Funding structure should be consolidated

The Williams administration prides itself on the amount of discretionary power it grants the student body. From a theoretical standpoint, it is easy to applaud the College’s efforts to place a significant amount of power in the hands of its students.

But sometimes this displacement comes at a great cost; nowhere is this better exemplified than in the College’s handling of financing student events. While active student involvement is quite obviously integral to the success of campus events and activities, the administration is guilty of reducing its own role in the funding process to a counterproductive extent.

As it now stands, the administration filters the vast majority of student activities tax to various student groups. Most of the tax is assigned either to College Council or to HEF funds. The latter are, in turn, largely given to the Housing Committee. The former go through a more complicated assignment process. CC then relies on FinCom to make most of its fundamental monetary decisions, such as the subsequent funding of the Student Activities Committee (SAC), which this year received nearly one quarter of CC’s budget. Peripheral groups in need of additional events funding beyond what FinCom allots them have to cobble together funding from SAC, the Housing Committee and the like.

Sound confusing? It is. The system is a remarkably bureaucratized one in which student groups are beholden to other student groups, who themselves are beholden. As a result of this labyrinthine structure – which often finds groups separated from the College itself by a few degrees – the student organizations even in the positions of greatest power are often lacking in vision and efficiency.

For examples of this, one need look no further than College Council and the Housing Committee. CC’s funding escapades this year – which have received ample press and which include impinging upon FinCom’s duties, conflating funding issues with administrative goals and threatening to apply foolishly subjective criteria to group financing – demonstrate that the Council is rudderless and inconsistent in its most important function. The Housing Committee, meanwhile, is so unwieldy and tangential (it does little more than finance parties with alcohol) that proposals are being made to alter its own structure.

What’s more, the consolidation of power to students is in large part illusory, since it tends quite disturbingly to be concentrated in a small group of students. CC, SAC and the Housing Committee share what can accurately be termed an incestuous relationship, as members overlap and pockets of power perpetuate themselves.

As a result of these confused visions and concentrated power structures, most students feel understandably disenfranchised from the arcane but unreliable funding process. This is no doubt discouraging to much of the student body: sadly, many students simply assume that planning campus activities is out of their reach.

An example of the ill effects of this disengagement: Junior Advisors have in recent years become increasingly pressured by the oppressive responsibility of planning activities every weekend for their first-years. With first-years increasingly disengaged from the funding process, and the Housing Committee’s events planning becoming less responsive, the role of the JA as social planner has taken on a disturbing importance.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. To its credit, the College has made the position of Activities Coordinator – an administrative post – a permanent one. This newly cemented office, under the supervision of Coordinator Rich Kelley, is a potentially excellent student resource. It can serve, after all, as a direct, organized and administratively established source of funding, one that connects the College to its student planners without a confusing hierarchical middleman.

To realize the full potential of the Activities Office, though, the College must throw more weight behind it. Currently, the office can only allocate $1000 each (no more than $250 in any given week) to recognized student groups. This leaves the office with less power and flexibility than it deserves: Kelley was brought in to help handle the event purse strings; why not make his power in allotting funds more focal and direct?

As the Housing Committee debates its own role and structural integrity, and College Council struggles mightily to find a reasonable way to distribute funds fairly, this issue takes on a particularly timely quality. Rather than asking semantic questions about the bureaucratic positioning of student-run funding bodies, perhaps we should start asking a broader question about the process: why do we have such a bureaucracy in the first place? Before Williams applauds itself for the power it allows student organizations, it should ask itself whether this power actually helps the student body.