During the Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council meeting on Feb. 8, the VP for Finance delivered a standard update to Council on the state of the special purpose funds and continued by expressing a belief that all of the funds are underused and that student organization are not applying for additional funding often enough.
However, this viewpoint only looks at the numbers and not the reality of the financial want and use on campus; we at The Miscellany News believe that the funds are not accessible enough and that, despite well-intentions by the Finance Committee and the Council in general, money is not being allocated properly and responsibly to student organizations. As the report stated, the money that the VSA holds in the special purpose funds is for students, yet students often do not benefit from it.
Council broached the topic of changing the student activity fee as a possible solution for the supposed problem of having an excess of funds. Aside from the fact that such a change could only come to fruition through larger channels outside of the VSA Council, we at The Miscellany News do not believe the matter of a student activity fee gets at the heart of this issue. Instead, for now, the as of yet unexplored issue of to how current funds are allocated, and the avenues for funding must be acknowledged and addressed.
On a superficial level, most students remain ignorant of how the finances of the the Vassar Student Association works. Each year, the accesses found in these funds are placed within the Discretionary fund to be rolled over to the next year. We at The Miscellany News feel that public acknowledgment of the roll over each year would help increase transparency in the VSA and help ensure that the VSA’s fiscal power can be checked by the VSA’s constituents.
We at The Miscellany News feel there is a bias within organizations funding towards official and more established ones; for example, pre-orgs cannot rollover their funds or, according even to recent changes in VSA policy, apply for large amounts of money from VSA. This makes it difficult for them to enact change, plan events on campus or establish themselves.
This financial limit is made only more challenging by the reality that, for many, planning an event for the first time proves difficult. There are many rules and regulations for actions such as financing a visiting speaker or panel of speakers to campus or planning an all-campus event, but almost no resources for new organizations to turn to for this. SARC is a good resource for the logistics of event planning, such as finding a space and making sure there are tables, and attempts to be helpful in other matters, but where can students go to learn how to write up a secure contract and get it approved or to make sure a panel has enough speakers?
We suggest creating a resource similar to SARC where student organizations can exclusively receive help for financial matters and non-logistical event planning. This resource could additionally help groups navigate how exactly to host members of a panel or speakers brought to the College, as well as work to allay fears for new student groups or inexperienced student group leaders.
The Fall Leadership Conference makes a valiant attempt to teach organization leaders how to plan events but ultimately fails. A prominent aspect of the conference is to inspire groups to collaborate with each other to create exciting new events, but the way they achieve this aim is flawed. Pairing up two groups who have nothing in common will only occasionally result in a fun event, but more of an awkward struggle.
We suggest re-evaluating the Fall Leadership Conference and having this event bring together similar organizations to learn from each others’ strengths and experiences.
For example, putting The Miscellany News together with The Chronicle to come up with a panel on jobs in journalism would be much more efficient than putting The Miscellany News with the Equestrian club and expecting the groups to plan a party. While students can come up with creative events to host, and there is merit in teaching student leaders about the breadth of student organizations they could collaborate with in the future, their knowledge of how best to access special funding may be limited and thus hinder the purpose of such activities.
Further, we at The Miscellany News believe Finance should trust that organizations know best how to host events specific to their missions. While the VSA has historically proven to lack institutional memory, many other campus groups—especially those with longstanding histories—understand how to function and the reality of their own needs. Educating an organizations on how it should plan its programming does no one a service—it comes off as paternalistic and dissuades student organizations from applying to funds.
Unlike the proposed SARC-like group, which would provide support when asked, the Finance Committee assumes it is automatically best prepared to entity to understand the best kind of funding for a wide range of student organizations. For a group being called into a Finance meeting to explain why they are requesting a specific amount of funding only to be rejected, implies Finance does not have faith in student organizations to run their own events.
Moreover, it shuts down any conversation. If Finance Committee feels an organizations is applying to an inappropriate fund, we believe that the Finance Committee should help the groups figure out which fund would be most applicable to the specific event. The Fall and Spring Leadership Conferences work to prepare groups to apply for funding, as does the more limited Treasurer Trainings, so Finance should trust that organizations will use the knowledge acquired from the conference to apply for funds when necessary, and that applying to the wrong fund almost always happen when people are confused about the process.
If students are supposed to use this money for campus events, they should not be made to feel intimidated or afraid; Finance Committee must be careful not to question groups only so much as to prevent overt financial propriety, not to instill a degree of fear in groups that they will not attempt new forms of programming for fear of rejection or failure. The issue is not groups lacking the responsibility to handle funds, it’s the accessibility of the money meant for our use.
If the VP for Finance believes that, despite good intentions, the VSA it is unable to provide resources through the current established funds, we at The Miscellany News believe that money should be diverted to benefit the larger student body.
Many students on campus are investing time and effort into accomplishing important work with regards to activism and social justice; their efforts could possibly make more of an impact to the Vassar and Poughkeepsie communities with more accessible funding, better training and then the trust from the VSA. Listening to the student body and figuring out where students are directing their interest could help find a use for the excess funds. If the money is going unused, we at The Miscellany News would like to see it used under its inherent purpose: for the students.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.