As a Duke student, each year you pay over $116 to the Duke Student Government in student activities fees. Yet you have close to no control over where your own money goes after it leaves your bank account. Other students and I are launching a campaign, called The 40% Plan, to rectify this situation. The plan gives financial power back to Duke students, allowing each student to allocate 40% of his or her student activities fee each year to groups of his or her choosing. This will give about $270,000 of students’ money back to student control. We need 1,000 petition signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to make this policy a reality. I encourage you to sign.
Under the current system, the Student Organization Funding Committee, made up of 14 unelected undergraduate students, exercises control over all student activities fee money. Anytime a student group wants funding for an event or activity, it has to fill out monotonous paperwork, appear before the SOFC for questioning, and justify its need for money under the wary eyes of the committee. Even after this beleaguered process, the SOFC can still unilaterally deny any request. With numbers going back to 2007, the SOFC has controlled an average of $667,000 of students’ money each year. That’s over $47,000 per unelected SOFC member.
This system is not only unethical—it is inefficient. A prime example is The Chanticleer, one student organization of no more than 30 students that has sucked away an average of 21% of Student Activities Fee Dollars ($103,000 total) each year since 2007. A lot of us like yearbooks, but a yearbook is like a class ring—you shouldn’t be forced to buy one. By subsidizing The Chanticleer, DSG shelters it from price shopping or quality competition—leading ironically to a more expensive yet worse quality yearbook. Chronicle articles dating back to 2004 discuss a need to change funding– yet the system, 10 years later, remains the same.
Put simply, it is beyond the ability of fourteen undergraduate students—fourteen Ph.D. economists even—to properly sift through all the necessary information to efficiently allocate $667,000 to hundreds of student groups and thousands of students. In effect, SOFC is a system whereby unelected and almost completely unaccountable students play centralized planners with our Student Activities Fees—forcing us to jump through countless hoops to get our own money back. What’s needed is student action.
The 40% Plan has a host of benefits. Rather than go to the SOFC, hat in hand, students would have the power, as smart conscientious individuals, to decide what groups to give money to. This will incentivize students to be more invested in the groups they contribute to, and to pay greater attention to how groups use the money students donate. Additionally, student groups are incentivized to be more efficient and effective with the funds they receive from students, and are encouraged to be more efficacious and involved in reaching out to students for funding. This also benefits SOFC—it gives it a better metric from which to gauge student interest in different groups, something they currently lack, and it provides them with a better sense of which groups are active. Most importantly, it sends a great message—The 40% Plan proclaims that Duke has faith and confidence in its own students.
Now it is worth addressing the arguments against The 40% Plan. I certainly won’t hide them from you. People involved in DSG or SOFC tend to make these arguments—as with many government officials, these individuals don’t like the idea of having their power curbed. Their objections typically boil down to one of two refrains.
The first refrain is that The 40% Plan would force DSG to sort through logistical and mechanical issues. This is true. For example, it would require DSG to create a website for students to allocate money to groups. But when you hear this argument, remember this: the logistical and mechanical work is 100% doable. DSG cannot truthfully argue that it can’t create a website. Rather, it just doesn’t want to. It matters not a modicum to me if elected representatives have to spend more time working on or figuring out something that benefits students—that’s their job. We elected them to serve our interests.
The second refrain is that students cannot be trusted to allocate money. It will lead to bad results, the objection goes. Students don’t “know enough” to allocate money to groups. There are a lot of responses to this. First, the website should easily list information for students, such as a real-time update of how much money each group requests and has already received. Secondly, the SOFC is still getting 60% of student activities fees—around $400,000 a year. That’s a large enough sum to keep groups afloat that otherwise wouldn’t survive off of student donations alone, yet small enough to force SOFC to act efficiently (i.e. Chanticleer probably won’t get $100,000 a year anymore).
Lastly, it’s simply not true that giving more freedom to students will lead to bad results. Consider course selection. The idea that students don’t “know enough” to give money to student groups is similar to arguing students don’t “know enough” to choose what classes to take. Choosing courses is incredibly important—more important even than choosing group membership. Yet we need no centralized authority to tell us what courses to take each semester. Yes, we have some regulations—we are required to select a major and meet T-Reqs. But The 40% Plan still has some regulations too—SOFC still receives 60% of the money. The key point is that we have a great deal of freedom in choosing courses, yet we don’t suffer endemic educational failure—instead most of us intellectually thrive with this freedom. The same would be analogously true with The 40% Plan.
Today at 6pm in Allen 103 we will be holding an information session on The 40% Plan. Please come if you want to learn more. Additionally, visit our website to sign the petition, or read our FAQs. Reach out to me anytime too. And share this column on Facebook and Twitter. Together, let’s give students more say in where their money goes.
Daniel Strunk is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Thursday. Send Daniel a message on Twitter @DanielFStrunk.