The Activities Board at Columbia presented a proposal to Barnard’s Student Governing Association on Monday night to change the way the two organizations fund dually recognized groups, just one week before the Funding at Columbia University process begins.
Of ABC’s more than 150 cultural, publication, academic, performance, and special interest groups, 40 are also recognized by SGA. These dually recognized groups currently receive two-sevenths of their funding from Barnard student life fees, which are distributed by SGA, and five-sevenths from Columbia student life fees, which are distributed by ABC.
The 110 ABC groups that are not dually recognized are funded exclusively through F@CU—the process by which student life fees are distributed from the four undergraduate councils to governing boards and then from governing boards to student groups.
Currently, during F@CU, ABC is funded solely by non-Barnard student life fees. But at Monday night’s SGA meeting, ABC representatives proposed that SGA fund ABC directly through F@CU—as the other undergraduate councils do—rather than funding their dually recognized groups separately.
“There are 110 ABC clubs that have Barnard women participating in them and often leading them, yet they are not supported by SGA in any capacity—be it funding, space, advising, basically anything,” ABC president-elect Saketh Kalathur, CC ’13, said. “It’s unfair for the funding for these clubs to come from the student life fees of CC, SEAS, and GS students and not from Barnard students.”
But many SGA representatives did not respond well to the proposal. Some SGA reps said that with just one week before the two-day F@CU process begins, ABC has not given them enough time to make a decision.
Others expressed concern that the plan would effectively force SGA to “relinquish” control over the 40 dually recognized groups, as SGA Vice President Rachel Ferrari, BC ’13, put it. Under the proposal, SGA would be putting all of its funding for those groups in ABC’s hands.
If it approved ABC’s plan, SGA would be “losing the majority of our clubs,” outgoing SGA president Jessica Blank, BC ’12, said during the meeting. There are currently about 30 student groups recognized only by SGA.
“We’re going to have no jurisdiction over all ABC clubs,” she said.
Kalathur and outgoing ABC president Dan Brown, CC ’12, made the proposal at Monday night’s SGA meeting, arguing that the current dual recognition system is broken and outdated. Their proposed system is largely identical to the system by which SGA already funds the Student Governing Board.
“There are two aspects to this plan,” Kalathur said. “One aspect is how to make things easier for the clubs that are already dually recognized, and one is to even the playing field between the 110 groups that are not dually recognized and the ones that are.”
Kalathur and Brown stressed that the new system would not result in SGA’s losing clubs—rather, they said, SGA would essentially be recognizing 110 new groups.
“I wouldn’t want you to see this as transferring authority from SGA to ABC, which I don’t think it is,” Brown said at the SGA meeting. “I think you could think of it also as gaining a stake in 110 groups in which you now have no connection with. They’d also be allowed to program on your campus, and they’d be allowed to participate in Barnard student life in the way that they should be because they have Barnard student members.”
“In a community of student groups where there are so little distinctions between Barnard and Columbia students, I think it’s unfortunate that we as student leaders are stuck up in discussing issues of jurisdiction that we’re forgetting what is actually good for the groups,” Kalathur said.
An ‘antiquated’ system
Malvina Kefalas, BC ’14 and SGA’s academic affairs representative, said Monday night that she would want to make sure that SGA’s 110 new groups actually become more involved in Barnard’s community. SGA Vice President of Student Activities Gila Schwarzchild, BC ’13, said that it would be important for leaders of these student groups to go through training that would “teach Columbia students how student life works here.”
ABC surveyed dually recognized groups earlier this month about their experiences with both ABC’s and SGA’s resources. Of the 24 groups that responded to the survey, 23 said they prefer using Columbia’s advising resources.
“What we’re finding is that most of these groups that are dually recognized are not taking advantage of their resources at Barnard,” Kalathur said. “A lot of them feel they don’t know how to use the system as well as ABC’s system.”
Most of the 24 groups also expressed a preference for Columbia’s resources when it comes to space for meetings, space for larger events, reimbursements, and general purchases. Of the 11 groups that travel, nine said they prefer Columbia’s resources for travel arrangements.
Sixteen groups said they prefer Barnard’s printing services, which charge discounted rates. Still, 22 of the 24 groups said it would be easier if all of their funds were in one account rather than two, and Brown said that many dually recognized groups don’t spend money from their SGA accounts.
“That’s a lot of money that could be going to student programming that just isn’t,” Brown said. “It’s really frustrating to see clubs not taking that initiative.”
SGA Vice President of Finance Naomi Cooper, BC ’12, said that dually recognized clubs have applied for joint council co-sponsorships when the money they are requesting is already in their SGA accounts.
“The way it’s set up right now … it’s an antiquated and really weird system, and it doesn’t make much sense,” she said, adding that she hadn’t had enough time to think about what the best solution would be.
In order to gain dual recognition, a group must consist of at least half Columbia College, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and General Studies students and at least one-third Barnard students. The system has been called outdated partly because certain dually recognized clubs no longer meet the requirements for dual recognition.
“All dual recognition means is that at a certain time in history, there was once a club that had this minimum requirement, and because of that they forever got two-sevenths from Barnard,” Kalathur said. “Which I don’t think makes any sense, because two-sevenths is less than 33 percent to begin with.”
‘Sort of a curveball’
Brown and Kalathur hoped that SGA would vote on their proposal at Monday night’s meeting, SGA’s last of the semester. But several SGA members said at the meeting that one night was not enough time to come to a decision.
“It happened very, very late,” Blank said after the meeting. “There are things that need to be worked out. It’s not as black and white as, ‘It’s better for all of the clubs.’”
“This all happened in the last 24 hours. It’s sort of a curveball,” Cooper said after the meeting. “There are a lot of possibilities that we don’t have time to explore and we won’t have time to explore in the next week.”
Cooper added that since SGA’s executive board first met with ABC on Sunday, there had already been six additional meetings in which the issue was discussed, involving both students and administrators.
“Seven meetings in the last 24 hours in which we discussed this, and just for a final decision to be made in the next 24 hours or in the next 72 hours,” Cooper said. “It’s just not realistically going to happen, because all of those people need to be re-included in the loop.”
Kalathur and Brown’s proposal included the provision that this year, SGA could allocate the same dollar amount to ABC during F@CU that it would normally contribute as its two-sevenths funding share. In future years, SGA would have to contribute more substantial amounts.
“The reason why we agreed to give them the same dollar value—which is a huge concession on our part—is that we understand the time crunch,” Kalathur said.
Still, Cooper said that there are other ways to fix the current system besides ABC’s proposal.
“Maybe a good solution would be, all dually recognized clubs could just see their accounts in SGA,” she said after the meeting. “Just because we don’t fund them at F@CU doesn’t mean this won’t happen next year at all. Just because we don’t fund them at F@CU doesn’t mean those accounts can’t be consolidated over the summer.”
“Regardless of what happens financially … we can vote to recognize ABC groups in that they can use reserved space,” Blank said after the meeting.
Kalathur said that if SGA agrees to fund ABC during F@CU, the details could then be worked out in the summer or fall.
“Instead of making a marginal change for dually recognized clubs, why don’t we make a real change for all the clubs?” he said. “This is not just about accounts. This is about issues like fairness, what it means to have Barnard students participating in groups … what it means to recognize a group. I’m worried that now, because this is getting delayed, that conversation will never happen.”