UOFC learns from mistakes, adopts new transparency

Wednesday’s News’ View, “Why waste, UOFC?” critiqued the Cirque du Monde event and the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee’s “vision” without understanding either the UOFC or its 5K competitions.

I take the News’ criticism at its face value — as a call for reform. I appreciate that. The UOFC screwed up — but not because we funded Cirque du Monde at its full price. We failed in not providing enough support and guidance for the event planners, in not anticipating last-minute expenses and in expecting too much in too little time. I personally failed to anticipate just how cold it would be that night.

But the News conveniently neglects to offer any suggestions for how future events might be improved. Instead, it recommends a rash and simplistic remedy — cancelling the 5K competitions outright — to an issue that is far more complex.

First, it amazes me that the News tried to insinuate that the trend of the UOFC’s 5K events over the past three years has been great ideas but “flat execution,” when the reason for this year’s continuing 5K competitions proceeds precisely from a history of highly successful events like last year’s packed Night at the Kasbah party in February, the sold-out Yale Show comedy event in April and the memorable Great Gatsby party two years ago. To throw any kind of large, innovative event is risky. It’s a testament to the talents of Yale’s undergraduate organizations that the past 5K events have enjoyed such success. Perhaps the News could benefit from reading some of its own archives.

Second, the competitions play a much larger role than simply providing funding for one event. The $5,000 is there not only to provide the resources for throwing a party, but to generate excitement and a sense of possibility in students that the regular UOFC allocation of $600-per-semester could never supply. Even applications that do not make it past the first and second rounds of selections are then prepared for later consideration for a set of $2,000 grants being administered under a new joint UOFC-YCC program.

Third, what is the more responsible option: to penalize groups that, for no fault of their own, ran over-budget, or to cover the expenses through the UOFC’s overall budget? Through their own fundraising, the Cirque du Monde event group has already made up for nearly half of the $2,000 overrun, and it was the joint decision of the UOFC and the Dean’s Office to cover the additional administrative costs of the event, including charges from police and concert services. Having made this decision, and understanding that many event planners don’t realize the extent that rentals, police and other administrative charges can cut into even the largest budgets, we decided that the most responsible thing to do would be to offer the same guarantee to winners of future competitions. The News’ accusation that the UOFC “barely even batted an eye” is patently false.

And fourth, for the News to toss snide comments like “perhaps the tent was too small” denigrates the hard work of Cirque du Monde’s organizers and the amazing efforts put in by over 50 students from groups including the International Students Organization, Yale Friends of Turkey, the Latin American Student Organization, the Yale African Students Association, the South Asian Society, the Hellenic Society and many others.

Finally, what’s tragic is that the News accuses the UOFC for its “lack of vision” for the campus when it is precisely the point that the UOFC does not have any vision of its own. The UOFC does not make policy. We help student groups achieve the things they hope to achieve. We are entrusted by the Dean’s Office and the student body to manage and distribute funds in a fair and equitable way, without preference to any particular creed or “vision” for the campus, but only according to criteria of feasibility, accountability and impact to the student body. And we selected Cirque du Monde according to these principles – if we failed, it is only because we did not follow through with the execution.

The point is: Complexity isn’t easy to research, and it doesn’t always make for the most provocative newsprint. But it is our daily reality.

Still, the best answer is not with words but with action, and I am committed to making the 5K events more successful and more accountable. The UOFC is currently selecting the winner of the second 5K competition; we will put descriptions of the finalists on the UOFC’s Web site and make that available for all students to comment, rate and suggest improvements.

We will also include a report on the Cirque du Monde event, so that future event planners will be able to learn from past lessons. All this follows additions to the UOFC’s Web site, where you can now see the percentages-per-funding-category of our regular decisions. Thus far this semester, I have focused on increasing the efficiency and institutional memory of the UOFC through its Web site. For the rest of the semester, I will ensure that the UOFC and its events become even more accountable to the campus, because it is my sincere belief that the only way for us to learn from our mistakes is through increased openness and a new, even radical transparency.

Joshua Tan is a junior in Saybrook College. He is the UOFC Chair.

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