The Office of Student Life recently announced it will not renew a $50,000 grant previously used to fund student organizations’ transportation to events. The OSL defended this decision in part by alleging that transportation grants had in the past been misused. However, without informing students of the impending loss of funding, the OSL has left some groups on financially shaky ground, and some are in debt after spending money on travel under the assumption that the grant would reimburse them.
In the past, Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, who leads the OSL, has stated that she and the Office are “committed to transparency.” By contrast, this cancellation came without warning or any indication that a cut to such funding would be occurring. This is not only unfair to the leadership of student groups who must now deal with an unexpected loss of funding, but also to students themselves, who may not be able to attend certain events without significant spending from their own budgets. Additionally, the OSL’s sudden decision calls into question whether the student body can trust the OSL (or any future office that will employ its staff) to be transparent about other issues in the future.
We accept that the OSL should maintain fiscal responsibility and ensure that the money it provides is put to good use. As it functioned in the past, the application for OSL funding was open to all student groups in good standing, as well as individuals traveling to academic conferences. We acknowledge that some students and student groups may well have misused the funding, which the OSL should strictly monitor and appropriately punish. We do not believe that voiding the entire grant for the upcoming year constitutes the latter.
The benefits to funding travel are sundry, as doing so is beneficial to enhancing students’ education, diversifying opinion, and equalizing the experience of students from differing socioeconomic classes. This type of funding is especially useful to students and organizations who cannot afford to travel without aid. Especially in light of its the recent report by the Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, the University is contradicting its own focus on inclusion by cutting transportation grants. We maintain that funding student travel is a good allocation of resources, and that other solutions exist to combat the risks of the grant being exploited. We also maintain that even if the OSL needs to trim its budget, transportation grants should not be one of the first programs to go.
Indeed, in contrast to the OSL’s current course of action, the funding for this particular grant was originally increased from $20,000 to $50,000 in 2014, as recommended by a College working group on student organization transportation. The working group was originally convened shortly after a student’s death in a car crash while driving back to Harvard from a mock trial tournament. This tragic history demonstrates the importance of funding safe transportation, and we urge the OSL to reinstate it as soon as possible.
Ultimately, this course of action taken by the OSL is misguided on many levels. In order to continue to emphasize economic diversity, safety, and student extracurricular involvement, we urge the OSL to reconsider this choice.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.