Editorial: Let the serious innovation begin

In step with the action taken last fall after College Council (CC) discovered money left by the closing of defunct clubs’ accounts, CC has once again turned to the student body for “Great Ideas” for using the undisclosed amount uncovered this year. Although Monday’s all-campus e-mail announcing the campaign did not say so, students as a whole will have a chance to vote on which project proposal(s) should receive the money. Aiming to give students ownership over their unspent Student Activities Tax dollars, members of CC have also attempted to impart the onus of concept and realization onto students themselves. Putting its faith wholly in its constituents, however, CC has set the bar high – if vague – and we have faith that coupling this unbridled optimism with substantive inspiration can lead to tangible, and perhaps transformative, ends.

The e-mail that CC sent out to students explaining the initiative didn’t fully explicate the criteria that will be used to judge proposals, nor did it properly engage or inspire students to think of a substantive, creative idea. The carnival rhetoric asking students to step right up and “let the games begin!” was wanting in substance, conveying enthusiasm yet ineffective in channeling it towards the desired end. Let it be clear: The e-mail was inadequate precisely because the opportunity it describes is so great but the language so frivolous; our concern stems from the thought that amid the pep, the seriousness of what is being offered got lost.

At bottom the “Great Ideas” concept is admirable, a true hallmark of the “anything is possible, no matter the cost” Williams mentality that brought us need-blind admission and no-loans financial aid. The availability of funding to help realize a vision is incredibly rare; even rarer is the chance for anyone to be selected to receive the money. As CC has posited it, the “Great Ideas” campaign assumes no preexisting connection to CC or leadership position for eligibility, and the initiative has the potential to make a leader out of someone who isn’t one already.

This message from CC is a tall order, but if students take up the mantle then the results could demonstrate the incredible capabilities of the campus when put to task. By collaborating with friends, an hour of griping over what’s wrong with Williams could instead be an hour of doing something about it. The sentimentality that coated the campaign mustn’t turn us away from the critique and analysis that it invites – indeed, the greatest shortfall would be a failure to recognize this fantastic opportunity for what it could be.

CC co-presidents Lizzy Brickley ’10 and Mike Tcheyan ’10 explained to the Record last week that they aren’t disclosing the amount of money because that amount will be contingent on the necessities of the project chosen (“CC plans student project competition,” Oct. 28), but without knowing a ballpark figure for the funds, students can’t begin to frame their creativity in a pragmatic way; the possibilities available with a $20K budget are of a completely different color compared to those with a $10K one. CC should divulge at least an approximate amount of money that will be available for the project, and let the innovations bloom from within that scope.

One of the options that CC should still put on the ballot, in addition to whatever “great ideas” come in, is redistributing this extra money among the CC-funded clubs. Although to do so would have none of the flash of a single idea, the funds CC discovered were originally intended for clubs, and if none of the proposals are compelling enough, students should not be obliged to vote for a “creative” idea just because it was the best of a few uninspiring choices. Proportionally allocating the money to campus clubs isn’t inspiring or inventive, but it does guarantee that the funds will be managed by groups that already have stated aims and infrastructure.

Especially now that CC has taken the commendable step to begin reforming the application and funding process by which groups are created and allocated money, we can trust that groups at least ideally are participating in responsible and meaningful spending. Although groups funded by CC haven’t had their budgets squeezed, clubs with whom they often co-sponsor events have, and available extracurricular funding is on a general downward trend.

If students follow-up on CC’s call to think big, then we might be surprised at the ways in which a little hidden money can go a long way. Due to not knowing the criteria by which their projects will be judged, however, students must be cognizant both of the potential and currently unknowable restrictions that might be placed on their ideas and the fact that CC will lean on them to see their projects through to implementation. We applaud CC for finding this money and beginning to address the structural problems that led to this surplus in the first place; we just hope that students see past the hokeyness and seize the promise that could lie beyond it.