Despite impending finals and term papers, today a handful of students will be paying closer attention to the crucial process known as Funding At Columbia University.
During the day-long event, the four undergraduate councils allocate funding to the undergraduate student governing boards.
This year's F@CU decisions will be paramount for the Student Governing Board-which oversees religious, political, activist and humanitarian clubs-as they have regularly lobbied for significant funding increases in past months. The board allegedly worked to broker a deal with rumored candidates for the Columbia College Student Council presidency while they campaigned in order to secure funds.
In an unusual move, the councils will hear a special presentation from WKCR-which does not reside under a governing board and is funded by audience donations and the Office of Student Development and Activities. WKCR has said its current operations are not financially sustainable and will push for a long-term fundraising campaign.
WKCR station manager Jordan Paul, CC '08, said that in the past three years, its operation cost had increased by almost 40 percent, due in part to the loss of a sub-carrier and the destruction of the station's former antenna at the World Trade Center. "There were so many things that we couldn't pay for," Paul said, adding that it was not a case of anyone "necessarily being stingy." He claimed that no one was "taking financial responsibility" for increased costs. "It's kind of hard to point fingers."
"We have a new financial strategy," he added, saying that WKCR will look to form an endowment in the next five to ten years. SDA officials declined to comment.
Though they have said they will listen to the radio group's presentation today, it is unclear how much the councils could spare from an already limited budget. "We're not going to turn them down. We don't really have the wiggle room," outgoing Engineering Student Council president Dan Okin, SEAS '07, said. He added that the councils were conflicted because WKCR usually falls under SDA's responsibility and he would like to give any available extra funds to the governing boards.
"We definitely want to help them [WKCR]," Student Government Association vice president of finance Lara Rosner, BC '08, said. Rosner and SGA have garnered praise from SGB chair Jonathan Siegel, CC '08, for helping elevate the board's cause to the front of F@CU this year.
The SGB's request packet said it will ask for $222,625, a nearly 60 percent increase from this year's budget of $139,500. The SGB allocation has been cut over the last three years to compensate for prior overfunding. Many have contested that these cuts were excessive. Council leaders have pledged to up SGB's allocation.
"In the past, the councils' decisions have been completely arbitrary," Siegel said. "From almost everyone we've heard, 'yeah, you need more.' The question is, will they live up to that?"
Siegel said the SGB's requested allocation was smaller than it could have been in that "our groups alone requested 280,000, so we cut down a lot before going to F@CU." He also said the Activities Board at Columbia-a governing board that represents cultural, academic and competitive groups-has traditionally received more than SGB.
Okin defended the F@CU system, saying the ABC was not favored over SGB but that the councils consider a lot of various factors, including the number of groups and the specific needs of those groups.
"This process is like any budget process in a large institution," he said. "This is about balancing the needs of the governing boards amongst themselves and the type of groups they represent. I can't say that if a governing board requests x amount, they'll receive x amount. In a lot of ways we are financially constrained as well."
"The councils are not playing power politics," Okin added.
In the past, the process hhas entailed each governing board collecting fund request applications from each group it represents before presenting a comprehensive package to the incoming and outgoing president and treasurer of the four councils. While traditionally the F@CU members have not been required to offer explanations for their eventual allocations, this year they will create a mission statement, a draft of which confirmed students' beliefs that "F@CU will provide each governing board with a detailed description of reasoning for the allocation given. This will include, but is not limited to, the primary reasons for each individual cut as well as any historical perspective taken into account."Siegel said such a declaration gave him hope for a fair increase in funds. "If they have to justify their decisions, then they're going to give us the right amount," he said. "Anything less would be unjustifiable."
The question of transparency in the system has been an issue at the same time as various students debate just how governing board allocations can be compared. Siegel has suggested a per-group comparison, which he said suggested SGB is flagrantly underfunded. But such a number can be calculated in different ways, and Okin has said the needs of different types of groups are not the same. The club sports governing board, for example, has many fewer member groups than SGB or the ABC, but its groups incur more fees.
The councils will see presentations from the governing boards, deliberate, and make their decisions today.