Group funding gains transparency

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Photo by Phillipp Arndt.

In past years, the distribution of money to student groups from the Undergraduate Organizations Committee has taken place behind closed doors. But now — in an effort to establish a more transparent process and address a potential budget deficit — the UOC will make funding requests and grants publicly available for the first time.

In a Jan. 19 email, the UOC announced to all student organization officers that all future grant requests and funding decisions will be made available online for student reference. After student leaders apply for funding, their request will appear in a spreadsheet that displays the organization name, application cycle, the amount requested and the amount awarded. UOC Chair Ben Ackerman ’16 said the overwhelming increase in funding applications over the past several years has forced the UOC to make difficult choices.

“In making summaries of grant requests and decision public, we have the opportunity to not only increase the transparency and accountability of the allocations process, but also provoke a much needed conversation on campus about the declining state of student organization finance,” Ackerman said in an email.

John Meeske, associate dean for student organizations and physical resources, said though he was not consulted about this change in policy, it is within the UOC’s prerogative to alter the procedures. He said he is in favor of the increased transparency and believes that the publication of the requests is “worth a try.” However, he added that he was concerned some student organizations may not want their information to be publicized when applying for funding, and it may be difficult for those who view the online document to understand the information with the limited details provided.

In addition to publishing all requests and awards, the UOC and the Yale College Council — the UOC’s umbrella organization — have decided to share the burden of making funding decisions.

Though the UOC will continue to be the primary funding decision-making body, the YCC will have increased oversight in approving these grants, Ackerman said. In every YCC meeting, council members will be provided access to all grant requests and awards, and they will have the opportunity to investigate funding transactions before approving them.

Ackerman said he hopes the increased YCC involvement and the publication of requests will inspire student leaders to submit better-prepared applications, leading to a more impactful allocation of funds. The two new changes are meant to complement one another, he said, as they will hopefully lead to more efficiency and transparency.

The policy alterations come after the UOC faced an unprecedented amount of funding requests last semester. Before November 2013, Ackerman and the UOC received more than 500 grant applications for the fall 2013 semester that collectively requested more than $350,000. The UOC’s annual budget, however — money drawn from the student activities fee, Yale College Dean’s Office and the President’s Office — amounts to $205,000.

According to the Jan. 19 email, the UOC currently has less than half that amount remaining to support student groups during the spring 2014 semester.

Even as these modifications begin to take effect, the number of undergraduate student organizations continues to grow. The number plummeted from over 500 to just 279 in November, after many groups failed to meet the Oct. 31 deadline to reregister their groups and send representatives to attend mandatory leadership training sessions. Nevertheless the number has returned to approximately 430, as many groups regained their registered status through reapplication or by sorting out glitches in the system with the Yale College Dean’s Office.

However, many of these groups will not be able to receive funding, Meeske said, until they have enough members attend leadership workshops, which will resume at the end of the month. Still, some groups  will only be eligible for half of the maximum amount of funding they once were allowed — up to $300 a semester instead of $600 — because they lost their registered status and were forced to reregister as new groups.

Even so, Ackerman said he is worried, based on figures from the fall 2013 semester, that he will receive far more grant requests than he and the UOC and YCC can award. The UOC’s budget is limited, he said, by the comparatively low $75-per-person student activities fee.

Charlotte Wang ’16, who was denied funding in the fall of 2013 for the Vietnamese Students Association, commended the UOC for implementing changes in their process to better support student groups.

“One of my main frustrations before was the lack of consistency I felt that existed through their funding procedures — it seemed like I never knew what would be funded and what wouldn’t,” she said. “But now, I feel like making the funding decisions public [will] help that problem enormously.”

Still, Wang said that the financial situation could be further improved by making more funding available for student organizations.

The YCC will vote to approve the first round of UOC funding for the spring semester this weekend.

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