November 2, 2012

Recouping our funds

Current funding system for COUP and other major campus organizations is inefficient and detrimental.

Tonight, the Council on University Programming (COUP) will hold its annual Fall Formal. The swanky event will be held at perhaps its most posh location yet: the 99th floor of the Willis Tower. Tickets for the Formal sold out in two days—only around five and a half hours of tabling. However, as COUP chair Denver Barrows said in an October 26 Maroon article (“Ticket to the Top: Formal Sells out in 2 Days”), COUP has had $13,000 slashed from its budget in the last three years by the Program Coordinating Council (PCC), which in turn receives funds from Student Government (SG). Because of these newfound financial constraints, COUP was unable to move the event to a larger venue—a change that, given the remarkable ticket sales, would certainly have been welcome. The fact that COUP’s huge success at planning large events and bringing the University community together is not rewarded under the current funding system points to the need to revise that system.

Currently, COUP’s budget is determined by a lump sum given by SG to the PCC, which consists of COUP, the Major Activities Board, University Theater, Doc Films, WHPK Radio, and Fire Escape Films. These six organizations then meet and self-allocate the lump sum for their respective budgets. Due to variance in both the lump sum and the meeting negotiations, organizations’ respective annual budgets are continually in flux regardless of their relative successes. Take COUP, which has built a solid track record of living up to its stated purpose “to provide large-scale, engaging, and entertaining events to the entire University community.” Every year, students look forward to COUP–sponsored events like Kuvia, the Summer Breeze carnival, and Blues ’n’ Ribs, to the extent that they have become U of C staples. One wonders, then, how such popular, well-executed events could merit a budget cut.

However, these budget cuts are not just undeserved given COUP’s success, but are also actively damaging its efforts in the short term. Although the Willis Tower is nothing to scoff at, it was fortunately cheaper to book than past locations, and is a smaller venue than last year’s event, which took place at the Crystal Gardens in Navy Pier and allowed for 25 more tickets. Barrows admitted that budgetary constraints prevented Fall Formal from moving to a larger venue.

To resolve cuts like the ones COUP has experienced, SG should consider increasing the lump sum given to the PCC in order to avoid internal budget trade-offs between these important student groups. Though COUP reliably plans entertainment-focused events, it also organizes events like Dance Marathon, one of the single largest annual charity events at the U of C. It’s clear that COUP’s budget has important consequences not just for student entertainment, but for student philanthropy.

More important than increasing the lump sum given to the PCC, however, is considering alternative options to the entire model of funding used by the PCC. Having six organizations meet and fight for their budgets only leads to antagonism between student groups, which is not conducive to cultivating a fun, entertaining, and productive culture at the U of C. It’s unclear why the six organizations of the PCC can’t just be allotted funding by the Student Government Funding Committee (SGFC) just like every other RSO on campus. In any case, feedback should be sought out in determining what events and activities students deem most valuable; this would be a more objective, fair way to determine which large RSOs (such as those of the PCC) gain funding increases. It’s admirable that the PCC grants explicit authority and control to student groups to determine their own funding, but precedent shows that all such a model produces is infighting and six organizations that are rarely content with their budgets. COUP’s budget woes are just the tip of the iceberg for student organizations that are unfairly penalized because of the funding system under which they operate.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.