Applicants to this year’s Uncommon Fund, which will finish taking submissions today, have been greeted by two new additions: an extra $25,000 (for a total of $75,000), as well as more guidelines for selecting the winning projects. Submissions must include a minute-long video, to be posted on the Fund’s website, and fellow students can “thumbs-up” their favorite projects, which will ultimately factor into the final decision. These measures come after Dean of the College John Boyer, who contributed the extra $25,000, called for more student input and accessibility to the Uncommon Fund selection process. While these improvements do address some common complaints about the Uncommon Fund, they fall short of meeting their potential and might hurt the application process.
Since many proposals to the Uncommon Fund concern student life, it is a step in the right direction to allow students to vote for their favorites. However, it is unclear how much of an impact this “thumbs-up” option will have; although the Board has stated that the poll results will factor into the decision-making process, it does not say precisely how much weight they will carry. According to second-year Forrest Scofield, an SG adviser to the Uncommon Fund, the team with the most student approvals will have dinner with Dean Boyer. However, there’s no guarantee that the Uncommon Fund board will pay any significant heed to these votes in its final decisions. Better methods to take student input into account would be to either allow voters to decide what first-round proposals go on to the next round or to choose acceptable first-round proposals themselves and let voters decide the final outcome.
Another good intention executed poorly is the video requirement for the project proposals. The Uncommon Fund is about more than budgeting and logistics, and adding a multimedia requirement lends a degree of creativity to the competition. However, creating an engaging video to draw student votes is a lot of pressure early on in the competition, and those who do not have video editing skills or do not think their idea will translate well to film may be discouraged from applying. Those projects with more polished videos would have an unfair advantage, despite the merits of the ideas themselves. Instead of focusing solely on video, the Board should accept a broad array of multimedia submissions that could include a photo slide show, audio recording, or graphic display.
The Uncommon Fund has become a U of C tradition near and dear to students’ hearts. If the ever-increasing number of entries and Dean Boyer’s contribution are any indication, the Fund has more visibility and impact than ever. The Board did well to recognize this change and improve its selection process to increase interactivity, however ineffective these modifications may turn out to be. With the stakes higher than ever, the Board can no longer afford any missteps.
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