Neighborhood politics

The neighborhood system is at a crossroads. While initially envisioned as four distinct communities, many students now see them largely as sources of co-sponsorship for events or put more bluntly, four distinct pots of money.

And what big pots they are! Neighborhood annual budgets range from $10,000 to $18,000. After College Council (CC) they are the largest source of funding for student events. Greylock dance parties, all-campus BBQs, concerts and student performances all happen on the neighborhoods’ dime. Without neighborhood co-sponsorship, much of the College’s social life would wither on the vine.

Unfortunately for the neighborhoods, their essential role in event funding runs afoul with the neighborhood system constitution. Neighborhoods are not supposed to throw money at campus-wide events; they can only co-sponsor events in which they have direct involvement. Most of co-sponsorship requests don’t require “direct involvement.” So most neighborhoods simply ignore that part of the constitution, preferring to fund events that students want, even if it means ignoring the “direct involvement” stipulation in the constitution. Some neighborhoods are considering strictly enforcing the “direct involvement” clause from now on, even if it means not funding potentially popular, well-attended events.

So the system works, but it does so in the way writing a paper after a morning of traditional Homecoming festivities works: It’s unnecessarily difficult and could be dramatically improved with better planning.

Here’s why the current funding system comes up short. It increases the number of places would-be event planners must go to find funding. CC’s Finance Committee (Fincom) pushes students to go to all available sources before CC funds can be given. When there are four huge pots of money besides CC, that’s four more funding meetings for students to attend to fund their event.

It puts pressure on student event planners to tailor their requests to the neighborhoods for name branding. Neighborhoods sometimes request that events be hosted in spaces that will make students associate the event with their neighborhood, i.e. Dodd Living Room or Currier Quad. This shouldn’t happen. Students should plan their events in the space that makes the most sense, not which space will get them the most money.

It undermines students’ faith in the system when they see some neighborhoods ending the year with thousands of dollars still in their accounts. For example, in sprees of last-minute lavishness, neighborhood boards have funded trips to Six Flags or taken themselves out to dinner.

It takes the focus of neighborhoods off one of their core functions: providing community within the College. Neighborhood boards now spend a sizable portion of their meetings debating co-sponsorship requests and responding to e-mails from groups seeking money.

Finally, it is constitutionally unstable. If the neighborhoods decide to strictly follow the system’s constitution, co-sponsorship funding for events will dry up very quickly. Therefore, we owe it to the student body to not only to come up with a solution, but to do it now.

The Office of Student Life should form a student task force made up of student group, CC and neighborhood leaders to redirect neighborhood money that is going to co-sponsorship toward a fund dedicated solely for that purpose. Perhaps this would take the form of a co-sponsorship fund administered by All-Campus Entertainment.

The task force should also consider redirecting money toward co-sponsorship from neighborhood events that are designed to build community but fail to do so. As novel as it is to hang out in a limousine that takes you from Spencer to Dodd, I fail to see how that builds neighborhood community. Another example of events failing to build community is the constitutionally-mandated neighborhood pumpkin carving, which has a chronically low turnout.

These changes will make events easier to plan, remove dumb incentives to locate events in spaces that might not be the best fit and make last-minute lavishness a thing of the past.

This is not an attack on the neighborhoods. I truly value their presence at the College (welcoming a huge portion of the neighborhood gathered on the Currier Quad this fall for our annual BBQ was one of the best examples of community I’ve seen here). Rather, it’s the beginning of a conversation that’s long overdue about how we can use our limited students activities funds for the greatest good. I hope the neighborhoods will be part of this conversation and welcome their contributions toward a funding future that works better for everyone.

Max Heninger ’14 is from Lake Oswego, Ore. He lives in Prospect. He serves on CC and is the Currier neighborhood vice president.