This past weekend, FinCom, the sub-committee of College Council that allocates funds to student organizations, was forced to drastically lower the budgets of nearly all of the groups on campus from the levels of spending it authorized last year and in years past. Here’s why: As part of tuition bills, the college charges a “Student Activities Tax,” the revenues from which FinCom disburses among student groups. CC overspent last year, and as such, money that would have been spent on funding activities for this year has already been spent. On top of that, this year’s entering freshman class was made smaller than the class that graduated last year, meaning that less revenue was raised for this year from the Activities Tax than in years past. This all means that there’s a lot less money available for student groups.
This situation has impacted many clubs considerably, particularly organizations with larger budgets that present prominent targets for budget cuts at funding meetings, the merits of their needs aside. Take, for example, the radio station. Earlier this semester, FinCom decided that WCFM had a legitimate budget request of $20,700, given their past expenditures and their needs for the year. However, as a result of the constraints on the Student Activities Fund, WCFM emerged from the funding meeting with an adjusted budget of approximately $9,900. To offer another example, the Debate Team spent over $7,000 last year. This year, despite expanded membership, it will need to make due with $3,400.
It is important to keep in mind that the money taken from these and other groups was not unnecessary funding for extraneous activities, but badly needed funds for basic operation. Now, many of the activities previously considered by groups to be part of “basic operation” will, for the purposes of this year, have to be considered extraneous. Without these monies, many organizations will be unable to maintain their prior level of services offered to the campus at large. As the only institutional recourse available to student groups is to go before College Council and compete with each other for the few remaining slices of a small funding pie, some groups are already involved in soliciting donations from alumni via letter-writing campaigns. In light of all of this, the College administration should intercede and provide CC with adequate funds to maintain the spending levels judged to be reasonable in years past.
For a vibrant campus social life, it’s absolutely imperative that groups are provided enough money to conduct a full range of activities without constantly being hindered by financial constraints. We’re not saying that there should be an infinitely deep pool of funding for student groups. We are, however, saying that this pool shouldn’t be without a floor that guarantees groups the funds they genuinely require. In the past groups have competed fiercely with each other for shares of this money and, even still, have had to do less than they otherwise would have liked; however, while many groups have been unsatisfied with their past funding allocations, they’ve at least understood that the limits imposed upon them were somehow rational and somewhat fair. To compare the spending limits to the process of buying a new car, while groups couldn’t previously buy a Rolls Royce, they could at least afford a nice Corolla. Now, many groups are going to be selling their tires and putting on old Firestones to save money.
That this can occur at a time when the College is enjoying unprecedented financial prosperity is absolutely unconscionable. Williams’ endowment is at an all-time high, and the amount of money the administration would need to spend to remedy the problem is a drop in the proverbial bucket. This is particularly unbefitting of a college of our stature. Williams likes to consider itself one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. The admissions office’s web page about “student life” trumpets the high number of organizations on campus (110+) and the frequency with which student-run events take place each week (90). Yet, it seems, the college is unwilling to pay money, when necessary, to maintain the level of extracurricular activity to which students are accustomed. It is hard to imagine that such stinginess will not reflect poorly on the college at a time when high school seniors are contemplating where they would like to spend their college years.
Bailing out CC would not set an unreasonable precedent. We don’t think the President’s Office should make an annual routine of kicking in extra money when CC overspends. That said, students this year should not be held responsible for the unprecedented fiscal irresponsibility of last year’s Council treasurer and the increasingly obvious insufficiency of the Student Activities Tax. We ask that the administration act to ensure that student groups will be allowed to spend on the levels of their previously demonstrated needs.
Learning is not something that is confined to the classroom, particularly at a liberal arts college such as ours. While the college pays lip service to this notion, it’s time for it, quite literally, to put its money where its mouth is.