In 1999, the Georgetown Report on Student Life bemoaned the unwieldy process that students had to submit themselves to in order to gain approval for student activities from the administration. The authors of the report wrote: “We fear that bureaucratic obstacles do nothing to encourage on-campus innovation but do everything to push such innovation and involvement off-campus, and perhaps to less productive and visible ends. The university needs to empower students and student groups to take ownership of their programs and be proud of their accomplishments. This can not be achieved in a paternalistic or inflexible environment.”
More than a decade later, how much has really changed? ¬Last semester the Student Activities Commission switched from an event-by-event allocation to a bulk allocation system, in which entire semester budgets (or “programming arcs”) are approved months ahead of each semester. This change was implemented to radically improve the way both SAC and student groups operate. Unfortunately, while SAC has certainly benefited from shorter Monday night meetings, clubs still struggle with layers of unnecessary bureaucracy.
Under the new bulk allocation process, SAC does not permit groups to increase the number of programs except in the event of a contingency. This severely constrains groups’ programming, and creates a perverse incentive for clubs to over-plan in their programming arcs. A Georgetown University Student Association survey conducted last year found that a majority of student leaders favor a bulk allocation model over the event-by-event model, but that was before it was actually implemented. In practice, by preventing groups from adding events to their programming arcs mid-semester, SAC’s interpretation of bulk allocation places an unreasonable burden on club leaders to predict their schedule for an upcoming semester and ties the hands of future club boards. GUSA had good intentions in pushing for a bulk allocation model that would grant greater autonomy to clubs, but SAC managed to corrupt the process by making it difficult and inflexible.
SAC’s flawed implementation of the bulk allocation system is but one example of the fundamental problems affecting on-campus programming. Let’s start with the access to benefits policy: It does not give student groups the independence that they deserve, forcing club leaders to request direct approval for events as simple as a study break. This highly paternalistic attitude is reflected in the disparaging manner that SAC commissioners comment on the motives of student clubs. In September, two SAC commissioners deemed it appropriate to remark; “it seems like they wanted to have a dinner, and thought it would be cool to have SAC funding,” and “they jumped on this idea like it would save their life because it would promote inclusivity.” Thanks to publically available information, we can see that SAC speaks against the very clubs it advises, often without tact or sensitivity.
Ironically, SAC does not clearly state its policies governing its own behavior, giving it free rein to interpret its constitution’s vague wording as it pleases. Students have been up in arms about the unconstitutional nature of D.C.’s new noise law, but do not realize that SAC has been dealing with student clubs in a similar fashion — one that is arbitrary and silencing. One example is the process by which a student club can be placed under probation. Under SAC’s constitution, “any commissioner can place a student organization in his/her cluster under Access to Benefits Review,” and “a majority of voting members may also place a club under Access to Benefits Review.” The absence of clear categories of violations or corresponding punishments, similar to the structure of the Student Code of Conduct, is deeply troubling.
Furthermore, while SAC claims to address the concerns of student club leaders, they have yet to consult student groups about a review of the funding guidelines, or what SAC should request on behalf of its groups at the upcoming GUSA budget summit. Given the problems that have cropped up in the first semester of bulk allocation, one would expect SAC to solicit club feedback on how much and what type of funding clubs need. Instead, SAC assumes that it understands and knows best how the funding guidelines should be amended, and claims to represent club opinions when it has obtained none.
Moving forward, student club leaders, GUSA presidential candidates and other interested parties on campus should push SAC for a more respectful dialogue and a more objective punishment system. Furthermore, in their review of the funding guidelines, SAC should assign allocations for all events based on expected attendance and set aside a lump sum of money for ad hoc allocations. Only then will SAC fully actualize its original purpose: students empowering other students to hold the best events possible.
Shuo Yan Tan is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is the vice president of the International Students Association, the former treasurer of the International Relations Clu, and the international student representative on the Diversity in Action Council.
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