After a lively, well-attended discussion, the MCSG Legislative Board (LB) rejected a proposed bill that would have increased funding for Program Board and lowered the amount of funding provided to student organizations by a vote of 8 to 16.
Jesse Horwitz ’13 introduced the bill, entitled the Priorities in Spending Act, or colloquially, the Program Board Bill. Discussion on the proposal began at last week’s LB meeting and lasted through the majority of this week’s meeting.
According to Horwitz, MCSG’s budgeting is biased toward funding student organizations, many of which serve he claims serve niche purposes and aren’t widely accessible to the greater student body. A fair portion of students don’t align with any organizations, and often feel excluded from campus life and events because of that.
“There’s a group of people at this school who are fundamentally at a disadvantage [and] they’re not able to vocalize concerns … Here we can address that by providing more programming that at least has a goal of getting every student to show up to [it],” Horwitz said.
The bill’s preamble states that “the current spending formula has balkanized the student body, created large disparaties [sic] in campus engagement, and left many students disenfranchised from their fair share of student activities.”
If the bill were enacted, Program Board would have received an additional $40,000 annually, with the stated goal of using that funding to “strengthen the student community through large-scale popular programming,” according to the language of the bill.
On request, some of the funding would have had to be used for large-scale “multi-org showcase events” intended to display the breadth of experiences student organizations have to offer.
The bill would have also immediately allocated $5,000 to Program Board to provide further funding for this year’s Springfest.
Rothin Datta ’16 spoke in favor of the bill, pointing to the need to increase the accessibility of events to students and the capability of Program Board to fill that role.
“The whole org culture is something that’s very consistent at Macalester,” said Datta. “Orgs function independent of one another—once the start of the year is gone, it’s hard to get in an org. That’s a large concern of mine. I do see [Program Board] as something that’s much more accessible to the larger student body.”
Some representatives were concerned that if this bill were to take effect, the budgeting for student organizations would likely be affected as well. When paired with the new block budgeting procedures, concern arose that too much change would be taking place too quickly.
“This bill doesn’t allow block budgeting to succeed in a way we want to. We have no idea how much orgs are going to request for block budgeting,” said Carly Silva ‘13. “I’m not opposed to the sentiment behind this bill, but it’s horrible timing in conjunction with the transition to block budgeting.”
“[When we switched to block budgeting,] we told orgs to jump, and to do great things,” said Sam Doten ’16. “When we tell orgs to jump, and then lower the ceiling of how much they can spend, people will hit their heads.”
Tuesday’s LB meeting, which contained the debate vote on this bill, was unusually well-attended by the wider campus community. Approximately 20 students came, either as individuals or representing organizations, to express an opinion on the Program Board Bill. Horwitz encouraged students, especially those that normally wouldn’t feel like they had a voice in MCSG, to attend and speak about the bill. Many organization leaders filled the room to raise objections, either with the bill’s potential impact on organization funding or language in the bill’s preamble, which they felt unnecessarily targeted cultural and identity-themed organizations.
One clause of the preamble stated the existence of “unmet demand for campus wide events, like those put on by Program Board, and an oversupply of niche events organized by private interest groups,” namely student and cultural organizations.
Isela Gomez ‘13 spoke on behalf of Adelante in opposition to the bill and argued that it is unclear who exactly is represented by the “broader community” the bill wishes to foster.
“The only thing pitting [Program Board] against cultural orgs is the language of this bill,” said Gomez. “Being part of a cultural org is not a matter of our own special interest.”
“Student orgs are the lifeblood of campus life. They’re one of the most important things about the liberal arts education,” said Doten, who serves on the Student Organization Committee. “Taking money away from orgs, not allowing them to have access to it, and moving it to Program Board—I don’t think it’s proper.”
Horwitz emphasized the language was not intended to slight student organizations or downplay their importance. Instead, he drafted the bill with broad-based language in order to remain neutral and impartial.
“Someone quoted me as saying last night that I do think there needs to be more events where I can go and see all of Macalester on display, rather than just a segment,” said Horwitz. “I think that’s really important for the community, which is not meant to discount the importance of orgs. I think that was a false dichotomy that was set up.”
After sensing that many students still had not received a chance to share their input on the bill, Horwitz moved to table discussion and push the vote to next week. That motion failed, and a motion was then made to vote on final passage. By a breakdown of 8 yeas and 16 nays, the bill failed.
Although disappointed in the bill’s failure, the discussion is not over, according to Horwitz. He plans on working with those that offered criticism of the bill at Tuesday’s meeting to work through their concerns with the bill’s language and hopefully keep the debate going around this issue.
“I’m going to try and get a bill they can support and then, if there’s time to reintroduce it, perhaps pursue that route,” said Horwitz. “There’s a way to present this where we can all be comfortable with it. I don’t think giving this amount of money to Program Board will injure orgs in any way.”