Student Finance Board authoritarian, needs reform

Allow me to paint a picture for you. Many are ruled by few. These few exercise their power as if it were total and unbounded, currying favor and putting down insubordination through intimidation and force on a regular basis. Is this scenario taken from Stalinist Russia? Or maybe it’s more current, from the situation in Burma? Think again. This scenario plays out time and time again, right here at the College, thanks to the Student Finance Board (SFB).

SFB is the student-run dispenser of money from the Student Activities Fund, set up by the College’s Board of Trustees to ensure the funding of student organizations’ endeavors. In a perfect world, SFB would work as it was intended. What the Board of Trustees forgot when they dreamed up this organization was human nature. As John Acton once said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Is it wise to give students the power to fund or not to fund other students’ organizations?

Before I continue, I must make a crucial distinction. SFB is divided into two parts. The executive board listens to proposals and then decides whether or not they merit being sent on to the rest of SFB. This editorial deals with the executive board and not the remainder of SFB, as they are often unaware of the wheeling and dealing of their leaders.

I have heard many complaints by people who shall remain anonymous in order to protect their organizations from any backlash this article may have from the executive board of SFB. Until this year, I had never dealt with SFB, and, like most people, considered it to be the benevolent institution it was intended to be.

All of that changed very recently however, as I had to request some funding (not full) for the International Studies Club’s Model United Nations team to attend one of the two conferences we go to each year. The Dean of Culture and Society had graciously donated some funding, but we still had to front over $3,000 as a club just to go to our first conference.

Model UN is an academic competition in which student-run Model UN clubs compete for recognition and awards. Last year, the College went up against schools such as Princeton, Yale and Harvard universities, and did well enough to be invited back and even get assigned an involved country this year. Model UN is a student-run activity that increases the prestige of the College outside of New Jersey and is a valuable asset to the school.

When we requested to ask SFB for funding we were told by our SFB liaison that things looked good. The story stayed the same until last week when the executive board of SFB denied our request. According to them, a conference must either be required to be part of a national organization or bring something back to campus.

Our request for funding was denied and we now have to fundraise over $3,000 in a month or front the money ourselves. An SFB response to this will tell you what I just described: the conference request we submitted did not fulfill the requirements set down for SFB funding.

However, my grievances lie not with this rule in entirety, but rather with the way we were treated by members of the executive board themselves.

When I heard we were denied funding, I walked down to the SFB office to ask them why and how this was justifiable. The student who answered my questions was smug and almost seemed to enjoy crushing my club’s dreams. As I left, I informed him I would be writing this editorial. His response was, OK, we fund The Signal. In short, he was telling me free speech doesn’t matter to SFB, simply because they fund the paper and so can exert pull over what they print. Thankfully, The Signal has more journalistic integrity than SFB gives it credit for.

Upon returning to my dorm room 20 minutes later, I found in my inbox an e-mail informing me that my club’s funding had been frozen by SFB. The reason given was valid, but wasn’t it strange that 20 minutes after an argument with the head of SFB our funds were frozen? These sort of draconian tactics are typical of SFB; clearly someone has read Machiavelli’s “The Prince.”

Other clubs have expressed similar complaints in secret at SFB, or have had similar experiences of bullying by the organization. These people are too afraid to speak out, fearing SFB reprisal or that the executive board will find an excuse to not fund their next event.

I hereby call upon the Board of Trustees, SGA and other student organizations to join me in a call for the reform of the Student Finance Board.

It is unfair that 16 students may not be able to attend a conference they have been working hard for simply because of a technicality. It is unfair that students who are equals with their peers get the sense they can bully them and exercise authoritarian rule over others. It is unfair that SFB seems to think funding a school paper means they control free speech. The system in place is flawed, and it needs a change. Hopefully that change is swift in coming.