By Nick Mischler
While BSC was amending the prospective budget for the 2011-2012 academic year a few weeks ago, BelFast ran out of funds. Now, I’m not completely aware of what was approved in this year’s BelFast nor the processes in which they are judged; nonetheless, I would like to comment on what I do know concerning the outcome of this year’s BelFast and give some suggestions in the hope to change rather our perceptions of the formal proceedings. Having the funds run out only three-fourths through the year seems inefficient— unless a suitable amount of programming funded by BelFast is planned throughout the remainder of the year.
From what I’ve heard, however, some of the funds granted during the course of the year have been used whimsically at best. Given this, I find it hard to believe that the remainder of the year has been planned well. I believe the issue lies, at least in part, with clubs and organizations perceiving the need to send a representative to BelFast as another chore in operating a club. I heard it many times during my first few weeks at Beloit as the various clubs I visited all sought first-years to fill the representative slots: “It’s only an hour long,” and “You can do your homework while you’re there; they don’t care.” This implies to these prospective club members that these representative roles do not need to be taken seriously and that mentality persists when they participate in the meetings.
This perception needs to be avoided. In the case of BelFast, we’re talking about the allocation of a large part of the student activity fees. Apathy and indifference on the part of the representative body leads to both excessive and abusive spending as these students, not realizing the gravity of their role, haphazardly approve most of the proposals brought before them. This holds especially true if clubs alternate their representatives each week. Having an alternate in the event that the primary representative is unable to participate is perfectly fine; having two or three representatives on an alternating schedule gives each representative little chance to perceive the long term status of the BelFast funds and results in short term, excessive spending.
When it comes to the proposals themselves, it obvious that the progress of the total budget should be considered. If we, for the ease of the numbers, had $100 to spend over 10 weeks, then we wouldn’t want to spend over $10 on average each week in order to ensure we would not run short at the end of the 10 weeks. The same strategy should be applied to BelFast meetings. Simply calculate the ideal average spending amount per week during the course of the year and inform the entire body of the status of the funds as each week progresses. Proposals do not need to be instantly tabled simply because the previous week was a bit spending heavy, but I believe a well informed body would perceive persistent overspending as a sign that greater consideration should be given the to presented proposals.
Money is not the only concern; relevancy and openness to the entire campus should be merits of a good proposal. To give an example, let us assume that eight active members of an Italian Club wished to take a tour of authentic Italian restaurants and sample various Italian foods. Regardless of the amount of funds the group requests, two issues should already be apparent. First, has the group given any chance for non-active club members to participate in the trip? The funds granted to BelFast are a collection of activity fees collected from every student; therefore, proposed events should be reasonably open to any student willing to participate. Second, while the connection between the club and the trip is fairly obvious, any educational benefit is not. A proposal outlining the intent to use the trip as a learning experience as well as presenting the experience to a larger student populace would be a more appropriate use of funds compared to a social trip taken purely for amusement.
One representative to BSC, seeing how club after club seeking budget amendments continued to pull funds from the prospective budget’s increase to the BelFast Off-Campus budget, feared that these reductions would lead once again to the early expiration of BelFast funds in the coming year. While the additional funds granted in the proposed budget could possibly assist in extending the life of BelFast, I do not believe that more funds alone can solve the issue—especially when students might perceive the increase of funds as a reason to spend more freely.
The issue we should be focusing on is the efficiency of allocating funds. Doing so does not require any structural change to the processes under which BelFast operates; only a change in the mindset of all involved. Some promise was shown part of the way through the year when representatives were instructed to present information on the proposals given at the week’s meeting to their respective clubs or organizations and seek their input. It is my own awareness, brought about by a representative taking that instruction to heart, that compels me to write in the hope that even greater awareness will improve a system doing its best to enrich our college experience.