Miller: More money for students

Timely and Timeless

The Supreme Court may have given the green light on corporate spending for political campaigns, but Yale’s policy for funding student organizations is stalled out. The administration evidently has less faith in its own students’ financial prudence than our highest court does in corporate responsibility.

According to the Universiy’s most recent financial report, Yale’s annual operating budget amounts to just over $200,000 for every enrolled student — undergraduate, graduate and professional. Over 40,000 of those dollars pay faculty salaries (a total of close to $500 million). Nearly $7,000 cover the university’s utility expenses (over $76 million altogether).

The Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, by contrast, clocks in at a total of about $190,000 — or $35 per undergraduate.

Why does Yale spend over a thousand times as much on its libraries — mostly arcane facilities already well on their way to becoming museums — as it disburses for routine funding of student organizations, the backbone of the undergraduate experience?

Perhaps the administration fears that students would allocate additional funds toward activities unsuitable for Yale’s educational mission. That concern may explain the $50 semesterly cap imposed on food and beverage expenses. Presumably, the meal plan ($5,000 per student per year) is so satiating that extra food could not possibly further our organizations’ mission. At least the policy’s consistency is comforting. You’ll never see an official Yale function squandering money on hors d’oeuvres — except occasionally for Master’s Teas, college study breaks, receptions, subsidized butteries, college fellows’ dinners, cultural house events and banquets.

And that’s to say nothing of alcohol, the glue (or silly putty) which binds all social compacts. The University’s underage drinking policy is clear: They don’t ask, we don’t tell. Campus life swings to the beat of illegal alcohol consumption, a practice we recognize as crucial to social edification. But while alcohol flows freely, the coffers are dammed up — many organizations have no means to finance the boozing necessary for their schmoozing.

Admittedly, organizations receive hidden benefits from the institution. They hold meetings in certain Yale buildings free of charge, for example; a minimal Web site hosting service is also available for free; and the faculty Yale hires can be a valuable advisory resource. And the buck doesn’t always stop with the UOFC — a variety of other resources are available, including a number of discretionary funds and (for our more consecrated organizations) alumni donations.

At the end of the day, though, undergraduate organizations get a pretty small piece of the pie. There are over 300 registered organizations on campus, most of which proudly contribute to the vibrancy of the undergraduate experience. Increased funding would enable performance groups to explore new venues and purchase the materials needed for performances. It would allow political organizations to advertise properly and attract expert guests to explore new angles. It would empower publications to reach a wider audience — or even just print a few copies.

But why should the University trust undergraduates to use additional resources effectively? In these financially turbulent times, the administration has had to consider the allocation of more limited resources. Given the notoriously limited imagination of Yale students (who have won no more than a few dozen Nobel Prizes and Pulitzer Prizes, and invented the cotton gin, Morse Code and the submarine), student organizations’ objectives must seem a foolhardy investment — worth no more than the one-hundredth of 1 percent of the budget they currently receive. It won’t be long before the administration edits extracurriculars out of our admissions videos — and our campus life.

Benjamin Miller is a senior in Morse College.

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