As a member of the Uncommon Fund Board, I will discuss the procedures of the funding decision process, though I cannot claim to represent the opinions of each member. This response, through illumination of facts and revision of some reported details, should clear up doubts about an intentional desire to manipulate the results of the first (or second) round decisions and show the Boards’ progress toward a fairer procedure.
This letter is particularly a response to “Uncommon Bias,” a viewpoints piece commenting that “uncommon fund board members should not have connections to proposals.” The article cites one instance in particular—a members’ work with Students Against Bottled Water. It should be noted that he, as a student body representative, connected SABW with resources such as school deans, Student Government, and graduate departments, and even passed a Reduction of Bottled Water Resolution for Student Government. Specifically, this viewpoint asserts that though the Board member was unable to vote for the project, they were able to speak (supposedly passionately) in support of it, thus influencing the general consensus, and inciting issues of conflict of interest.
Though it may be reasonable to assume both that involved Board members cannot judge proposals from a reasonably unbiased point-of-view and that listening members can be easily swayed by a member they know is involved, it is unreasonable to ask that Uncommon Fund Board members “should be chosen so that…affiliations are minimized, if not avoided altogether.” Since we do prefer to have a diverse Board, it is expected that chosen members will be resourceful and dedicated to their areas, making it difficult to find members that are both engaged in campus life, but not (even indirectly) involved with projects. Board applicants were asked at the application meeting not to apply if they were applying on a project group—many board applicants, at the time of application, did not realize that their project would be applying for the fund (as it is a rather uncommon source of money), while the case specifically mentioned in the article referred to the actions of a dedicated SG member, rather than a team member.
It is also important to note that many proposals had at least one Board member speaking on its behalf, due to the Board members’ active involvement on campus and the availability of 21-30 office hours per week where applicants could come in for advice. Board members often found out about projects through friends, or discussed ideas thoroughly with project leaders who came to go over their applications. All project applicants had this opportunity—this was made clear at every application meeting and with every email sent. In addition to possible face-to-face meetings, the Uncommon Fund Board was thoroughly involved in asking questions on Joinstart.com, and following up on changes. This contradicts the viewpoints’ assumption that other projects were evaluated “based solely on their applications.”
The article also commented briefly on the decisions’ transparency. Because there were 146 projects done in 5 hours, notes about each project were taken, though not as in much detail as normal secretary notes.
These notes, along with Board comments and known resources were made available to any groups (rejected or not) that asked for them, and this offer was also made explicit in our several decision emails.
We know that the Uncommon Fund has faced conflict of interest issues in years past, and we are working to make progress each year. We seek to maintain the passionate debates between Board members as a method of fairness, choosing to keep also a resourceful and diverse Board, even if this does require much mutual trust.
Class of 2014