At-large role in Finance promotes equity

While organizations can come up with ideas for events, trips and initiatives they believe will benefit the experiences of Vassar students, without VSA funding many of them would never get off the ground. On a weekly basis, the Finance Committee reviews special fund applications from VSA organizations and determines how the student fund of $800,000 will be allocated. Historically, the committee has only been open to those already sitting on VSA council, with current VP for Finance Max Moran serving as their leader.

However, on Sept. 14, Moran announced during VSA council that the Finance Committee would be opening up a number of appointed positions to students at-large. During the executive reports portion of the meeting, he stated, “Due to a mixture of what the committee discusses and when the committee meets, there are very few people who sit on Finance. This is a problem because a very small group of people controls $800,000. What we decided is that we are going to open up Finance Committee to appointed positions because we think it’s important to give people who aren’t sitting in this room the opportunity to decide how this money is spent.”

In the past, there have been several decisions made by the Finance Committee that have been met with contention, with such examples as the disputed funding of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA)’s application for event funding in 2012; of these, nearly all of them have been characterized by the rejection of an organization’s application to one of the seven special purpose funds.

Opening up the Finance Committee to student representatives is particularly important. The Finance Committee controls $800,000 that, in turn, help shape students’ four years at Vassar. We at The Miscellany News believe that increasing student input into fund allocations through increasing representation on the committee itself is a first step in shaping the Vassar experience in a way that is more reflective to the student body at-large.

Since there has always been a narrow pool of people eligible to sit on Finance Committee, and an even more limited number of those eligible either willing or logistically able to sit on the committee, these choices have reflected the opinions of an extremely small percentage of the Vassar community. Generally, a certain kind of person chooses to run for VSA, and a certain kind of VSA council member chooses to sit on Finance Committee. This process of self-selection ultimately makes for a Finance Committee composed of students who may have philosophies about money and spending that do not represent the interests of their constituents.

We at The Miscellany News believe that opening up Finance Committee to the entire student body will help to counteract some of the inherent bias that arises in such circumstances. Though there is still a self-selection process at work when it comes to which students will apply to the representative positions, we feel that the end result will encompass a wider cross section of backgrounds and opinions that will work to make for a more equitable distribution of funds.

Students with a genuine interest in providing more equitable funding allocations need not serve on VSA Council anymore to serve the student body. Further, we believe that diversifying the Finance Committee will help make students feel more comfortable approaching the committee, as previously students have felt that it was insular and intimidating.

While we believe that ending the previous regulation about the committee being filled of exclusively VSA representatives will result in increased transparency as well as a diversified make-up of that committee, the decision to allow non-elected members to serve on this committee includes new issues. For example, there are inherent biases—both intended or subconscious—that individuals may bring to the committee. Though VSA council members are not exempt from holding biases, the process of selecting rather than electing these students on Finance Committee could lead to more bias within the committee if those selecting from the applicant pool are not carefully considering the multiplicity of factors that inform students’ motivations to run and their responses to funding.

Moreover, we beseech the Finance Committee to remain conscious about treating all fund applications, proposals and all other financial requests equally and not favoring their friends’ organizations. We hope that the appointed student representatives uphold the same responsibility to be unbiased as those on the VSA do. Without the potential to recall or hold these representatives accountable as we are able to do with elected officials on the VSA, this new system of representation must be carefully observed by students to prevent new forms of cyclical bias or corruption and we ask new and experienced members of the committee alike to consider their approaches to funding carefully.

Following years of students questioning the accessibility of the VSA and with the continuing expansion of financial opportunities with the VSA through new special purpose funds, we at The Miscellany News look on the decision to select several non-VSA representative members of Finance Committee with tentative approval.

While this program is untested and the responsibility of budgeting hundreds of thousands of dollars is enormous, we applaud the VSA for taking creative action in the hopes of shaking the campus out of its apathy toward student government, its confusion about how to properly fund necessary campus-climate changing events and its systems of inequality of opportunity.

 

—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.

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