For most of you, my opposition to The 40 Percent Plan will probably come as no surprise. As chair of the Student Organization Finance Committee, I am undoubtedly predisposed to preferring the current system, but I write this guest column, not as a member of Duke Student Government, but primarily as a Duke student genuinely interested in ensuring that the student activities fee is equitably and efficiently spent.
I am opposed to The 40 Percent Plan because it adds unnecessary bureaucracy, creates a perverse incentive system that negatively impacts small student groups and results in less efficient allocations.
At present, to receive programming funds, student groups must fill out a line-itemized budget at least one week before the event takes place—two weeks if they would like the ability to appeal—and present at a five-minute hearing on Tuesday night. In the latest manifestation of The 40 Percent Plan, at least as I understand it, student groups would need to fill out line-itemized budgets at the beginning of each semester for events they plan to hold over the next three and a half months, run a campaign in an attempt to get that funding and then re-submit those budgets to SOFC if the group were to not get any event they would like to hold funded in full. Further, SOFC would also need to submit line-itemized budget recommendations at the beginning of the semester.
First, there are the logistical concerns that this would bring. Let’s assume that 150 groups decide to participate in the process, each presenting three budgets on average. At 10 minutes per budget, that comes to 450 budgets and 4500 minutes, or 75 hours, that SOFC needs to spend within the first week of school. Second, even disregarding the aforementioned logistical issue, The 40 Percent Plan needlessly adds more bureaucracy. Student groups will now have twice as much paperwork to fill out and a campaign to run every semester.
2. Incentives and Efficiency
SOFC directly assesses the funding needs of student groups. In contrast, The 40 Percent Plan rewards groups that campaign well. Just as the most charismatic politician is not necessarily the most qualified for his position, groups that are able to most convincingly articulate their funding needs may not be the ones who most need the money. Further, by requiring groups to run campaigns, student organizations waste valuable resources and time that could be spent actually planning events and furthering their missions. 20 hours spent campaigning is 20 hours taken away from teaching long-term patients at the Duke Hospital how to swim, in the case of Swim and Splash, or organizing the logistics of the Library Party, in the case of the Duke Marketing Club.
Finally, groups are less able to accurately predict their funding needs in August for an event that is taking place in December. For example, a flight for a speaker might cost $463 instead of an estimated $500, but, under The 40 Percent Plan, SOFC would not be able to take back the $37 difference, money that could then be allocated toward another event.
In short, SOFC is not perfect, but I strongly feel that it is a better system than that which would exist under The 40 Percent Plan. While an interesting idea in theory, I can’t help but ask, “What problems does The 40 Percent Plan solve? And could they not be solved more efficiently and effectively by making adjustments to the current system?” Further, it should be pointed out that The 40 Percent Plan is currently encapsulated by a constitutional amendment of 127 words. The authors of The 40 Percent Plan have argued that the amendment is purposefully nebulous so as to give DSG the flexibility to figure out the logistics. Nonetheless, it seems to me illogical to debate a proposal solely in the abstract, when that proposal would institute an entirely new bureaucracy, without first discussing what that bureaucracy would look like. In other words, the logistical skeleton presented by representatives of the plan at the Council for Collaborative Action meeting Sunday afternoon needs to be substantially fleshed out in writing before the proposal should even be seriously considered by the student body.
If you still have questions about SOFC and The 40 Percent Plan, I encourage you to come to SOFC office hours in the DSG Office on Tuesdays from 6-7 p.m., or you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out the SOFC website for more information.
Joyce Lau is a Trinity junior and the Chair of the Student Organization Finance Committee.