On November 4, the College Council (CC) voted to reject the proposed budget for Ephs for Bill Bradley (EFBB), a newly formed campus group devoted to the support of Senator Bill Bradley’s campaign for president. Mike Hacker ’00, president and founder of EFBB, had requested a $400 budget from the Council.
CC first proposed to amend the budget to $100, which passed by a vote of 21-8-1. Following this, the Council then voted on whether to provide the club with the amended budget. The vote failed 10-18-1, and the club received no funding.
“We have come a long way, but this is still a Williams club and as such we should be supported by College Council, not rejected at every turn as we have been.” Hacker said. “The total and utter lack of support from College Council for initiative and creativity is the most upsetting and disturbing aspect of this episode.”
There are disagreements on the precise reasons why CC chose to reject the vote, but many members of the Council believed that it was in direct violation of the CC bylaws to provide funding to a group whose professed aim was to support a single political candidate. The bylaws expressly prohibit direct contributions to political campaigns, and some felt that EFBB was against the spirit of this rule.
“My main concern with funding is that subjective values will come into play,” Allessandra Stewart ’02, the CC Dodd Quad representative, said.
However, according to CC Treasurer Nelson Hioe ’00, more general issues may have been at stake, namely the liberality of spending on behalf of the Council and the need to re-examine funding criteria.
“Two of my big agendas as CC Treasurer were to: a) get CC to evaluate funding decisions more critically, i.e. to develop a framework around which funding decisions could be made instead of simply funding anything and everything that came up, and b) to get student opinions back on the table as a major factor in such decisions—instead of simply the opinions of CC members,” Hioe said afterwards of his position.
“As a result, I feel that CC is spending time to debate the merits of a club’s proposal and not simply passing budgets without discussion,” Hioe said. Now more than in the past, Hioe said he feels groups are having to “prove themselves” more in order to demonstrate the necessity of funding, which is a good thing not only for clubs that might need that portion of the budget more, but also for the Williams community as a whole. With student opinion playing a more prominent role, “CC reps are making a greater effort to communicate with their constituents to see how they feel about funding decisions.”
The night before the vote, Hacker led the Gaudino Forum, along with Hioe and four other CC members, in order to discuss expressed concerns about the funding of EFBB.
The first concern to arise at the forum was the issue of constitutionality. Since EFBB is in fact a political organization centered around backing a single candidate, some have claimed that providing funding would be akin to appropriating funds to support the campaign of Senator Bradley.
However, Hacker argued that these criteria do not apply to Ephs for Bill Bradley, and revealed a misunderstanding as to the purpose of the club. According to Hacker, EFBB would not directly contribute to Bradley’s campaign but only provide indirect support in informing the campus about the candidate and fostering awareness.
The proposed travel section of the budget would be to attend speeches and debates involving the Senator and the publication and advertisement section would only announce events, not advocate voting for Bill Bradley. Hacker noted, “A sign might read: ‘Ephs for Bill Bradley Are Going To Boston’ but it will not read: ’Vote for Bill Bradley.’” Neither of these, Hacker argued, conflicts with the conditions set forth in the bylaws.
“The opposition is not dealing with something inherently expressed in the constitution,” Hacker said at the Forum. “It is not an issue of whether we can be funded legally but because [the CC] does not like the idea of a strongly vocal political group on campus.”
The immediate precedent for CC’s opposition to directly funding political campaigns was the previous year, in which the CC prohibited the Garfield Republicans from paying $4500 of their allocated budget to pay for speaker Alan Keyes. Although Keyes came to the campus, the Council did not let the Garfield Republicans use that portion of their budget for this purpose, as they felt that this was a misappropriation of College funds by the CC bylaws.
However, Hioe advanced a different argument against providing funding at the forum, which he would bring up the next day at the CC meeting itself. He first cited arguments that he judged to be invalid in this case.
Hioe rejected the idea that the Council would be endorsing Bradley or that it would be improper to support a single candidate. Many partisan groups already exist on campus, he pointed out, and the neither the Council constitution nor the bylaws explicitly say groups cannot be partisan. The idea that Ephs for Bill Bradley would be directly funding Bradley’s campaign he also rejected, saying that at most any support would be indirect and not at all improper.
“The reason the club does not deserve funding is that it does not need funding in order to exist,” he explained at the Forum. “The lack of subjectivity is what has allowed this proliferation [of clubs] to occur.” Hioe cited the popularity of the club and success of its website as evidence that EFBB could exist without funding.
“The benefits to the members are real and tangible,” Hacker said in response to Hioe’s concerns. “We are asking for a little bit of money to make a large amount of students happy…. Political activism is not something that can be done in the abstract.”
Despite the vote to deny his request, Hacker hopes to continue promoting the growth of the group. “We obviously have no choice about asking for dues,” he said following the rejection of the EFBB budget. “But by collecting dues we will not be able to reach out to the rest of the College community in the way that we had hoped to, so in that way College Council has succeeded in keeping this campus isolated from the real world beyond Williamstown.”
EFBB has been in existence for less than a month, and has only been officially recognized as a campus group for slightly over one week. Hacker first went to the CC on October 13 to request official club standing for his group, but the vote was rejected, as the Council said it believed the club’s aim was in direct violation of the CC bylaws.
The recognition issue was later brought back to the Council on October 27, when the vote was approved and EFBB was officially recognized. Currently, the group has 140 names on its listserver, more than 25 of which, Hacker says, attend meetings regularly and support the group in other ways.
When asked about future plans for providing funding for the group, Hacker said, “After College Council refused to recognize Ephs for Bill Bradley I went right back to them and forced them to reconsider their decision, because I knew they had gotten it wrong the first time. But it should not be standard practice at this school for every group to have to go to College Council twice to ask for the same thing just because College Council cannot get it right the first time around. I do not think College Council should be given the privilege to correct all of its errors. And so I am not going to ask College Council to reconsider the same budget. When I have something new to ask for I will come back.”