Executive privilege

Over the weekend, 127 student organizations submitted budget requests totaling $1.3 million. With only around $950,000 to distribute, the Joint Funding Committee (JFC) will soon begin the work of trimming about 26 percent from the organizations’ requests.

What JFC does is clear: It decides who gets what. How they decide, on the other hand, is not so clear.
The best way to learn about JFC’s decision-making is to consider the information its members don’t take into account as they allocate the funds.

Most surprisingly, JFC does not take into account how much money goes toward different types of activities. But as caretakers of the students’ money, JFC members should look at the big picture. They should take into account how they are investing students’ resources. To lend a hand, I’ve calculated the breakdown for the 2005–2006 allocations:

* Carnival expenses, such as Booth, Buggy, and the concert, drew 25.6 percent, a whopping $244,816.32, of the year’s funds.

* Events like AB’s non-carnival concerts and films used 23.7 percent.

* Media organizations, like The Tartan, WRCT, and cmuTV were granted 15.2 percent.

* Athletic groups, like club sports and martial arts, received 13.2 percent.

* Scholarly groups such as the Undergraduate Investment Club, AB Lectures and Political Speakers, and the Astronomy Club, received 8.2 percent.

* Arts organizations, like The Frame, Scotch ’n’ Soda, and the a cappella groups found themselves with a mere five percent.

* Cultural groups got 3.1 percent.

* Other Affinity groups like cmuOUT and the Women’s Center made due with 2.8 percent.

* Student government claimed a very modest 1.3 percent.

* Community service groups took 0.6 percent.

* Gaming clubs took 0.4 percent.

* Advocacy groups, like Amnesty International and EARTH, were at the bottom of the heap with 0.3 percent.

(The remaining 0.6 percent went to the Activities Fairs.)

Carnival, concerts, and movies get almost half of all of students’ money, while our community service, support, and advocacy groups make do with mere 3.7 percent. Is that really reflective of what the student body wants?

Nobody knows. JFC’s only indication of what the students want is how much individual organizations — many of which are controlled by just a few students — request each year. I think it would be a good investment for student government to take another couple hundred dollars for itself and work with the statistics department to learn about what students really value.

Even more disheartening than the overall breakdown is that different types of groups end up with very different portions of their budgets getting cut. JFC cut the budgets of Carnival and Events categories by 11 percent and eight percent respectively. On average, the JFC cut the requested budgets of scholarly organizations, community service groups, advocacy groups, and support groups by 38 percent, 36 percent, 32 percent, and 30 percent, respectively. Media lucked out with 19-percent budget cuts, on average. Smaller organizations, those that ask for less than $14,000, have significantly larger portions of their budgets cut. The effect is that it’s tough for new organizations to grow, while large organizations are given the wave-through. In effect, status quo is given priority over innovation.

Last year’s JFC members had nothing but the best intentions — but they missed the big picture. This year’s JFC has the ability to bring harmony back into the allocation process. I hope that as they conduct their arduous and thankless work, they make allocations consistent with our community’s values and priorities by keeping sight of the big picture.