College Council has recently come under scrutiny for its funding and allocation structure. This is evidenced by the weekly bashing that Council has taken in the Opinions section of the Record, as well as by disgruntled organization members. They depict Council as directionless, confused and cold-heartedly judgmental.
I take a different point of view: the discussions that are currently taking place (involving the Literary Review, the Mad Cow and Ephs for Bill Bradley) are a product of CC’s reevaluation of the entire funding/allocation structure of College Council. Taking a critical look at a complicated process such as this is bound to generate debate, and this is a good thing. However, the current CC representatives have been consistently depicted as the creators of a flawed system, and thus the cause of the current problems. This is untrue and unfair.
One of the central issues in CC’s funding discussions involves the criteria upon which we fund or recognize organizations. In the CC bylaws and Constitution, no codified criteria have been laid out to help CC members judge the worthiness of an organization. As a result, it has been nearly impossible to raise questions about whether allocated funds were being used in the best interests of Williams students in general.
I was recently quoted in the CC minutes as having claimed that the Mad Cow did not deserve funding because it was “not particularly funny.” Since then, I have been called many things, among them: Cold, Heartless and Bastard (albeit primarily by Cathy Williams). This statement, however, encapsulated my belief that the Williams student body and CC voting members must become more vocal about making subjective judgments about an organization’s benefit to campus.
After all, it is students’ activity taxes that pay for these organizations! If students are uninterested in a humor magazine or another a capella group, then it should not exist. In the end, making judgments about the value of organizations necessarily implies expressing the will of the students, and not simply appeasing a small group of students with a common interest. To this end, a stronger communicative bond between CC representatives and the constituents they represent must be forged.
Unfortunately, past CC policies and some members of the campus at large are handcuffed by a mentality that supposes that CC is obligated to fund all groups. To them, it seems cruel to deny funding to a group, and appears to undermine the CC mission of promoting a diverse set of ideas at Williams.
The fundamental problem with this attitude is the zero-sum game nature of CC funding. Each year, CC is given a fixed sum of money to distribute to campus organizations. This amount does not change from year to year, regardless of the number of organizations that come into existence. This means that any organization that receives funding is effectively reducing the amount that all other organization can receive.
When viewed in this light, the issue of funding an organization takes on a whole new dimension; instead of simply deciding about whether a club should be given $1500, we are also deciding about whether it is worth it to take $1500 from other organizations. If our ultimate goal is to maximize the overall benefit to Williams students, the question is: does funding an organization benefit campus more than the reduction in every other group’s budget?
I felt that funding for the Mad Cow could not be justified for exactly these reasons: the submission rate was relatively low, students’ attitudes ranged from indifferent to openly hostile and the writing (in my opinion!) was of low literary quality and generally not funny. Perhaps more importantly, I could not see how $2900 to fund this organization could justify fewer Currier Clubs, fewer Kusika dance concerts and fewer Outing Club expeditions.
I will be proposing a set of guidelines to be added into the CC bylaws that may act as a framework for future Councils to make funding and recognition decisions. These criteria will hopefully guide the student body and CC members in their evaluation of how or to what degree an organization would benefit Williams College. They are:
Â·Whether or not the group needs funding. An oft-ignored distinction is the difference between students’ right to organize and the actual need for funds; as I mentioned earlier, these two concepts have been wrongfully conflated. In this respect, I saw Ephs for Bill Bradley as falling into the same category as Art History Students Go to the Guggenheim and Ephs for Bruce Springsteen Concerts. The lesson here is that students’ desire to organize themselves according to a common passion does not mean that they need or are justified in asking CC to subsidize their activities.
Â·Whether there is sufficient interest in the group (i.e. number of members, number of submissions).
Â·Whether there is sufficient demand for the product that the group provides (whether Williams students find such a group worthwhile or beneficial).
Â·If the group fills a unique or underrepresented niche.
Â·The quality of the group’s product. This is a general category that may be applied to different aspects of a group. This criterion should only be a guideline along which CC could justifiably prevent the proliferation of ill-conceived or blatantly wasteful groups. Of course, this claim would not be used to deny funding a sports team that had a losing season.
With all that has been said, I must say that I carry no ill will toward the Mad Cow; instead, call me a benevolent non-appreciator. But the fact that the magazine is funded at all is symptomatic of a problem in funding attitude, one that involves both the pre-existing funding structure as