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January 27, 2012

Student input to shape richer Uncommon Fund

The Uncommon Fund, which doles out $75,000 annually to a range of student projects, is opening up to more outside input this year and simplifying its first-round application process.

In an effort to increase its publicity and broaden the involvement of the entire campus, the Fund will now allow students to “thumbs-up” their favorite projects on its new Web site between February 6 and 18.

The push for more student input, new to this year’s Uncommon Fund, was a condition of Dean of the College John Boyer’s $25,000 contribution to the fund, according to Fund board member Hannah Loftus, a third-year.

However, the decision of how to distribute the $75,000 fund will lie ultimately with its eight-member Board and not with student voters, according to SG Vice President for Administration and second-year Forrest Scofield.

“The voting component will play a role in the board’s decisions, but we’re not being explicit as to exactly how much weight it will play,” Scofield said. “It’s going to be important, but it’s going to be just like all the other factors that we are going to consider.”

Students will vote on minute-long video submissions from applicants, the second new component to this year’s application. The shift to this more creative format was a response to criticisms from applicants last year that the first-round application required too much number-crunching, according to Scofield.

“We’re not asking for a feasibility summary, not for a budget—for the first round, at least,” he said. “We just want the idea. If they move on to the second round, then, we’re going to ask for all those sort of things. A lot of people last year felt that it was unfair that they had to submit all of this material, do all this work, and then, ultimately, not move on to the next round.”

Given the reduction in up-front busy work and the nearly doubled financial purse of the fund, some students expect Uncommon Fund 2012 to draw a larger and more varied pool of applicants than in years past.

“From what I understood and observed as an undergrad, the Uncommon Fund supported very ambitious and large-scale projects that were developed by larger teams,” said Shiraz Gallab (A.B. '11), a former vice president of the arts RSO Beats & Pieces. “Beats & Pieces has remained a much smaller organization than many other RSOs, and during my time on the board we did not want to coordinate very large events…The Uncommon Fund’s purpose didn’t really appear to line up with what we were doing.”

This year, however, smaller and lesser-known RSOs like Beats & Pieces are the sorts of groups that the Fund is encouraging to apply, with changes to the application process sweetening the deal.

“I think the first-round application this year, so far, is very exciting,” Beats & Pieces Co-President and fourth-year Michelle Bentsman said. “I love the thought of just having your idea out there before having to deal with all the heavy, burdensome budget itemizations.”

In response to allegations of board member bias in last year’s application process, further policy changes have been instated to circumvent the possibility of partisanship. As of last Sunday, board members must now forfeit their vote if they feel they have a personal stake in an application.

However, Scofield said that determining whether someone has “a personal stake” in the project will be left to the individual board member to decide.

Loftus said she was unaware whether any board members would have a conflict of interest because they have not yet received the first round of applications.

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