Self interest can be a powerful motivating factor. In Congress, representatives add provisions to bills to help their home districts or their home states. Discussions between unions and management often center around the self interest of each group.
If everyone were equal, all people could conceivably pursue their own self-interest and everything would work out okay. In a world of unlimited resources and inexhaustible possibility, all people could have whatever they wanted.
Unfortunately, our world isn’t unlimited or inexhaustible, and all people are not equal. Race, class, gender, social rank, age, sexuality and a host of other factors play into a person or group’s ability to achieve its interests in the face of opposition.
Georgetown has been schooled in the dangers of self-interest twice in the last few weeks. Several funding boards did not receive the money they deserved when the Georgetown University Student Association Funding Board met to divide up an increase in student funding among the various funding boards. Several received more than their fair share. In addition, the rhetoric around money for new building projects is approaching congressional proportions.
Approximately $150,000 from a student activities fee will be added to next year’s student activities budget. A member of the Student Activities Commission, the Advisory Board for Club Sports, the Media Board, GUSA, the Performing Arts Advisory Council, the Georgetown Programming Board, Volunteer and Public Safety, HoyaBlue, InterHall and GERMS all submitted requests for some of the $150,000.
The total requests from all the groups added up to far more than $150,000. In terms of percentages, the board distributed the money fairly evenly. Six of the seven funding boards received between 12.5 and 15 percent of the total. While the money dealt out was relatively equal, the needs of each board were not.
Some funding boards have received large increases in the past. Others have experienced cuts at various times. To say that six out of seven boards had relatively equal funding shortages seems like an easy way out of a difficult problem: placing a monetary value on certain student activities.
Good uses for more money can almost always be found. The funding board failed to adequately address the key issue which was the relative use of $150,000. Where will the money do the most good?
That’s not an easy question, but a question made more difficult by the narrow focus of many student leaders and teachers as well. The rhetoric of “needs” has replaced a discussion of “wants” when it comes to funding.
A $20 million Performing Arts Center will be a great addition to our campus. The center will provide more space for a variety of valuable activities. At a recent meeting, a faculty member also spoke about $15 million in performing arts renovations that were neccessary in order for him to perform his job.
All of these things would improve Georgetown’s performing arts, but they aren’t needed. They’ll be nice, but they come at the expense of other programs and other requests. They are prioritized according to value, and we, as a school, have given them a high priority.
Funding boards must proceed in a similar manner. When discussing projects and funding, members must keep in mind needs versus wants. When everything rises to the level of a neccessity, any kind of discussion, debate or compromise is much more difficult. No one wants to deny someone what they need. Funding allocation and planning should proceed with more in mind than self-interest. Or at least we should give it a try.