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It’s not a popular thing to say that Harvard student groups get too much funding. But I’m going to go ahead and say it: most Harvard student groups may be short on space to work in, but they are long on money.
In the last sixth months, the College, the Ann Radcliffe Trust, the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, the Office of the Arts (OFA) and the Undergraduate Council doled out well over $90,000 dollars in grants to student groups. The council alone has written checks totaling over $100,000 this academic year.
Most of the usual suspects are on the funding lists. The Black Students Association received $950 from the council, the Harvard-Radcliffe Ballet Company received $500 for a spring performance and the Coalition Against Sexual Violence got a check for an undisclosed amount from the Trust. (The Trust and the Dean’s Office in the College will not say how much each group received, while the council and the OFA’s line item grants are readily available to the public online.) Everyone expects these groups to receive funding: they contribute significantly to the community.
But amidst all this green, Harvard has lost the ability to discriminate which student groups and events merit funding and which personal interests groups can be cultivated without formal grants.
Some of my favorite examples of groups that don’t deserve funding: the Anime Society received $190 from the council and also got money from the College, the Billiards Club got a check for $800, the Four Square Society $400, the Lovers of the Garden State $550 and the Scrabble Club $310. The OFA shelled out $500 for a “collaborative installation of multi-media models of imaginary buildings and open spaces ... installed on top of the low concrete walls flanking the handicapped access ramp to Holyoke Center.”
And the most ludicrous grant: the Trust, charged with fostering awareness of women’s issues on campus, gave the Harvard Tampoon humor magazine an unspecified amount of money in October.
There are many student groups at Harvard—unlike the organizations listed above—that deserve all the University can give them in terms of funding.
But Harvard should not throw money at a student every time they express an interest in cartoons or a board game. We’ve been spoiled—the general availability of funds has kept grant-giving organizations from fully exercising appropriate discrimination when it comes to funding.
The University’s great wealth comes with the responsibility to use that money wisely and responsibly. Because there is a finite number of grants given out each year, every time money goes towards a frivolous student group, another, more worthy group, gets less money.
But how should these grant-giving organizations judge worthiness?
Well, they should start by adhering to the College’s stated opinion about student groups. The Harvard College web page says that in joining a student group, undergraduates should expect to “make a valuable contribution to Harvard and the community.”
These bodies should use a strict test of educational merit and community contribution when making decisions about grants to student groups. Certainly there is nothing wrong with wanting to play Scrabble or exhibit your love of New Jersey. But board games and state pride do not directly contribute to the educational goals of the University. Nor do they better Harvard as a place of learning or address an unmet need in our city. Therefore, they should not receive formal funding from Harvard. These interests should be pursued on students’ own time and at their own expense.
This renewed focus on the educational goals of Harvard when making funding decisions for student groups will rightly exclude groups founded on personal fancy and direct more of Harvard’s vast wealth towards groups that specifically aim to improve the University community.
Joyce K. McIntyre ’02 is a history and literature concentrator in Kirkland House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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