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Undergraduate Council leaders apologized on Sunday to theater groups who criticized the body for failing to adequately inform students about a recent cap on theater funding.
Addressing increasing funding allocations to theater groups on campus, the UC’s Finance Committee passed legislation last week—entitled the “Open Theatre Budget Ordinance of 2016”—that sets a semesterly $16,500 cap on funding to theater organizations. An additional $5,000 fund is available to theater productions whose subject matter aligns with one of the UC’s “compelling interests” of the year: mental health, race relations, sexual assault and harassment, and social spaces.
In the days since the Finance Committee passed the new legislation, members of various theater groups have taken to online platforms to criticize the Council for what they called a failure of communication.
Before fielding questions from leaders of theater organizations, UC Vice President Daniel V. Banks ’17 clarified that although the legislation sets a maximum funding allocation, theater organizations still stand to receive more funding this year.
“This semester, we will be giving out an unprecedented amount of money to the theater community at Harvard, more than any other UC has in recent history,” Banks said.
Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club President Aislinn E. Brophy ’17, who attended the meeting, expressed gratitude to the UC for providing funding to theatrical productions, but raised concerns over the UC’s communication with theater groups ahead of time regarding the new policy, and the criteria for the additional $5,000 funding to theater groups.
“We in the HRDC community have been sorely disappointed with the lack of communication this semester,” Brophy said, reading from a prepared statement. “Much of the outcry was due to the lack of transparency.”
Finance Committee chair William A. Greenlaw ’17, who sponsored the policy, said the legislation seeks to control for the growing rate of fund requests from theater organizations.
“I wanted to make sure that any student organization has an equal opportunity to get a decent amount of funding from the UC,” Greenlaw said.
In response to a question from BlackCAST President Jennifer L. Berrian ’16, Greenlaw reassured leaders of theater organizations that they could still expect to receive the typical $1,000 allotment for each of their theatrical productions this semester. He added that future grant amounts could vary depending on the demand for theater funding.
Addressing criticisms about the Council’s communication of the theater legislation, Greenlaw apologized for not soliciting the feedback of theater organizations when crafting the new policy.
“I want to personally apologize that we messed up,” Greenlaw said. “I should’ve reached out beforehand. I should’ve gotten more input beforehand.”
“If the Finance Committee is pursuing some sort of financial policy that disproportionately affects a particular constituency, we will guarantee that we will make a good faith effort to reach out to that constituency first, every single time,” he added.
Banks and UC President Shaiba Rather ’17 expressed similar sentiments and promised to “increase communication” between the Council and student organizations.
The Council spent a large portion of the meeting fielding criticisms and questions from leaders of theater organizations, who also took issue with the new “compelling interest based” requirements for the additional $5,000 fund.
Brophy called the requirements “problematic” and argued that the UC should not base funding to theatrical productions on subject matter.
“As an organization, one of our largest interests is the representation of a wide range of perspectives and issues,” Brophy said. “This funding decision seems to run counter to the things that an artistic community stands for.”
Other UC representatives echoed Brophy, pointing out that the clause might be seen as “tacit endorsement” of certain types of productions.
“I don’t think there should be any pressure on the arts community to funnel its creative energy to further any social issue,” Crimson Yard representative Nicholas Whittaker ’19 said.
Replying to a question about the UC’s criteria for judging theater performances that align with the compelling interests, Greenlaw said the additional funds are about “content, not about the viewpoint.” Under last week’s legislation, the Finance Committee will call an “expert… to counsel UC interviewers.” Greenlaw said the Finance Committee has yet to determine who the expert will be.
Rather said the policy overall aims to reward productions that focus on campus-wide concerns. “We want to make sure that we have enough funding to address these constantly changing issues,” she said.
Several UC representatives also defended the policy, emphasizing the important role of the UC in promoting important issues on campus.
“I do think it’s possible to endorse the coverage of certain topics,” Winthrop House representative Daniel R. Levine ’17, an inactive Crimson editor, said. “I’d be proud if we end up giving extra funding to a play that I disagree with.”
During the meeting, the UC voted to allocate $49,097 to club sports and $877 to TEDxHarvardCollege. The Council also voted to allocate $2,500 to fund Project H, a Student Initiatives Committee program that encourages students to plan “open, inclusive social initiatives.”
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