Funding delay highlights larger problems

College Council’s decision last week not to approve funding for the arts subgroup because of a discrepancy in funding between the Literary Society and the Literary Review exposed a fundamental flaw in the Council’s funding process.

With most of the funding decisions made by the Finance committee and the group treasurers, Council approval becomes little more than a rubber stamp, and seems all the more arbitrary when it declines to approve budgets. The arts subgroup has become an unfortunate victim to such arbitrariness.

The Council clearly has no problem providing similar organizations with different amounts of funding: witness the $1,700 discrepancy between the men’s and women’s water polo teams and the $12,000 preference to the men’s rugby team over the women’s rugby team. Just as these organizations are similar, but by no means parallel, so are the Literary Review and the Literary Society.

To understand this specific problem, we must first understand the process through which student organizations receive College Council funding. The College Council funding process begins at the start of the academic year when the College Council treasurer and the three student representatives on the finance committee hold marathon meetings with the treasurers of the various student groups on campus.

These meetings are held among six subgroups: activism, arts, athletics 1, athletics 2, campus services and music, and are designed to increase communication between organizations that would otherwise be competing for funds. After these meetings, the treasurer makes his or her recommendations to the Council and the Council must either accept or reject the treasurer’s recommendations by subgroup.

This system, which was instituted only a few years ago, is almost universally seen as a positive development as the individual group treasurers themselves can bargain for funds knowing what other related groups are getting. Although the Council sets the amount of money for each subgroup it is not directly involved with the funding negotiations among individual organizations.

In general, it seems like a positive development to have the individual group treasurers involved in the funding process. However, a specific issue arose with this process after The Literary Society requested $1,425 in funds for production of its magazine Unbound for the first semester. Since the Literary Society has only been an organization for two years, it cannot be involved in the subgroup allocation until next year, and it made its request from the general fund.

The Council approved the request for $1,425, but when it came to the arts subgroup later in the meeting, an issue was raised with the funding for the Literary Review. The Literary Review is a completely separate organization from the Literary Society and produces its own magazine, The Williams Literary Review. Because it has been around longer than three years, the Literary Review is part of the arts subgroup. In the proposed subgroup plan, the Literary Review was allocated $2,000.

Although the Literary Review had already gone through the grueling process of duking it out with other arts organizations treasurers, the Council decided not to pass the arts subgroup allocation, pending further discussion of the funding discrepancy between the Literary Review and Literary Society. The Council voted to suspend funding for the entire subgroup until it could discuss specific funding issues with the Literary Review.

The Literary Review situation is a clear example of how College Council, which has become disconnected from its own funding process, made a poor decision to deny funding. By attempting to establish such a pat, oversimplified standard of measurements, the Council has grossly undermined the important, informed work of the financial committee. The financial committee is there for a reason – it is directly engaged with student organizations in a way that the Council cannot possibly be. College Council has no business whatsoever encroaching upon what was presumably an informed, carefully rendered decision to potentially make its own uninformed, generalized one.

An ironic note on the situation: in suspending the funding request for the Literary Review for further consideration, the Council is making an issue over less then $600. This took place at the same meeting where the Council approved the $81,000 allocation for SAC with only minimal questioning as to where the funds would go. College Council’s attempts to serve as a fiscal watchdog smack of hypocrisy: it can’t pinch pennies with student organizations and then gloss over the technicalities of such a great expenditure.

The Council can’t have it both ways. It must either look at each funding request specifically itself, or accept the work done by the treasurers and finance committee as legitimate. Anything else is simply not fair to the individual organizations and leads to the Council’s making decisions without any real knowledge.