Bring secret funding process into the light
The people who dole out the student activities fee have been keeping secrets from you and from the press. The Joint Funding Committee (JFC), the arm of Student Senate charged with the task of distributing your student activities fee for next year, has banned non-JFC students from the meetings on two occasions. Students were not allowed in, not even as silent observers. This exclusion deprived the student body of its right to both know how the activities fee money is being allocated and verify that it is a fair and unbiased process.
The process has been a bit confusing. Nicolette Louissaint, chair of the JFC, voted to close at least one of the meetings while encouraging the committee?s representatives to fully discuss what goes on inside these meetings with the student organizations they represent. Assuming complete trust between the student organizations and their representatives is nice on paper, but is it really wise to put all our eggs in the student government basket? I don?t think so. One of the most important missions of journalism is to serve as a watchdog over the government.
When student organizations submit their budgets for consideration, they go through two major phases of deliberation: review and appeal. The appeals portion of the funding process is especially important and emotionally charged; organizations appeal the funding decisions of the JFC, and it?s the last chance they will have to argue for funds in their budgets.
Why close the meetings? What do they have to hide or protect?
Some JFC members recalled an incident when the baseball team came to the appeals meeting wielding baseball bats. Quite the intimidating situation; the committee would have been well within their rights to call Campus Police. However, the mere presence of organization members during appeals deliberation is nothing like that. Sitting quietly in the corner as if you?re on ?time out? doesn?t intimidate anyone.
Louissaint said intimidation from the presence of members from groups filing an appeal would hinder the process and make members of the funding committee uncomfortable in discussing allocations. Steven Kling, the vice-president for finance and a non-voting member of the committee, said many other funding committees on campus close their meetings. But, it?s different when you have student control of student funds; These are sad excuses for shrouding the process.
I know having an open process is important to members of the committee, and I don?t doubt the intentions of those who choose to spend a good chunk of their lives making sure student organizations get their fair slice of the student activities fee pie. But they should have the students? peace of mind at heart and toughen up a little bit.
Closing the meeting leaves too much room for arbitrary budget decisions. Opening the meetings would force the committee to think its decisions through and be held accountable. Students deserve no less when their precious student activities fee is on the line.
The ethical issues and conflicts of interest that arise from the fact that JFC members are themselves heavily involved with campus organizations can be dealt with in other ways. Maybe the committee should be restructured; maybe there should be special rules regarding the votes of those members who are heavily involved in organizations whose budgets are being considered. These are questions that are beyond the scope of this piece, but ones that I implore Student Senate and the new Student Body President to consider over the next year.
On a side note, the members of the JFC could consider being a little more professional in the way they conduct themselves in the meetings. I would advise Louissaint to come down hard on committee members whose comments make their job more difficult by souring relations with student organizations. Such comments, even when made in jest, have no place at meetings and do not contribute to the quality of the decisions made. If you want to know what I mean and learn a little bit about how your student activities fee is spent as well, go to a JFC meeting.
Closing any part of the joint funding process, especially the appeals portion, is a disappointing lack of openness in a process which is so important to student life. The appeals are the most honest and frank part of distributing the Student Activities Fee, and students would lose the benefit of knowing that the decisions being made are fair, impartial, and sensible.
Alexander Meseguer (amesegue@) will be graduating in May with a degree in electrical and computer engineering which he doesn?t intend to use... ever. He thought the debates were boring but encourages everyone to go out and vote anyway, because Optimus has a chance this year.