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Editorial: Reform the reform

Published: March 17, 2006
Section: Opinions


The Student Union, particularly the administration of Union President Jenny Feinberg 07, has spent much of the last academic year pursuing changes in how the undergraduate Student Activities Fee (SAF) is spent. After several months of planning and discussion, the Union has finally presented to the public a draft of proposed changes to the Fee distributions.

The proposal does do its part in demonstrating the need to reform the way the SAF is allocated. No one in the Union, not even the Treasurer, currently has the power to revoke funding from secured organizations that spend their money badly or improperly. Because secured organizations are given a percentage of tuition, they receive more and more money every year. The groups either spend all of their extra money, often on wasteful endeavors, or they store the money unused in off-campus bank accounts (Archon, for example, currently has $151,000 in one such account). Either way, the other hundreds of unsecured clubs on campus are starved of funds while secured clubs are gaining interest on their off-campus accounts.

The challenge in SAF reform to our Union is: how do we distribute the money so that the most clubs on campus can get the funding that they need? Their answer to this question is essentially to unsecure all of the secured groups on campus, and give these groups a flat, semi-flexible allocation. The Union claims that the total distributed to secured organizations in the new system will decrease by $96,000. This money, they claim, will give the financial board (F-board) more to allocate to all other unsecured organizations.

First, we are concerned as to how secured groups will differ from regular groups on campus. Feinberg said that secured groups will have “priority” in the proposed system. Without set percentages assigned for each secured group, are these groups “secured?” How will secured groups ever be assured that their budgets will be approved?

Also, how will the F-board have the time, responsibility and patience to allocate an additional $400,000 per year, an increase of more than 200% of their current responsibilities? Members of F-board are mostly regular, full-time undergraduates.

Where will they get the training to understand what is fiscally responsible and irresponsible for groups that deal with very obscure expenses such as special equipment used in broadcast or theatre? What sorts of checks and balances will be in place in case the F-board fails to accommodate a secured group, besides the appeals system currently available?

There are two exceptions to the new distribution system for secured groups: the Student Union, and the Justice. We are puzzled as to why a single media group on campus was spared in this new Regime of Accountability, or why the Union considers itself incapable of fiscal malfeasance.

At Tuesdays open forum, the Union suggested that the Justice was the universitys “premier news source,” and it should therefore be given permanent funding, to protect it against funding cuts after printing a negative Union story. However, by guaranteeing a single media group on campus, isnt the Union unofficially endorsing a particular point of view, and a specific mindset? By securing only the costs of the Justice, the Union is doing more damage to the press on campus and overall discourse at Brandeis than it may have intended.

We are convinced that Feinberg and her administration are doing all that they can to make clubs and organizations on campus better funded. However, before the student body will vote in favor an amendment that will bring some major changes to a relatively stable system, she will have to answer some tough questions about how specifically secured groups will maintain their special status and why certain groups deserve preferential treatment.