The ultimate purpose of government is the common good of the people. Few would dispute this. But it would be irresponsible to institute a government so weak that it failed to accomplish the aims for which it was established. As Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s first secretary of the treasury, once said, government has “a right to employ all the means requisite and fairly applicable to the attainment of the ends.” It is for this reason that Hamilton worked to create the first national bank. It is why we have taxes today – in the hope that by collectively pooling our resources, we will be able to provide goods for the public that are so essential to our way of life, but which no individual would have the incentive to produce alone.
These ideas have become so ingrained in American culture that we often fail to give them a second thought, even when they affect us directly in our day-to-day lives. It should come as no surprise that Hamilton’s beliefs form the bedrock upon which our entire system of student government here at the College rests. Just as the American government collects taxes on a yearly basis from its citizens, College Council (CC) taxes students at Williams. Every semester, students pay $95 each in what is known as the Student Activities Tax, so that CC can provide for the general welfare of its constituents. More specifically, the $425,000 in annual CC funding is appropriated based on how this money will benefit all students at the College, the number of participants in a given activity or event, the extent to which funding will contribute to an underrepresented niche and student demand. These needs must all be balanced against the constraints of our budget.
In setting out as the new treasurer for CC, I think it is worth highlighting what the Student Activities Tax means to me, and my vision for my term as treasurer. I have three goals that I plan to use as a de facto checklist for my term: empowerment, fiscal responsibility and tone. It is my belief that, in fulfilling these three goals, I will succeed in meeting the needs of the student body, and I request that my term as treasurer be evaluated based on my ability, or lack thereof, to achieve the goals I have just laid out as my blueprint.
Empowerment. As treasurer, there is perhaps nothing more important than using my position to empower you to make the college experience all you ever dreamed it to be. Any time we provide funding for an event, an activity or some other essential aspect of a group’s function on campus, it is done in the service of helping you fulfill your goals, in whatever form that may be. At its best, when driven properly, CC is a vehicle for giving you the resources and the structure you need for everything you do outside the classroom. While, ostensibly, we came to the College to learn academically and get the best grades possible, the reality is that much of our learning occurs outside the classroom doing the activities we love and have a passion for. I hope to facilitate this process to the best of my ability, in the hope that when you look back at the College, what you remember most is that transcendent moment when you made the community a better place, rather than that good grade you received your sophomore year.
Fiscal Responsibility. While, in an ideal world, CC would approve every request for funding made by the student body, there are limitations that CC and the Finance Committee must be cognizant of in evaluating funding requests. In the recent past, CC nearly overspent its budget, and was forced to go into a “Rainy Day Fund” reserved for only the most extreme financial situations. After inheriting a well-positioned budget for the upcoming semester, I aim to continue on this disciplined path to ensure that the Rainy Day Fund is used only for true emergencies and not because of a failure to properly plan ahead. Therefore, all requests must be tempered with a dose of realism, according to our bylaws, as CC primarily approves funding for the essential aspects of a group’s function on campus, and a failure to do so would mean that another group would not be able accomplish its goals. Money is a finite resource, and that means that the way CC spends your tax dollars must be to attain as close to an infinite amount of good as possible.
Tone. Much ado has been made in recent weeks of the high number of uncontested CC races and the general apathy of campus towards student government. I hope to change this sentiment on campus, even if only slightly. To refer back to Hamilton, “If a government appears confident of its powers, it is the surest way to inspire the same confidence in others.” Under my watch, the treasurer position and our funding structure will be strong and sure, so that a message of excellence and efficiency will ring through loud and clear. In addition, Hamilton wrote, “a kindness consists as much in the manner as in the thing” since “the best things, done hesitatingly, and with an ill grace, lose their effect, and produce disgust rather than satisfaction or gratitude.” As treasurer, I promise to always have a welcoming, friendly tone and to go the extra mile to enable groups to achieve their goals. The process matters. And my decision-making process will be rooted in an understanding of the importance of tone.
I have now laid out my vision for my term as treasurer. The state of the treasury is strong. I plan to keep it that way.
Teddy Cohan ’16 is from New York, N.Y. He lives in Tyler Annex.