February 27, 2009

Sunk cost

The allocation of money to HYPE's booze cruise is not an acceptable use of the Student Activities Fee

Earlier this week, ORCSA director Sharlene Holly unveiled plans to encourage the University to raise the Student Activities Fee by 4 percent next year. Although any increased burden on students is difficult to stomach in the current economy, the activities money provides important and necessary funding for student organizations, teams, and clubs. Yet the credibility of the fee is called into question when it is doled out with little regard for common sense. This is illustrated most clearly in the Student Government Finance Committee’s (SGFC) decision earlier this month to allocate $3,744.36 to the campus organization University of Chicago HYPE for a springtime yacht party that promises free-flowing alcohol and live entertainment.

But if recent history is any guide, the feasibility of the plan is questionable. Last year, HYPE proposed the same event—SG, of course, blithely funded it—but the group couldn’t get its act together to make the cruise happen. HYPE returned the cash, but it was money that had been set aside and therefore couldn’t be reallocated until the very end of the year. According to the SGFC minutes, this wasn’t even a concern worth considering.

More fundamentally, the party has minimal programmatic value. SGFC would not fund Bar Night or Heaven & Hell—the only distinction here is that people will be on a boat while getting drunk.

Furthermore, the argument made by some SGFC members that participants will somehow be exploring Chicago by spending a night in a self-contained bubble of 240 U of C students is ludicrous. Moreover, the supposition that students will connect with one another and make new friends at the party—at the heart of HYPE’s mission—is misguided, as students will likely just go and mingle with their friends.

But in spite of all this, SGFC agreed to allot nearly $4,000 for the party. The motion barely passed, with two of five members voting against it, rightly arguing that it has dubious educational value and that a per-head funding of $15 is too much. The funding was voted on a second time at a subsequent College Council (CC) meeting, and again narrowly passed.

Student Government has a bad name on campus, in large part because of decisions like this. Choosing to spend thousands of dollars simply for students to drink—on a boat!—doesn’t even pass the laugh test. The voting majorities of both CC and SGFC were wrong in thinking that a booze cruise would be a satisfactory use of the Student Activities Fee.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.