Three times a year, a letter arrives from the Office of the Bursar demanding, in addition to tuition, $70 for the Student Activities Fee. The purpose of the fee is sound—to create a pot of money that can be used for activities and projects that benefit the student body—but when it comes time to distribute the to the community, things start to go awry.
A large chunk of the fee is distributed by the Student Government Finance Committee (SGFC), which funds RSO activities and events on a rolling basis throughout the year. But SGFC routinely denies requests on the basis of minor technical errors in the lengthy and labyrinthine application for funding. Notably, SGFC only gives money to RSOs, leaving penniless those thwarted by the long and arduous process of forming and maintaining an RSO. Small groups, new groups, individuals, and other parties typically denied RSO status are barred from requesting funding. SGFC’s procedure makes it unnecessarily difficult to fund creative and innovative ideas that can improve the U of C community in new ways.
These have been problems with SGFC for years. Luckily, many members of SG realize this, and Vice President for Administration Julian Quintanilla is leading an effort to reform SGFC.
Yet rather than work to reform the system to better reflect the needs of students, SGFC is dwelling on minor tweaks to funding guidelines and such pressing matters as name recognition. According to the minutes from a November 3 meeting of the Graduate Council, SGFC will soon require organizations that receive funding from the Committee to mention SGFC on all promotional materials, because “surprisingly, many students don’t know that SG funds things.” In fact, organizations will be required to present templates for their promotional materials that dutifully acknowledge SG’s role in administering their Student Activities Fee to the committee before hearings, adding another burden to the already cumbersome process.
Students deserve real and radical change in the funding process. And there is already a model that can be followed: the Uncommon Fund. Launched in 2007, the purpose of the Uncommon Fund is to award grants to ideas that are “new, creative, and bold,” according to SG President Matt Kennedy, who was chair of the committee that created the fund. Any student or group of students—not just RSOs—can apply for funding, and the process is far less tiresome than that of SGFC.
The funding system as it stands is excessively bureaucratic and stifles innovation. SGFC should adopt the Uncommon Fund’s allocation procedures and break down the barriers that stop much of the community from being able to apply for funding in the first place.
The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and two additional Editorial Board members.