The four undergraduate student councils have decided to allow the five governing boards a greater role in Columbia’s controversial process for funding clubs. On Sunday, the councils—Columbia College Student Council, Engineering Student Council, General Studies Student Council, and Barnard’s Student Government Association—decided to allow governing boards to be present at both days of Funding at Columbia University, or F@CU.
Additionally, final allocations for club money will need to be approved by 13 of the 16 F@CU committee members and three of the five governing boards. “What I’m looking forward to is a streamlined process compared to last year,” ESC president Nate Levick, SEAS ’12 and F@CU chair, said, citing “overall smoother operation and more handshaking with the governing boards so that everyone, not just the councils, are on the same page.” F@CU, the event where funding decisions are made, traditionally takes place during reading week of the spring semester.
This year, instead of a one-day process, it will take place over the course of two days, with the first day being devoted to 20-minute presentations by each council and governing board, and the second day to deliberations.
“These improvements will result in a much better F@CU process,” said newly elected Student Governing Board chair David Fine, CC ’13. Every club at Columbia falls under the jurisdiction of one or more governing boards, which are responsible for most of a club’s oversight and funding. The five governing boards are SGB, Activities Board at Columbia, Club Sports Governing Board, Community Impact, and Inter-Greek Council.
“My hope is that what this will do is give the governing boards their rightful place at the table of F@CU and therefore help funnel more money to what is the lifeblood of our campus, which is student groups,” Fine said.
Outgoing ABC president Daniel Brown, CC ’12, agreed. “Having everyone in the room together represents a good step forward,” he said. “Last year it seemed that many of the problems ... could have been solved just by having the governing boards in the room.” Two representatives from each governing board will also be allowed to participate in the deliberations.
In previous years, governing board representatives were not invited to deliberations. Though F@CU meetings are open, non-council members who attend are typically not as involved in discussions. “I was really surprised to hear that they weren’t even in the room,” SGA Vice President of Finance Naomi Cooper, BC ’12, said. “The fact that they weren’t asked to be—that already changes the status of the process.”
Governing board members said they felt disrespected during last year’s F@CU process and that council members did not listen to their presentations. “The fact that they felt disrespected during the meeting is something we need to change,” CCSC president Aki Terasaki, CC ’12, said.
Having governing board members present the second day will give them the opportunity to answer council members’ questions regarding clubs’ requested allocations, CCSC Vice President of Finance Kevin Zhai, CC ’12, said. For example, Zhai pointed to issues with last year’s allocation for Community Impact, one of the governing boards. When councils decide to provide less money than governing boards request, they generally cut funds for the boards’ programming before cutting group allocations. But he acknowledged that misunderstandings have resulted from the absence of governing board members at F@CU deliberations, citing last year’s Community Impact allocation. “Their board programming is really essential to the success of all their groups because they provide volunteer training,” Zhai said. “Without that training, it makes a huge impact on the success of their groups over the course of the year.” “It’s important that everyone is aware of these differences so that when arguments are being made, people are conscious of the differences between the nine organizations,” he added, referring to the four councils and the five governing boards.
The nine organizations are very different. For instance, SGA functions as both a governing board and a council. GSSC funding is much less flexible because GS students attend council programming far more than they attend club programming. GSSC President Jacqueline Thong, GS ’12, who has served on F@CU for the past three years, said she was excited by the addition of the governing boards into the F@CU deliberations. Still, she said in an email, “F@CU is a long process, and getting 16 people to reach a single decision has been difficult in the past few years. With more voices this year, this could be an even more challenging task.”
The amount of money each council contributes to F@CU will now be subject to change, instead of being solidified prior to F@CU. This will allow the councils more flexibility. “It allows conversations to be had where council spending and governing board spending are weighed side by side with each other,” Zhai said. This year, the structure of presentations and the amount of money contributed by each council to F@CU will also undergo key changes. “Rather than have the governing boards present to the councils, everyone is going to be presenting. All nine stakeholders will be presenting,” Zhai said. “This is to help build a sense of community and to have everyone recognize that we’re all student leaders embarking on a collective enterprise to determine what is best for the students.”
ESC president-elect Tim Qin, SEAS ’13, said he wanted to see this year’s process as a trial run for future years. “If we do it on a trial basis, we can evaluate it this year and see how it works out, and next year, we can maybe extend that or make it a permanent process with tweaks based on how we saw it work out this year.” Levick also talked about the idea of continuity between F@CU committees. Each year, the committee gains eight new members—the newly elected presidents and treasurers of each council. “What we’re trying to do is not make some sort of ironclad constitution,” he said. “It’s to start putting some things down on paper to make this year’s process a little better and make it easier down the road, so that each new officer doesn’t have to take a few steps back or start from square one.”
The discussions on Sunday were not a vote. Zhai will codify the consensus into the constitution and the changes will be put to a vote as early as next Sunday. Fine said that this is a “very important step,” but that student life fees—from which F@CU gets its money—still need to be re-evaluated holistically. “I think there needs to be a bigger discussion outside of F@CU about student life fees and the way the system operates now,” he said. firstname.lastname@example.org