Fighting against secret SGA funding formulas

In the past weeks and months, members of Student Government Association (SGA) have been developing a new way to calculate the stipends for Tier II organizations including SGA, the Student Center Programs Council (SCPC) and Student Publications, including the Technique. The bill, 15J173, as currently written calculates the money an organization receives for student stipends based on an “Organization Impact Score.” The problem is, as currently envisioned by some members of SGA, the formula is determined entirely by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) and, more frighteningly, kept entirely in secret.

The idea of an unelected committee (students do not vote on the membership, although many are also elected representatives) deciding how much funding some students should get over others without anyone else knowing how they arrived at that judgement is so opaque and undemocratic that it is almost inconceivable that it was ever seriously considered, much less proposed.

The idea behind stipends is that students in high-impact, high-workload positions should receive some compensation for their work, considering that they could likely make more money working the same hours somewhere else. I myself turned down a TA position to spend my time at the Technique. Previously, JFC had in its policy the positions which received stipends and what percentage of in-state tuition and fees you would receive.

Under the new policy, each organization would get some percentage of the total money for stipends based on the impact score which the organization could distribute how it wished among its members. The impact score is calculated by a formula. The idea of the formula is that it would be an “objective” measure of the impact the organization has on students. The Technique, for instance, would be judged by the number of papers people pick up and number of website clicks. SCPC would be judged by the number of students attending its events.

How much are these inputs to the formula weighted? How does one person picking up the Technique compare to someone going to an SCPC event? If some within in SGA had their way, we would have absolutely no idea.

This is an issue of democratic accountability. If student organizations and elected SGA representatives don’t know how funding amounts are determined, how is anyone supposed to argue that one organization deserves more or less for the work they do? The weighting of these inputs is inherently a subjective judgement and making this judgement secret and therefore virtually unaccountable makes a mockery of the idea of student representation.

One argument for keeping the formula secret is that student organizations would fudge their numbers to receive more money. My first reaction is that some people in SGA must have a low opinion of their fellow students if they think people would do this. More importantly, since SGA is asking organizations for these numbers, organizations would still be able to fudge these numbers. This policy would not even solve the problem it is purported to solve.

I am told that many in SGA share my concerns about this policy of secrecy and I hope they are steadfast in their opposition to the bill as written. I encourage everyone in SGA, and especially UHR and GSS, our elected representatives, to fight against this illogical move and refuse to pass any bill which does not explicitly make the formulas public and therefore open to public debate.

I know that SGA is not exactly like government, but it is supposed to be a way for students to be fairly and democratically represented. Making an important part of their decisions a secret threatens this very idea and must be prevented or SGA risks alienating students who feel that SGA does not care about them and only cares for itself.