actuality there’s an infinite amount to learn about every individual at the Capstone.

Q: What do you hope to change?

A: So, the first concrete thing that I think is important to me is redressing our pay scale. So, the two objectives there would be to first considered the realistic impact, and second, to make it more transparent. Most people, even within SGA, aren’t aware of the fact that we spend over $30,000 annually on paid members of SGA’s individual stipends. For the executive cabinet, this is several thousand dollars or at least $1,000 per person. The president gets several thousand dollars per year, and I’m not saying the students aren’t deserving of some form of compensation, because they do dedicate a significant amount of time for servant leadership, but I think we need to reassess the impact these funds could be having. Imagine $5,000 was given to [a] student organization that exemplified excellence in pursuit of increasing their efforts. I think the magnitude of that change could be a little bit greater than the compensation that we’re giving to the students.

Additionally, the compensation isn’t enough to truly compensate them for their contributing. For example, one of the main arguments for the pay scale is that the students who are giving their time to the SGA have to defer taking a job because their work requires several hours. But if you do the math, Price McGiffert isn’t being paid close to minimum wage for all the work he’s putting into the SGA. So, it shouldn’t be about the money. We need to question, where that’s coming from? I think for the other offices, there are offices that 99 percent of the student body and probably 75 percent of the Student Government Association do not know exist. They do contribute a not insignificant amount of time to the Student Government Association, but they’re getting paid several hundred dollars, and the vast majority of the student body doesn’t know about these positions or what they’re doing.

That brings me to the second idea, which is that these things need to be more transparent. Nowhere on the SGA’s website is it clearly stated who’s getting financially compensated. And that’s not just a duty to the student body because I think that’s what we first and foremost have to be considering here, but The University of Alabama is a public institution with public tax money, and so we have an even larger obligation in terms of our legal obligations to publish this information of where the money is going. So, that’s a policy change that I would want to change as vice president of Financial Affairs.

I think we also need to raise larger questions about the budget. In the past month, SGA, without letting any of the members know, authorized over $10,000 for the construction of a state-of-the-art conference room within the Student Government Association. These things are useful tools for increasing the velocity at which the Student Government Association can work. However, over $10,000 is more than the annual operating budget of the vast majority of student organizations. That could be potentially transformative to any student organization that would receive that amount of funds. And so I think we need to reconsider the impact, instead of spending money on spaces for the SGA to talk about SGA pursuits. That’s not to dig on SGA. That’s to call us to spend as much time as possible on improving student life, because that’s the mission of the SGA.

Q: What is the last thing that you want voters to know about you?

A: This is a great question. I’m very glad you asked. I think the last thing that I want voters to know about me, but the thing that is also the most obvious, is that I am imperfect. I am very human. And so I make mistakes every day, every hour, every minute, probably. And there are a number of things in my life, and a number of conversations, that I’ve made mistakes within, and a number of people that I let down in my life, whether that be on an SGA scale or a more personal scale. And so, I think ultimately, I have to admit everything I’ve done wrong in the past. When you’re running for political office, it’s all about image. It’s all about how people perceive you, so you can’t let people know that you’re not perfect. But everyone knows it. I know it. I certainly know it. I’m probably one of the weakest people that I know because I know myself so well. But, I think what that means is that that weakness can give us strength. It allows us to analyze our thoughts better and move forward in taking action.