February 20, 2015

Uncommon uncertainty

Lack of transparency in the Uncommon Fund hinders effective execution of its creative objective.

The Uncommon Fund has traditionally supported a wide variety of projects—last year it funded a project to build the world’s largest muffin, a collection of suits for students to check out for interviews, a meat roast on the quads, and a week of activities centered on identity, among many others. Last year, the Uncommon Fund was allocated $78,000, money that partly comes from the Student Life Fee. According to a piece recently published in Grey City, this sum of money is spent with the goal of funding projects that are “uncommon.” While the Maroon Editorial Board supports the ultimate purpose of the Uncommon Fund—to support creative ideas that might not be funded otherwise—we feel that the Fund and the students it serves would benefit from a more transparent decision-making process.

We understand that conversations comparing the world’s largest muffin and a week of talks about identity will inevitably be vague—but the Uncommon Fund Committee’s discussions and evaluations must be guided by more clearly articulated principles. The Committee should clearly and publicly outline some metrics by which it evaluates projects. A few criteria might be feasibility, relevance to students, and social impact. Having these criteria delineated would be helpful to applicants hoping to see their projects funded and reassuring to students whose money is being used to fund them.

A publicly available set of guidelines would also be useful for the Committee. One of the difficulties for the Committee is establishing consistency in decision-making due to the high turnover of its members. Clear guidelines would limit the effect this has on decision-making. These guidelines will assist board members who are faced with the challenge of allocating a large amount of money over a short period of time, while also supplying a public standard to which they can be held in using student funds.

We also think the Committee should clearly establish the role student voting plays in the decision making process. Students already have some say over the allocation of the Uncommon Fund by voting for their preferred projects, but the vote is nonbinding. In light of this, the Committee should be upfront about what it does with the information acquired from this voting process.

The Uncommon Fund is a widely celebrated part of student culture, and rightly so. Between 2007 and 2013, 78 percent of funded projects have been completed, which is evidence of the success of the Fund. The Uncommon Fund is one of the few tangible ways in which students can make changes and have their voices heard on this campus, and that opportunity should be used most effectively.

-Maroon Editorial Board