Last week the Record published an article about College Council’s (CC) response to the recent dispute over exactly how transparent the CC budget process should be, and to what information students were entitled access (“CC reacts to campus dispute over FinCom budget transparency,” Oct. 19). Because the Record’s article only included interviews with members of CC on the matter, the article was necessarily slanted. My purpose in writing this piece is to clear up any misconceptions that may have resulted from last week’s article and to articulate the proposals of those students advocating for increased budgetary transparency.
The first misconception I would like to address is the nature of the WSO thread entitled “To FinCom.” As I started the thread, I can safely say that it did not begin by accusing the Financial Committee (FinCom) or CC of “withholding money without reason from clubs” or of “preventing accessibility to the process FinCom uses.” In the thread, I simply asked if there was a place where students could find information on how their student activities tax (SAT) was spent. Additionally, sections of the article and quotes from CC members might suggest that SAT allocations are all “readily available online” when this is, in fact, not the case. CC bylaws are available online, and one of these specifically explains that in order to see SAT allocations and group budgets, students must contact the CC treasurer. This bylaw’s language was recently clarified and now explicitly requires the treasurer to sit down and go over any budget requested by an interested student. In addition, a basic overview of SAT allocations is being posted online, but this by no means constitutes a complete disclosure of the full SAT allocation. While I applaud CC for these changes, I believe they do not go far enough.
I would like to put forth a proposal that I believe would further increase budget transparency without reverting to the old system that resulted in the person with the loudest voice winning the most amount of money for his or her group. The proposal is to post all of the subgroup funding requests and approved budgets, line-by-line, to a school website. This can only happen after the budget and appeals process has been completed, so all budgets posted should already be immutable. It would be hard for clubs to fight over budgets once the SAT has already been allocated and finalized.
Posting all SAT allocations online, including subgroup budgets, will alleviate the logistical difficulties of requiring curious students to set up meetings with the treasurer. First, some students are busier than others, but may still be interested in going over the budget. These students may not have time to go over the entire budget with the treasurer in a single sitting and may not have time to set up multiple meetings with the treasurer, issues which the treasurer himself might face as well. However, if students had access to budgets online, they could look over pieces of the budget whenever they had time. Posting the budgets online would make information about SAT allocations accessible to students who may have less free time. Having the subgroup budgets on the Internet would of course also save the treasurer a lot of time as well, as he would not have to meet with every student interested in looking over the budget.
There have been three major objections, besides potential infighting between clubs, raised to posting all of this information about SAT allocations online, and I would like to address these in turn. The first concern is that students looking over the information online will not understand the context. However, this is why I am suggesting that each element of the subgroup budgets, including each line item in the budget, the amount requested by each club and the amount actually approved by FinCom, be posted online. If students can see exactly which tournaments and materials the Debate Union, for example, sought funding for and which tournaments FinCom chose to approve, I think there would be plenty of “context.” I feel that students at the College are smart enough to infer context from these line-by-line subgroup budgets, as they include the justifications for every dollar sought by each club. The second objection is that clubs will see how much every other club gets and will become more reckless and dishonest with the amount of funding they request. However, if the entire campus is going to see each club’s budget, I believe clubs will become more responsible and honest with the amount of money they request. After all, if the Williams Ultimate Frisbee Organization were to request $50,000 dollars and describes half of the proposed expenditures as “miscellaneous expenses,” students might become a little suspicious about how their money was being spent. The third issue raised is that other administrators on campus will have access to these budgets and may cut their allocations to certain groups once they see how much each one is receiving. This problem is easily solved by making the information password-protected, just like student profiles are on WSO; with a password, only the students will have access.
I hope that this article will promote more serious and thoughtful discussion on the issue of budget transparency. FinCom does important work and does it well. It’s a shame this information is only accessible through such a potentially burdensome process as meeting with the treasurer, rather than just being available online.
Chris Mezias ’12 is a political science and psychology double major from Chappaqua, N.Y. He lives in Parsons.