At its last meeting of the semester, the Activities Board at Columbia voted unanimously to approve a number of comprehensive reforms, including a suspension of the new group recognition process for next semester.
The reforms, which will come into effect next semester, will change the way ABC representatives are elected each spring and dissolve three internal committees. The changes also institute a group evaluation process and re-examine the way groups receive funds and earn recognition by the governing board, which oversees cultural, performance, academic, preprofessional, publication, and special interest groups.
“As we’ve gotten more and more groups … we just really don’t have time anymore to focus on policy in the way that we should be or the way that we want to be,” ABC president Saketh Kalathur, CC ’13, said.
Kalathur agreed that the suspension of new group recognition was a downside, but said that ABC can’t use and reform the policy at the same time. Kalathur said that the board would continue to fulfill its responsibilities to current groups, and that improving allocations would be one of the first things the board would look at next semester.
“We have resources, and we aren’t properly allocating to the groups,” vice president Julian Richardson, CC ’14 said. “We’re going to get rid of groups that aren’t programming to retain more funds and then redistribute those.”
Kalathur added that precedence, which in the past has indicated a group’s funding for the next year, will matter less under the new system, so there could be significant changes to groups’ allocations in both directions.
Representatives raised concerns about why there couldn’t be some sort of compromise between the proposed reforms and new group recognition.
“What happens to people who are trying to make new groups?” ESC class president Joshua Boggs, SEAS ’15 and ESC liaison to ABC, said.
Richardson said that groups seeking recognition could utilize ABC’s unrecognized groups system. Under this policy, ABC can reserve space on behalf of an unrecognized group, and then a representative will attend the event.
“They’ll already have interacted with ABC multiple times, and we’ll be able to see if they’re a good fit for us,” Richardson said of the unrecognized groups. “It works as a two-way street.”
Lee agreed, adding that promoting the unrecognized group system would put ABC in “a stronger position to review them in the fall semester.” Representatives also stressed that groups seeking additional funding can appeal to the joint council co-sponsorship committee for the semester.
In another change, instead of each ABC representative serving on a different committee, they will all work together on policy initiatives. The representatives will be split into teams headed by the executive board members—Richardson, treasurer Chloe Ruan, SEAS ’13, and secretary Tony Lee, CC ’15.
“We might as well just have a Manhattan Project of policy,” Kalathur said. “Have everyone working on it at the same time so we can bang out the low-hanging fruit easily.”
Another issue the board plans to tackle next semester is re-examining the Electronic Approval Forms. With the implementation of LionLink, a platform student groups use to spend allocations and recruit new members, each ABC group has to fill out an EAF for every event they hold and a financial transaction form, or FTF, for each purchase it makes.
Most events require multiple purchases, and thus multiple FTFs. At the town hall last week, Kalathur said ABC received overwhelming feedback that the two forms were redundant.
After that town hall, the Columbia University Milvets proposed a rolling evaluation system for groups to ABC members. Milvets president Richard Baldassari, GS ’14, said that the student body is “disadvantaged” because groups that grow significantly each year—such as the Milvets—do not receive enough funding, while there is no formal evaluation or derecognition process for groups that lose membership or stop programming.
Baldassari said Milvets was founded with 12 members and now has around 400, but that its allocation has not grown at a proportional rate. He suggested a system of ABC groups evaluating each other on a rolling basis, where groups would be reviewed every few years.
The board did not decide how the reforms would be implemented or what the new structures would look like. Kalathur emailed the resolution as well as its proposal for next semester early Thursday morning to ABC groups.
Kalathur said after the meeting that ABC will pursue all the reforms listed in the proposal, though it’s unclear exactly how. Certain processes—such as allocations, group evaluation, and EAFs—will be the main focus of the board next semester.
ABC members plan to spend the first half of next semester putting together a package of reforms and then presenting it to groups, councils, and administrators for feedback. The reforms will be implemented in the second half of the semester.
Kalathur stressed that groups would not be blindsided by the reforms.
“We will be getting feedback through the groups before we pass anything,” he said. “Because it requires a constitutional change, we have to get two-thirds of the groups to vote.”