WU should help support competition groups
This Tuesday, Student Union Treasury unveiled a proposal to revamp the process by which student competition groups appeal for funding. Under the proposal, groups would appeal to a Competition Committee in the spring that would then decide which, if any, requests it wanted to fund. The Competition Committee would then submit the total cost of funding each approved group to the Budget Committee and Student Group Activities Committee, which would vote either to approve or reject the package in its entirety. While separate funding for competition groups is a step in the right direction, this new plan represents an incomplete solution. Given that competition groups are handed such large funds, at least in part, because they bring prestige to the school—and also given the fundamental difference between funding a competition group and other clubs—the University should at least partly fund these groups directly.
Because SU funds not only individual groups but also events such as W.I.L.D. and major speaker appearances, Treasury’s job is to weigh the costs and benefits of its many funding options. All are important but bring different value to the student body. Student Union draws its funds from the student activities fee —$425 per year—and in general, SU Treasury tries to fund events an absolute maximum of $425 per projected attendee.
Most events don’t even approach this limit. Thousands of students attend W.I.L.D. each semester, and the per-attending-student cost for each performance is well below $100. But competition groups often have to travel to other locations and thus incur per-student costs that are far higher than those of the standard student group; therefore, these groups require special consideration. In some cases, appeals made by competition groups even exceed the $425 activities fee per member. But as with any other appeal, SU must consider where else that money could be going.
It isn’t fair to put a mock trial tournament in direct competition with a campus speaker who might have the potential to bring hundreds of students together for an afternoon. The per-student costs are vastly different, and putting them head-to-head encourages unjust comparisons that ultimately serve no one. For that reason, funding conferences outside of the general appeals process is a positive step that likely will benefit competition groups in the long run.
But ultimately, it’s a band-aid solution to the larger problem that these groups warrant more in per-student allocations than most groups. Though given that SU’s priority is supporting Wash. U.’s student body as a whole, it can be difficult to argue in favor of funding competition groups at the rate that is necessary for them to be competitive at a high level when large events appeal to a greater number of students.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that competition groups should not be funded. But we should realize that building a prestigious competition program requires resources beyond those of a student government in charge of funding hundreds of other student groups and major campus events. If we want our competition groups to actually make names for themselves, they need to go to a large number of conferences and other events and, in some cases, host conferences themselves; Model United Nations, for example, hosts a conference for high school students. Such conferences attract potential Wash. U. undergraduates who want to continue their participation in college. But doing these things certainly isn’t free.
It makes sense for the University, as the benefited party, to fund the groups. Any profits from the hosted conferences could be used to defray the costs or, if a surplus were achieved, put toward improving future events. And having the University fund competition groups is hardly unprecedented; Arts & Sciences actually used to fund Mock Trial.
The process by which competition groups are funded needs to be reformed, and creating a separate competition appeals committee is a step in the right direction. However, the University should consider funding them directly, at least in part, and accelerating their growth without pitting them against large-scale event appeals. As much as SU should be expected to fund groups and events with its annual budget of about $2.5 million, the University shouldn’t treat it as a cash cow. And when groups benefit Wash. U. as an institution more than they benefit students themselves, the entire student body shouldn’t be expected to pick up the tab.