Next week, the Georgetown University Student Association will vote in the student activities fee budget, concluding a months-long process that determines how to dole out $800,000 in club funding. Under the present model, GUSA is the only body with power over the budget, and GUSA senators ultimately make subjective decisions as to what constitutes an important contribution to student life.
But, given that club funding exists for their benefit, students should have a greater say in how the funds are allocated.
Consider, for example, the debate over how to spend an increased allocation for the Center for Social Justice student groups.
“We had to say, ‘What of these new initiatives do we think would be fun? Which do we think are strong? And how much more money can we give them to expand and do good programs?’” said Colton Malkerson (COL ’13), chairman of the Finance and Appropriations Committee.
Meanwhile, the 260 percent increase in the Student Activities Commission’s allocation—by far the largest gain of any advisory board—had little to do with any sort of objective reassessment of funding needs or priorities. Instead, FinApp designed the SAC budget to fulfill 83 percent of budget requests, the same percentage as last semester. Malkerson calls this an appropriate allotment to provide money while encouraging participation from the groups.
This is not the right way to write a budget. An ideal student activities fee allocation would reflect the priorities of the student body, not simply recycle last year’s numbers and arbitrarily decide what is an appropriate rate of funding.
If students could determine where some or all of the money they pay in student activities fees goes, decisions like these would more accurately reflect the will of students.
One option is to break the $125 student activities fee for fall 2011 into points that students can distribute among clubs based on their interests. In such a system, groups would solicit allocations from regular students, advertising how much a given level of student support would buy in terms of programming. Students would then allocate based on what they feel is the most worthwhile use of their money.
There are certainly normative issues with this proposal. For example, one can make the case that groups have an intrinsic value beyond the number of members they draw.
“Many people on this campus forget how important theatrical performance, dance, and music are for a comprehensive liberal arts education, and it is immensely discouraging to us as an advisory board,” Bobby Gregory (COL ’11), a member of the Performing Arts Advisory Council, wrote in an email. “It is our job to remind them not to forget about this integral component of one’s educational experience that was so near and dear to St. Ignatius’s heart.”
At the same time, these value judgments are already being made by ostensibly elected GUSA senators and the unelected advisory boards. In practice, both groups rely on precedent more than anything else as a guide to setting their funding. But, at any time, either of these groups could arbitrarily decide that a given club does not meet its definition of a valuable contribution to student life.
If club funding is meant to create a vibrant student life, it must also reflect the wishes of the student body as a whole. As it stands, GUSA’s centralized funding system risks alienating itself from students’ needs. The obvious solution is to increase the rank-and-file student’s voice in the budgetary process.
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