Learning from the FinCom debate


Online and offline discussion of the College Council (CC) Finance Committee (FinCom) budget allocation process has left a conspicuous wave of student confusion in its wake. Further discussions with CC have revealed that FinCom’s budget allocation is indeed transparent; an overview of budget allocations is available online, and students have always had the option to ask FinCom how it determines their group’s budget. 

When made aware of the lack of widespread knowledge about these facts, CC responded effectively: The new bylaw that CC passed on Oct. 12 makes explicit that all group funding information be available online and in direct conversation. We would like to commend FinCom for maintaining policies that are worthy of a campus that values honesty and commitment to student groups. Nevertheless, the heated disputes that accompanied the FinCom budgeting discussion have revealed that better communication – on the part of CC and the student body – is necessary.

Just because the budgeting information is accessible does not mean that people have known that those numbers are open to students who are interested. Though Williams students pride themselves on being resourceful, we also trust our representatives to make routes for accessing budgeting information easy to find. The new bylaw is an apt step in this direction. There are other areas where communication will be equally imperative going forward. In the aftermath of the heated discussion on Williams Students Online (WSO), we would have appreciated an earlier, more definitive moment of leadership from CC; a prompt WSO post and/or e-mail announcement would have served the community well. Without that firm action, students were able to attack each other online for an extended period of time, and confusion about the topic lingered for multiple days. Addressing the issue would not have given credence to the rumors, but rather granted credence to CC.

Students also need to consider the nature of the campus they have chosen to participate in when they respond to future issues similar to the FinCom discussion. Budgeting issues often strike discord. But students need to remember two things in the future. First, CC has demonstrated – largely through successful initiatives to bolster FinCom’s legitimacy in the last three years – that they deserve our trust. It remains our responsibility to assess CC’s work, but we should not assume that they are attempting to wrong us. Second, we need to remember that the College prioritizes having a wide variety of student groups to foster diversity of interests and investment from a wide swath of the campus; that variety means we have to be prepared for the fact that budget allocations may sometimes spread thin.

Now that the new bylaws are in place and that the incendiary WSO posts have died down, it is time to be prepared for future controversies. If we value community, then we must prioritize the way we communicate.