At the end of this week, student government elections will be upon us again. It’ll have been a whole year since I was in the position of the current candidates, biting my nails in nervous anticipation as students cast their votes for the 2009–10 student body vice president of finance. Since then, many things have changed, but the core questions in voters’ minds that are being addressed in the candidates’ platforms are still the same: How do you plan to make the Joint Funding Committee (JFC) more efficient? Should the activities fee be raised?
While those are certainly critical concerns, some equally important questions aren’t being asked. One of the foremost issues in my mind that I highly encourage this year’s voters to think about as they read the candidates’ platforms and cast their ballots is the following: What should the relationship be between the JFC and student organizations? How can that relationship be improved and strengthened?
This might seem like a rhetorical question, but the reality is that it addresses a key issue that has often been overlooked. For many years, the JFC has been an organization that has operated behind closed doors, about as far removed from students as the CIA is from ordinary citizens. The JFC did appoint a representative to each student group seeking funding, but they would meet once, and it would be a cursory and impersonal conversation with the representative pointing out a few things in the budget proposal that the JFC couldn’t or wouldn’t fund, and the student group including or disregarding that feedback at will. Occasionally, an organization would lay out its concerns in an impassioned plea for more funding, but more often than not, the representative would turn around the minute those doors were shut and recommend a decrease. Historically, JFC representatives have been too wrapped up in the self-important knowledge that they have a hand in the allocation of $1.2 million. They have failed to fulfill their duties as accessible advisers and advocates for the groups they were appointed to represent.
The good news is that this has been changing. But the aura of mistrust between the JFC and student organizations still persists. Groups still purposely inflate their budgets in anticipation that everything will get cut anyway, and in return, the committee finds that it can’t trust organizations to be honest about their needs. And that’s what this is all about: building relationships grounded in trust. It is my firm belief that we can do audits, we can raise the activities fee, we can even redo BudgetTracker, but the JFC process will never be efficient or effective while there is no trust and no partnership between the committee and student organizations.
This year, I pioneered a new initiative in the JFC, where committee members were assigned to organizations in October and encouraged to meet with their groups during the first semester to get to know them and attend their events, forming a foundation of understanding and trust before diving into the budgeting process second semester. All three candidates running for student body vice president of finance in this year’s elections were members of the JFC during the fall and were, therefore, a part of that new program, and two of them did an exemplary job. Both Shanel Buchanan and Eric Wu met with all of their groups in the first semester, and I received several e-mails with praise directed at both of them for how accessible and helpful they were during the budgeting process. Whether Buchanan and Wu believe in continuing my initiative, or if they have their own approach to the problem, I have full confidence that they both share my ideal of fostering better, stronger relationships with student groups.
In the end, though Buchanan is a praiseworthy candidate, my vote in this election goes to Wu. Not only does he have a near-perfect committee attendance record — he has only missed a single meeting — but he takes a strong stance on the issues he cares about, presenting his own opinions while also being highly concerned with consistency and fairness. But perhaps most importantly, his work on the CMU Portal project (see www.cmuevent.org) attests to his initiative and passion for helping all Carnegie Mellon student organizations — not just the ones he is personally involved in — succeed and grow. This goal is directly aligned with the objectives of the JFC and the SBVPF position. After all, the ultimate mission of the JFC isn’t to allocate $1.2 million; it’s to promote the advancement of all Carnegie Mellon student organizations within our financial means.