Last Saturday afternoon, I returned to my room after finishing my third hour of discussion about The 40 Percent Plan. As a member of the DSG Executive Board, people kept asking me about my opinion, and I felt some kind of civic responsibility to engage. I did so reluctantly—there’s only so long you can discuss the intricacies of activities funding before wanting to bang your head against a wall.
To avoid this eventuality, I put on the Gilmore Girls DVD I had stumbled upon while at home for break. The show takes place in an idyllic Connecticut small town. Star’s Hollow feels almost utopic because caring is the default, not the exception. When there’s a winter carnival, everyone runs a booth. When a random old man is dying, everyone lines up for hours to say their goodbyes. In the episode I watched, they call a town meeting at 3:00 a.m., waking everyone up to discuss the fact that the Town Selectman would not be back in time to run a major event.
While watching bleary-eyed Star’s Hollow residents make their way in the dark to the local dance studio where the meetings were held, I remembered how much I love it when people care. If I tried hard—if I squinted and cocked my head to the left—I saw that everyone talking about The 40 Percent Plan was sort of wonderful.
So, in the spirit of everyone contributing to the debate, I turned off my Gilmore Girls, and I’m extending my three hours of discussion even further. Happy Saturday.
Duke has too many student groups to research—there are literally hundreds. I would presume that, under this plan, the 40 percent allocated to groups directly by students will be nearly proportional to size of group membership. Any deviance likely would be in favor of groups who are high profile enough to have fans in addition to members.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone pays an equal portion of the fee. Why shouldn’t larger groups have more funds?
But consider: How much a group needs isn’t necessarily proportional to its size. Many popular groups—large cultural or discussion groups, perhaps—have low operating costs, whereas smaller groups might have high operating costs—like a small group that publishes a magazine. Need is not directly correlated to size.
OK then, you might think—that’s easy. All groups just publish how much they need, and people will stop giving once they’ve met that number. Then, SOFC can use the remaining 60 percent of the budget to fill in for groups who don’t have enough members to meet their need. Simple fix.
But that solution requires a poor understanding of need. A need assessment has two parts—how much is desired and how much is available. I might say I need a plane ticket home for break. But if I don’t have that money, or if buying one means not buying food, I don’t really need it. Somebody needs to do the difficult job of not only understanding exactly how much a single purchase will help a group in its goal, but also contextualizing that purchase to ensure that money is spent as best it possibly could be. Contextualization is truly difficult work. A group might be holding a wonderful event where serving food is crucial to its goal. But is $13 a head for food just too much? Is $12? Is $11? Understanding whether that group really needs to spend that extra $200 requires understanding the numerous possibilities of what the other hundreds of groups on campus could spend this money on.
SOFC does its due diligence. It meets for hours every week, asking groups tough questions to truly get at the core of what funding is necessary, questioning every item in the line-item budgets the groups create. And now that the new SOFC bylaws passed last Wednesday, SOFC undergoes an auditing process to ensure that their assessment was a good one. The fact that they do this so regularly allows them to contextualize budget expenditures in a way that regular students cannot.
Supporters of the plan claim that SOFC will still be able to do this. And they will. After the early year allocation, SOFC will spend the rest of the time attempting to approximate what their actual assessment would have been in the absence of The 40 Percent Plan. The popular group that got all of the funding that it requested from students? Under the current model, SOFC may have trimmed down their request and allocated $450 to another club. But under The 40 Percent Plan, given that SOFC would no longer be able to audit the amount of money that the student body allocated, it will have to settle for simply giving the popular group no additional money beyond what the student body already allocated them. Then, when a small group asks for more money for an event for which SOFC otherwise would have allocated $500, the pool that SOFC can draw from is smaller, and the small group would not get as much.
I’m glad we’ve all been figuratively brought out of bed at 3:00 a.m. to discuss an issue relevant to all of us, as unpleasant as I might find it sometimes. SOFC can improve—and has been in the process of improving for years—which culminated in Wednesday’s passage of the new SOFC bylaw.
I’m glad we’re at this town meeting. But it’s not enough to show up—we need to listen carefully and critically as well.
Ellie Schaack is a Trinity junior and the DSG vice president of facilities and the environment. Her column runs every other Monday.