October 18, 2013

Review session

CAT inefficiencies call for increased oversight and more regular meetings.

Last spring, the Coalition of Academic Teams (CAT)—comprising one representative each from Debate, Mock Trial, the Model U.N. Team, College Bowl, Chess Club, Student Government (SG), and the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA)—held its annual meeting to divide funding among the academic teams. Some of the coalition’s members expressed displeasure with the overall deficit of funds, as well as with what they see as disproportionately allocated funds. Mock Trial unsuccessfully appealed the coalition’s decision to the SG Assembly. While giving the coalition significantly more funding does not seem to be feasible, the process of allocating that funding is flawed. CAT members have not allocated the funds efficiently in the past, and something must change in order to  ensure that finances are distributed as fairly as possible. Given recent complaints, SG should work with CAT to make the process more equitable by providing increased oversight, not only at the annual meeting, but also leading up to it.

This year CAT will receive $190,000—about 10 percent of the total money generated by the Student Activities Fee. Whatever its allocation issues, all its teams could receive the proper funding they feel they deserve if CAT were given more money. However, this is not a plausible solution. After the Student Government Finance Committee, which funds the vast majority of RSOs, and the Program Coordinating Council, which funds RSOs responsible for large campus-wide events, CAT receives the largest portion of the Student Activities Fee. While this does not automatically disqualify CAT from deserving more funds, it is simply difficult to see from where the additional funds could come. All of this year’s funds finance organizations that provide events and opportunities for large sects of our student body. More money for CAT entails either reducing funds for another committee, or raising the already high cost of a UChicago education. Neither of these solutions would benefit our student body as a whole and therefore should not be pursued.

CAT’s current allocation process has resulted in a worryingly unbalanced distribution. Last year, Debate and the Model U.N. Team received far more funding per person than did Mock Trial; more significantly, Debate ran a budget surplus while College Bowl, Chess Club, and the Model U.N. ran deficits. The blame for this does not lie on any one of CAT’s members but rather on the committee’s process and its overseers. The configuration of the coalition as it stands allows committee members to pursue as much funding for their RSOs as possible, with only one voting member of SG to keep the process in check. While this should work in theory, with groups competing for funds and therefore keeping the other teams as accountable as possible, there is the potential for the loudest representative’s RSO—rather than the one that needs the money the most—to get the largest chunk of funding.

A stronger arbiter is needed to ensure that CAT money is distributed fairly, and SG is in the best position to fill that role. While already present in the committee, SG’s impartial position needs to be given more weight in negotiations to prevent some RSOs from dominating the proceedings and the funding. CAT members already took the step last year of meeting once before their allocations meeting, and SG requiring CAT to convene on a more regular basis would be even more effective. In that way, large changes in programming for the following year by any one group, as well as general problems with the past year’s budget, can be worked out gradually, without the immediate pressure of determining the following year’s allotment. CAT needs to be saved from itself, and SG is the group to do it.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.