Free Money for … Anyone?

The UC needs to tighten supervision of the party fund

Not many people came to the Undergraduate Council (UC)-funded party in Cabot N-33 this weekend. Maybe it was because the door was relabeled “N-32.” Maybe it was because the party was “advertised” at the end of a three page “list of possible great things to do tonight,” which included everything from a Rembrandt docent tour at a museum to an all-day seminar on exports in Boston (which was over by the time the e-mail was sent). Or maybe it was the time-change announcement sent out at midnight. Whatever the reason, the Cabot “party” looked much more like a scam for a free $100 from the UC than a contribution to Harvard’s social scene. (The residents did not answer calls made to their listed room telephone number last night.)

The UC party grant fund is a great asset to campus social life, and it is particularly valued because it leaves party-planning in the hands of eager students. The UC has a list of reasonable regulations that a party must meet to be funded, including that it must be advertised. But incidents like the Cabot N-33 fraud—a blatant example, but hardly the only one—demonstrate that the UC needs to tighten its oversight.

Right now, 20 percent of party grant recipients are audited and required to produce receipts. These receipts are scrupulously checked for costs and dates of purchase, but the other 80 percent are never even seen. While it would be ideal if we could rely on students’ honesty, we now have indisputable evidence that students are not all honest with the party fund. The Finance Committee, which oversees the party fund, is handing out $1700 of student money each weekend, and it must step up and ensure that all the money it distributes does indeed fund parties. To that end, grant recipients should be required to show, at the minimum, reasonable receipts before being reimbursed.

But receipts can be faked. The UC also needs to verify that all funded parties are actually taking place. A member of the UC should stop by each host suite during its event and check that it is a legitimate open party. Between the 35-plus members, it should not be an undue burden to make appearances at 13 parties over two days. “Super party” grant recipients should receive particular attention, as they are getting $200; in these cases, the UC should ensure that super parties are really adding “super-value.”

UC-funded parties not only have to actually take place, they need to be advertised. Thirteen parties are allegedly funded each weekend, but most students would be hard pressed to name even a couple of them for any given weekend. The grant rules stipulate that parties “must be advertised to a significant number of undergraduates, including an e-mail sent to the House open-list, if allowed by House policy.” All hosts should be required to prove they actually have publicized their party before being reimbursed. This could be as simple as having hosts copying a designated UC member or a party fund email account when the required emails are sent over lists.

The UC should also list all party grants on its web site. Right now, a list of the recipients is sent to “uc-weekly,” an open list that can be joined from a link on their website. This is an improvement from last year, but parties are still under-advertised. Concerns have been expressed that this would allow non-Harvard students undue access to the party information, but the UC should be able to secure their web site by requiring a log-in. All Harvard undergraduates should be able to look up a list of suites receiving student money for open parties. A list posted to a secure UC web site would be the easiest and most efficient way to facilitate that.

The party grant fund is a popular and effective way for the UC to boost campus social life. The system should, however, be made more resistant to fraud. It is easy to fake receipts, and even publicity emails, but it is nearly impossible to convince a UC representative at the door that a party is happening inside if it is not. With a little more oversight, the Finance Committee could improve the party fund’s integrity and make sure that all student money is spent responsibly.