Holding Student Groups Accountable

The UC should be judicious with its funding

A recent Crimson feature suggested that Undergraduate Council event funding, which is based on attendance estimates, is significantly overblown. The overall estimated attendance for grant-receiving events occasionally exceeds the total undergraduate population and frequently eclipses believability, indicating that students organizations are inflating attendance expectations to receive more funding. And at the moment, the UC has no system in place for verification.

At the core of this problem are student groups looking to exaggerate attendance estimates for their events. The UC’s Finance Committee, which gives about $300,000 to student organizations each year, funds food at $2 to $4 per person and transportation at $4.50 per person. Since funding is partially based on attendance estimates, groups have a clear incentive to inflate their numbers, especially given the lack of a strong verification method. This has led to the current situation, in which the number of undergraduates expected to attend events daily often exceeds 3,500—over half of the size of the student body. In the words of UC Finance Committee Chair William A. Greenlaw ’17, “You’re telling me that one in two people attend all events on campus? There’s no way.”

A monitoring system on the part of the UC would be difficult to implement, as would any effort to prove that student groups are consciously being dishonest in their estimates. But whether in the form of random event evaluations, a restructured grant application, or a decrease in funding across the board, the UC should use its power to audit student organizations and curtail any malpractice. Students are charged a $75 UC student activities fee on their term bills each year, and it should not be put to waste.

After all, Harvard’s campus is already over-programmed. A brief glance at a campus bulletin board or any of the House email lists reveals as much. The UC should thus consider ways to consolidate events. So far this academic year, just 5.24 percent of events have been collaborations between student organizations—down from 5.56 percent the year before. Given these low numbers, we find Greenlaw’s emphasis on increasing joint events between clubs quite valuable. In order to implement this plan, the UC could provide a financial incentive to encourage collaboration on events between clubs. Bolstered by a system by which clubs requesting funds can see what other student organizations are planning, this would prioritize quality of events over quantity.

With such a large annual budget, the UC has no small task in allocating grants to student organizations. Any sign of misuse of the funds it disburses is reason for concern, and the UC should thus act accordingly in ensuring the accountability of student groups.


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