$35.000 – part two

College Council was on to something when it uncovered $35,000 several weeks ago and asked students to submit ideas for how to spend it. That concept deserved an execution worthy of its inspiration. Instead, proposals for the money’s usage went to vote prematurely, leaving many questions unanswered as to how they will be put in place and whether they comply with the guidelines CC initially established. We believe it is time for another try.

The process by which the results were determined was not likely to guarantee the kind of consensus and student-considered opinion CC set out to achieve. The plurality of voting students chose for the money to go towards ACE concerts and the 1914 Library, but they did not know what that meant when they voted. At the moment, neither does CC. No one knows how much money is going to either group, or what is happening to it once it gets there.

Students had the right to know before clicking to the polls whether funds for the 1914 Library would be invested in its endowment or go towards textbooks, and whether the ACE allocation would go towards a blowout concert this year or an incremental improvement in musical acts. The decision not to resolve the question of how exactly the money is be apportioned left key details vague where they should have been clear. CC wanted to put the proposals up for vote in the same election as the rest of the ballots to improve voter turnout, but they did so at the price of delivering incompletely conceived options that produced half-baked results.

Another consequence of rushing through this voting process is that we ended up with a proposal option which did not necessarily comply with the stipulations that CC initially laid out. The 1914 Library is an important campus resource for financial aid students, but allocating these funds towards it poses a procedural quandary: CC asked for proposals structured so that no group would be “explicitly excluded from reaping benefits from the money.” No matter how much we appreciate the 1914 Library, the fact remains that half of campus has access to its books during drop/add period, and half does not.

Any money put toward the 1914 Library would be well spent, but it seems to be a case in which one proposal is playing by one set of rules and the rest are playing by another. It is difficult to imagine that the result of such a voting process could be fair. CC’s guidelines were a well-intended attempt to ensure that all proposals were community-minded, but student support seems to favor a laudable proposal that nevertheless excludes a significant portion of the community. Campus would benefit from asking the question: what other equally exciting ideas might have emerged had all proposals been considered with this freedom?

The 1914 Library proposal specifically targets the needs of financial aid students. We can imagine a host of other groups – from club sports players to alternative social planners to international students – that have projects that make invaluable contributions to campus life and that CC money could reasonably support. The point is that proposals from other groups should be treated no differently than ones from students invested in the 1914 Library.

For better or worse, it is too late to remove the 1914 proposal from contention now that students have spoken. But the interest of fairness requires that CC either reformulate its guidelines so that all of the proposals fit them, or remove those guidelines entirely. In either case, CC ought to reissue its request for proposals to encompass the broader range of ideas that seem to have found their way into the process. CC would also do well to consider taking this extra time to ensure that all of the proposals it ultimately offers to the student body are substantial enough that votes for or against them are based on something better than educated guesses.

Whether the amount was $35 or $35,000 or $35 million, it is important that it be distributed in a fair and well-considered manner. Clearly, gathering student opinion and using it to make financial decisions is a complicated ordeal. But it is even more obvious that CC’s first commitment is to do the right thing by its constituents.

Without having yet committed any of the money to either ACE or the 1914, CC has the opportunity to amend this process’s ills in the name of fairness and to reaffirm its commitment to projects that are developed enough to make a definite (and hopefully lasting) impact on the College.
If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And sometimes doing a job well requires getting it right the second time.