GREENBERG: Eliminating UOC fraud

It’s often difficult for students to see how the Yale College Council affects them, but one very real connection between this week’s elections and everyday student life is the Undergraduate Organizations Committee, which controls funding for our student groups.

Especially at Yale, which places such an emphasis on a vibrant extracurricular scene, having a group like the UOC is essential. If we took the time to think about it, one of the reasons why we pay the student activities fee that funds much of the UOC’s budget is not because we necessarily care about every activity our friends are a part of, but rather that we believe they each contribute to the general welfare of our campus.

That being said, there is a real problem with the UOC funding process that many of us have heard of but has rarely been discussed in a systematic way: fraud. It comes in two main forms. The first is the submission of receipts unconnected to an organization’s activities (printing from TYCO, food from G-Heav), the reimbursement of which is usually used to fund alcohol. UOC is generally unable to apply the degree of oversight necessary to prevent this type of fraud.

A second, more pernicious type of fraud comes from the creation of front groups. A front group is one that technically meets the criteria for UOC funding, but which is suspected of funneling its funding toward another group’s activities. Simply put, this group exists mainly to support another undergraduate organization financially. A front group rarely holds activities of its own — and if it does, the participants are nearly identical to the membership of the parent organization and the activities duplicated.

Fraud really exists. Last year, the News wrote about organizations created to provide one-time funding for a drama production (“Musicals pose unique challenges,” Nov. 9). When I met with current UOC Chair Aly Moore ’14, she estimated that around 10 percent of registered groups are front groups (a total of about 40) including an even larger percentage of the 50 groups created this year.

Fraud is a problem because it’s simply unfair — the UOC uses its full $200,000 budget every year and has to deny funding to numerous organizations. Every additional front group takes away funding from a legitimate organization. Any organization that needs an extra $600 so much that it is willing to create a fraudulent group ought to develop its own channels for donations or alumni support.

The past few years have seen UOC’s role change from mere clerical work funding to a role of group support and group approval. But reducing fraud may be one of the most important roles of the UOC in the coming year.

It is disturbing that a brief glance at all four of the platforms authored by this year’s candidates for UOC chair reveals that none of them mention fraud or front groups at all. Yet there are several ways that the UOC can use its developing role to fight fraud.

A first is to shift the way we feel about funding, from a sense of entitlement on the part of organizations, to a paradigm where funding is viewed as a more discretionary evaluation of how the organization’s activities are affecting campus life.

The questions to ask are simple: Is the money necessary for the organization to exist? Has the organization proven that it intends to be permanent?

A second is a more rigorous process for determining whether a new organization will be approved at all, driven by UOC’s expanded role in overseeing group registration.

Perhaps UOC could apply a more rigorous process like Dwight Hall’s, to determine whether an organization really deserves to be institutionally recognized — whether its plan is to stay around, whether it will affect some substantial number of people, whether its activities will overlap with those of other existing organizations, etc.

It’s difficult to agree on the value that a group provides to the Yale community, so the UOC’s model of roughly equal funding to every organization is probably the least bad strategy for distribution. Yet UOC will never be able to provide funds for all groups, and the most reasonable place for our new UOC chair to begin his term will be to crack down on funding for front groups.

Scott Greenberg is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at scott.greenberg@yale.edu .

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