SOFC chair explores future of the positionTuesday is Duke Student Government election day and there is a new position on the ballot. For the first time, the chair of the Student Organization Funding Committee will be elected by the undergraduate student body. Sophomore Davis Treybig, a current member of the committee, is running unopposed for the position. The committee allocates funding from the student activities fee to recognized or chartered student groups. The current chair, junior Joyce Lau, sat down with The Chronicle's Carleigh Stiehm to discuss the role of SOFC, the 40 Percent Plan and her concerns about the election process.
The Chronicle: What is the role of the SOFC Chair?
Joyce Lau: The SOFC Chair oversees the SOFC committee. I am a non-voting member unless there is a tie and I really help facilitate discussion of all of the funding allocations and the recognition process as well as oversee all of the meetings that we have every Tuesday. I also sit on the DSG executive board and propose sort of the general direction of SOFC in terms of if I think there should be any sort of modifications made to the bylaws or any sort of new processes that need to be codified or evaluated—I think that we have shown that through the passage of the SOFC bylaws, the auditing process and the dechartering of groups as well as the transparency stuff that we have been doing as well.
TC: What do you think about this being the first time SOFC Chair is elected by the undergraduate student body?
JL: I think there are a couple of reasons why the SOFC Chair should not be an elected position. The first is that I think unlike the other positions on the DSG exec board, the SOFC Chair is largely one that is more internal. I guess you could argue [the executive vice president] is also pretty internal, but the fact is the SOFC Chair takes a really thorough knowledge of sort of the funding processes that have to happen. And—unlike the other VP positions or even the DSP President—there aren’t other people in the room who are there to sort of help you navigate the process. Really, as the SOFC Chair, you are the expert on the committee in terms of like knowing how the meetings run.
I also think that there is a more direct conflict of interest when the person who is allocating or heads the meeting to assign funding allocations is campaigning for endorsement. There is a more direct conflict of interest there than with any other position on the exec board.
Davis is going to do a fantastic job—and he is running unopposed—but if he needed to have actually gone to endorsement meetings, I don’t know what those endorsement meetings would have looked like besides saying that we would change the guidelines for SOFC such that it would benefit your group more. Which, given that it is a zero-sum game with $700,000, really, by telling one group that you are going to give them more funds, the implicit understanding is that you are going to be taking funding from a group with smaller membership or a group whose membership isn’t as active in voting. That is just a much more direct conflict of interest.
And finally, I just don’t think that fundamentally, it should be a political position. It is largely an advisory body to the Senate—which is elected already—and should be giving an unbiased, third-party sort of opinion of what the appropriate funding allocation should be given what other benchmarks are for funding guidelines. I think this campaign has shown that campaigns at Duke, even though we are in the Duke bubble, can still get very political and that putting the SOFC Chair in a position where they really are subject to that political pressure is not a good thing for the position.
A lot of people who are on SOFC are people who are not extremely political, and I know that for this election and in future elections, it is going to discourage people on the committee from actually running. Which means that the people who are running the committee could potentially be individuals that have never sat on the committee before. Which, again, I think would be extremely problematic.
TC: What are the biggest challenges that you think SOFC has faced this year?
JL: I think as with any group that has limited resources but more people asking for money than there is, obviously there are people who are upset with the committee for not giving them the full funding that they want, and I think that has lead to backlash politically. That is always difficult, I have never been much of a [public relations] person myself, but I think promoting greater transparency and really making sure that students understand that we get $1.5 million in requests every year and we only have $700,000, so it isn’t anything personal or biased really when we decide not to allocate a budget in full.
With the 40 Percent Plan and everything, there has been a lot more scrutiny of the committee in general that I don’t think is extremely warranted just because the improved transparency and the rewriting of the bylaws has been something that has been happening since August. Right now, I think it is largely perceived as something that has been reactionary to 40 Percent, which is just wrong. We have been working on this since August, and the 40 Percent Plan didn’t come up until the end of the first semester. There is no way we could have compiled a 30-page document in just the span of a few weeks. There has been a lot of positive changes, and that’s not to say that SOFC is perfect, its definitely not. There are many problems with it, but I think we have made a really great effort at being unbiased with our funding allocations.
TC: What else do you think students should know as they get ready to cast their votes?
JL: Davis is going to do a great job. He is running unopposed, but vote for him. He did a great job on the committee. SOFC, it is not like we are the big bad government or anything. It is just a group of individuals. We are students just like everyone else on this campus. I don’t think there is any need to be scared or intimidated by the process. It is definitely something that we are happy to work with any individual that has suggestions about how to make the funding process better or more transparent, and we really encourage people to reach out to SOFC if they have any questions about anything.