OP-EDS

  /  

April 23, 2004

Despite complaints, SG fulfills its promises

I was very disappointed last week to read this newspaper's editorial decrying the overspending of the SGFC. Bo Shan, Noeline Argulnenandran, and Yanet Bahena ran for executive slate on a simple platform last year: increase funding for campus activities. And they did it.

For all you cynical Deaniacs or Reaganites who yearn for the times of honest politicians and bemoan the supposed "doubletalk" of Washington today, take solace in the fact that here at the University of Chicago, our elected leaders pledged to accomplish one goal. And once elected, they effectively carried out that pledge.

Why is overspending good? The answer is simple. Every year our Student Activities Fee is allocated to the SGFC, along with other bodies like University Theater and the Committee on Academic Teams. And every year, RSOs apply to use that money to host events or fund RSO activities. It seems simple. Unfortunately, it is not. Applicants to the SGFC must follow strict guidelines and come under scrutiny by members of the panel if and when their application is accepted for a hearing. Once the committee decides to hear it, they shave off proposals, slash budget requests, require RSOs to fundraise extensively, and pledge money to the cause. The SGFC is by no means a pot of money doled out without regard for fiscal discipline.

Furthermore, Ben Mainzer and the SGFC are student-selected representatives of the University community. They are not shady characters with ulterior motives and, in fact, they operate within a strict code of ethics that goes very far to prevent the kind of sinister back-channel negotiations that might seem at home at Tammany Hall. These men and women, our peers, scrupulously attended to the funds allocated to them by the Administration.

This year, the percentage of requests that were funded decreased from last year. And, breaking with tradition, requests for money skyrocketed at the end of the year, thus draining the pool and bankrupting the SGFC.

The reason was likely two-fold. First, Shan, Argulnenandran, and Bahena ran on a platform that stated, simply, "More Money for More RSOs." This meant that RSO leaders came to believe that there would be more money for their RSOs. Hence, requests increased. Secondly, as the year progressed, RSO leaders realized that SGFC was funding a wider range of activities, including conferences, which in the past were denied funding because of a smaller budget.

Had the SGFC spent exactly what it was allocated, there would be no numerical imperative to increase funding for the SGFC and RSOs. By overspending (while simultaneously maintaining fiscal discipline), the SGFC has demonstrated definitively that RSOs need more money, and that student life is better for it. This year has been the richest—culturally, athletically, aesthetically, and artistically—in recent memory. New and creative events, plays, conferences for campus activists, and interesting speakers have given U of C students invaluable experiences that cannot be measured in dollar signs. And the more money SGFC can allocate, the more energetic this campus is likely to become.

Why is this important? With the election fast approaching, it is imperative that candidates realize what a golden opportunity they have. By demonstrating to the trustees and the administration of this school that there is a vibrant student life that has taken fullest advantage of the funds available in order to maximize opportunities for students to get involved, we have sent a clear message: more money will improve student life, will increase student happiness, and will make the University a more exciting place.

If this were a national election, right about now we would start printing up posters that say "Four More Years" on them. But alas, Shan, Argulnenandran, and Bahena's four years here at the U of C are almost up. And in less than two weeks, we'll have another election on our hands.

Over the past two weeks there have been accusations aplenty about underhanded tricks, illegal soliciting, and the like from the rival slates. These accusations do absolutely nothing to advance the plight of students here on campus, and in fact mire people in the details of details, ignoring the larger issues we're all facing.

Let's focus. Shan, Argulnenandran, and Bahena have gotten us off to a great start. Instead of criticizing them and the SGFC, let's realize what kind of role the next executive slate can have in the coming months. If we elect an apologist, they will go to the administration and won't demand more money and won't fight for RSOs.

Let's be clear on what the executive slate really is. They're high-profile members of the community, elected to advocate for the concerns of the student body to the administration. And while I would love for the kind of hands-on approach that many candidates often claim they will have (and usually fail because of a lack of time), the way that executive slates can get the most bang for their buck in terms of enhancing student life while being judicious with their time is to advocate for more money for RSOs. This is what we call a "narrowly tailored solution." And it's a good thing because it accomplishes a clear goal with minimal effort and yields maximum benefit.

Right now we're in a bit of a tight spot. Shan, Argulnenandran, Bahena, and Mainzer have taken a risk. The only way it will pay off is with strong leadership willing to stand up to the Administration and fight for the student body.

Chamberlain-style appeasement—apologizing to angry RSO leaders and budget-conscious administrators for tactical overspending-—will be disastrous. It will only reinforce negative perceptions of us as a student body, decrease proportional funding for RSOs (since the College is expanding), and limit our ability as a community to have a robust student life. Candidates for the executive slate need to understand the benefits of this tactical decision to overspend (albeit responsibly) for the long-term health of our University community. Shan, Argulnenandran, Bahena, and Mainzer made a tactical decision to set aside the immediate concerns of a lack of funding for the next three weeks, and instead worry about funding for the next 10 years. This long view is what responsible observers of governments yearn for. And by giving the administration definitive proof that, even by being fiscally responsible, RSOs on campus need more money in order to make Chicago a better place, this slate and the SGFC have sent a clear message for the future: more money is important, not just for the students, but for the community as a whole.

If we elect someone who realizes the value of what happened this year, realizes that there was no debacle, realizes that this was supposed to happen, we can move forward with confidence and clarity, and we can know that we're doing as much as we can to improve student life. By advocating for a larger budget for the SGFC, we can increase campus involvement and enhance campus vitality, thus promoting the kind of University we all want to see in the future, a place where the best and the brightest in the world come together to explore, to befriend, and, most importantly, to learn.