February 3, 2006

RSOs review SG’s performance

This is part two of a mid-year report on Student Government.

Student Government (SG) has faced student criticism for its reputation as an exclusive, disorganized, and ineffectual organization.

Yet while SG representatives say there has been serious headway made in increasing the visibility of SG accomplishments, sponsored activities, and involvement. These accomplishments include a new LCD screen in the Reynolds Club, frequent “town hall” style meetings regarding the Presidential search, and amendments to disciplinary policy to institutional reform that has increased efficiency across the board. Familiar grumblings can still be heard across campus.

Recent criticisms of SG stem primarily from their most noticeable function: the oversight and funding of RSOs. Students are often frustrated with the complexities and politics behind this student bureaucracy.

Among the most complicated—and criticized—procedures is starting up a new registered student organization (RSO), a process that involves an extended application, various meetings with advisors, a budget creation, and the writing of bylaws.

After a group has completed this, they must be approved by the Committee on Recognized Student Organization (CORSO), a body composed of elected SG officials and current RSO leaders that decides to approve or deny groups based on Student Government, ORCSA, and University guidelines—some newly organized RSOs. They believed that CORSO was not approving organizations because of monetary concerns stemming from a particularly tight budget, which is the responsibility of a separate Finance Committee.

“At the beginning of the year it was very difficult for us as a new group to get recognized on campus, which was extremely frustrating,” said second-year Zach Binney, editor-in-chief of the humor magazine Shady Dealer. “I believe most groups had a lot of trouble with this. CORSO seemed very reluctant to approve new RSOs, especially publications, because they would be a drain on funding. This is not CORSO’s job and I think that any committee members who took that as their job were severely mistaken.”

But CORSO serves a vital purpose of filtering through the serious and the frivolous groups, argues third-year in the College David Clayman, who both served on SG and began an RSO last year. “SG does really well at rapidly recognizing new RSOs,” Clayman said. “CORSO is really a positive thing, not a lot of campuses have something like it…at most other Chicago-area campuses, like Northwestern, groups might not get recognized all year,” he said.

Even after gaining approval and becoming official RSOs, organizations have a good deal of politicking to contend with. Members and leaders of smaller groups often complain that large or favored organizations seem to gain disproportionate funding, while new groups, those with smaller memberships, or those who propose unique or unconventional uses of funds are oftentimes denied the full requested funding.

These perceptions have led to prolonged infighting among the separate committees within SG who have a hand in approving the final budgets for RSOs.

Earlier this year, the College Council (CC), who along with the Graduate Council review all funding decisions proposed by the Finance Committee, attempted to block what they viewed as excessive funding to particular RSOs, only to be overruled by the three-person Executive Slate.

“Autumn quarter, College Council believed that SGFC was making a large number of mistakes and so we did not approve many of the recommendations,” said third-year David Courchaine, the chairman of CC. “Every time we did not approve a budget, we sent an explanation to the Slate…For whatever reason, the Slate has almost always rejected CC’s well thought-out decisions.”

Worsening matters is the fact that many organizations felt ignored throughout the entire process. Until recently, the rationale behind decisions handed down by the SGFC was never disclosed, and RSOs often had no idea of the status of their request until money appeared in their account.

A proposed amendment to the SG Assembly bylaws aimed at making the process more open and documented was voted down earlier this year, although SG has only recently begun e-mailing the SGFC minutes to organizations.

“I have to take issue with the whole communication process as a funding recommendation is made into a funding decision,” Clayman said. “I’d like to see it become more transparent.”

Even despite a process that can be oftentimes confusing or politicized, other RSO leaders expressed satisfaction and gratitude towards SG.

“Speaking from my past experiences before the funding allocation committee, I believe that they make their funding choices with the kind of scrutiny that is essential, almost a prerequisite, to their importance on campus,” said Charlotte Rutherfurd, editor-in-chief of Vita Excolatur. “Their professionalism and willingness to go through a budget with a fine-toothed comb are refreshing as someone who depends on them for Vita’s livelihood.”