All student organizations are equal, but some are more equal than others

The month is April. All leaders of student organizations have just received our budgets for the next year, and for many of us, it means reconsidering plans. All org leaders? Well, not entirely—one small elite subset of org leaders still holds out, riding on the benefits of a decades-old contract guaranteeing them a substantial lump sum of funding with no strings attached. Yes, I am talking about MPIRG.

As the leader of a cultural organization, Europa, I wish I could spend every minute devoted to the org hosting cool events, baking European pastries or talking about European politics. However, part of the role consists of managing finances—especially for a cultural organization with relatively large expenditures.

Every chartered student organization on campus receives a minimum of $100 per semester—for anything beyond this figure, additional expenditures must be requested from MCSG separately. This is done in a fairly standardized process: around the middle of each spring semester, org leaders submit outlines of their planned activities for the next school year. These requests are then evaluated by the Financial Affairs Committee (FAC), who allocate money from the student activity fee between orgs based upon their demonstrated needs, trying to ensure that as many as possible of the proposed events and activities can take place. This April, a total of around $150,000 was allocated between Macalester’s orgs for the 2014-15 school year—out of a total of almost $225,000 in requests. This process has proven itself useful for managing the scarce resource of student activity fee money, pushing org leaders to put a lot of thought into their plans before requesting funds. In addition to allocating funds, the FAC gives org leaders advice on how to put funds to use in an efficient manner—advice that was much appreciated on my part.

Did I appreciate seeing more than half of my organization’s budget request being rejected? No. Did I see the reasoning behind this? Yes. Do I appreciate that the funding of our student organizations is allocated based upon demonstrated needs and plans? Absolutely, because it provides the financial backbone of our vibrant campus life, ensuring students equal opportunities to live out their interests through student organizations and holding org leaders accountable to their plans.

Except, of course, when that is not the case. One organization—MPIRG, a group in which students exercise their interests just like in any other student organization—flatly receives $6 per semester per enrolled student who does not explicitly opt out. In total, this results to more than $20,000—an amount vastly disproportionate to what other orgs of similar sizes receive, in some years roughly equal to the budgets of all cultural organizations combined. This funding model does not provide anywhere near the same level of accountability and spits in the faces of those budgeting for student organizations. Does Macalester really need a two-tiered student organization system? I think not. For this reason, I recommend voting “No” on November 17.