Finance Committee, previously the only committee of the Vassar Student Association (VSA) closed to any non-VSA representatives, has undergone a significant reconstruction in its personnel. The new Finance Committee will be comprised of members affiliated with leadership positions in student organizations and not a VSA representative. According to Vice President for Finance Maximilien Moran ’16, within the one-week timeline for applications, the review committee, comprised of the VSA Executive Board, received 30 applications, representing 38 different student groups; of this, an estimated eight students will be selected. Moran and other members of the VSA Executive Board hope that this shift in structure and personnel will produce more equitable funding for event programming and serve as one mechanism for combating student apathy toward the VSA and inequalities on campus.
In previous years, the Finance Committee was a committee of eight to 10 members who also served on the VSA Council, under the leadership of the VP for Finance. The group controls approximately $800,000 each year that they are tasked with allotting to various organizations and events. The funding application that the Finance Committee uses requires that the group meet with applicants, deliberate about the merits of the application and then recommends a specific application total for approval to the VSA Council; Moran noted that recommendations were rarely contested, unless an outside member appeared at Council to contest it. The Finance Committee also deliberates each year and allots an annual budget for all student organizations.
The responsibility of allocating funds, when coupled with the lack of diverse perspectives, has proved troubling even to current and former members of Finance Committee. Moran wrote in an emailed statement, “I always viewed it as problematic that eight to 10 people determined how almost a million dollars in funding was allocated. Through my experience on Finance Committee over the past two years, I realized that the funding was being distributed inequitably as a result of the structure of this committee.”
Vice President for Activities Reuben Moncada ’15 explained in an emailed statement, “In some ways, certain voices are silenced when making allocation decisions. This idea was conceived in an attempt to better represent the student body by having representatives from as many student demographic as possible, whether it be an athlete, a theater org president, etc.”
Moran pointed to the tendency of certain personality types to apply to VSA, and another set of traits that led to their desire to serve on Finance Committee; these qualities, he argued, perpetuates certain attitudes towards fund allotments.
VSA President Carolina Gustafson ’15 wrote in an emailed statement, “By far my largest frustration as a member of Finance Committee last year was the lack of diverse representation on the committee and that the same voices, offering the same thoughts and perspectives, were constantly heard.”
She continued, “This is not only limiting to what the committee can accomplish and who is able to be heard in that space, but also has the very concerning effect of limiting the funding to certain projects or ideas because no one in the room has the knowledge or perspective to fight for certain initiatives.”
Those involved in the reformatting also argue that the limited pool of committee members also leaves some organizations in better funding positions than others. Moran explained, “The students that serve dual roles as members of Finance Committee and members of other orgs tend to have a better understanding of how Finance Committee works, and therefore are more successful in petitioning for funding. This also applies to ex-members of Finance Committee who go on to be involved in other orgs. Since the orgs represented are extremely limited, and tend not to change over time, this is clearly an issue.”
The VP for Finance also noted that, in some rare instances, the lack of diversity on the committee could lead to bias. He noted, “[There’s] the possibility of students sitting on the committee intentionally favoring orgs that they are in or their friends are in. This is extraordinarily uncommon, and we have checks in place to make sure it is avoided, but it can happen nonetheless.”
Another issue not commonly associated with discontent about the limited accessibility of the committee to the student body and the diversity of the committee is the issue of unwilling VSA representatives on the committee. Gustafson explained, “There are also a number of Council members who historically have sat on Finance out of a feeling of obligation to meet the required quorum. Having people who do not want to be on Finance, especially when there are people who really care about this committee’s work and want to be part of making these decisions, is not only unproductive, but also unfair, and frankly a bit narcissistic on the part of the VSA.”
Funding allotments have proven contentious in previous years. Among the most well-known incidents occurred almost exactly two years ago when Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan (MEChA) accused the Council of failing to recognize the significance of funding events related to race and class due to their decision not to fully fund the East Coast Chicano Student Forum.
Moran noted that of the 30 applicants being reviewed, students boasted 11 different majors. This diversity in academic focus is also a marked difference from the past. Gustafson said, “When people hear the word finance, they immediately think of math and economics majors, and while it is important to have a basic understanding of these areas for Finance Committee, in my experience on the committee, it is far more important to be a kind and welcoming person who is less obsessed with ego and policy and instead be willing to listen and ensure people feel heard.”
Aside from increasing a diversity of opinion, those responsible for altering Finance Committee believe that the shift towards non-VSA members will help organizations feel more comfortable petitioning for funding and increase groups’ application-savvy.
In order to fill the empty positions, the members have considered how to entirely revamp the committee. Moran explained, “We are building a new committee, not adding to it, so we are looking at the applications in relation to one another.”
While the effects of this reformatting will remain unknown for at least a year, those involved in the process are hopeful. Moncada said, “In the long-term, I hope that this can bridge a gap between the VSA and the student body. The VSA appears to most people as a pretentious body of students that no one can (or even would want to) get themselves involved with, and I think this is a great way for students to involve themselves with something that heavily affects student life.”