Treasury decision reflects need for more student input
Regardless of Bristol Palin’s merits as a speaker, there is one thing we know for certain: The majority of the student body did not want to pay her speaking fee. It is important, for purposes of clarification, to note that the appeal for funding was made by the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), and the money would have come from the Student Activity Fee, a charge that is used exclusively for student programming and is equal to one percent of tuition. Students entrust Student Union Treasury with the responsibility of spending this money—money that belongs to us—in a manner intended to best represent the preferences and values of the student body.
When Treasury made the decision to allocate $20,000 for potentially bringing Bristol Palin to campus, student response was overwhelmingly negative. We, therefore, strongly question Treasury’s initial decision and believe that it demonstrates a larger inadequacy in the body’s awareness of student values.
Discourse—the exposure to viewpoints that differ from our own—is something that we collectively value as members of a university community. It would seem, however, that Treasury failed to take into account Bristol Palin’s ability—or, perhaps better said, inability—to promote active discourse. The University is no stranger to controversial speakers or to the uproar that inevitably follows their invitation. We think Treasury should continually strive to bring in figures that are provocative, challenging and profoundly interesting in their departures from conventional wisdom. But there is a difference between paying speakers with whom many students disagree and giving our funds to those who students feel are not qualified enough to merit their substantial fees.
We, like Treasury, believe that attendance for SHAC’s event would have been high. But it would seem that many among the student body would only have been attending out of curiosity or ridicule, and Sexual Responsibility Week is intended to promote conversations to which the collective mockery of a public figure is irrelevant. On Tuesday night, it seemed that the members of Treasury took two things into account when making their decision: Bristol Palin’s fame, and the fact that abstinence had been overlooked during previous Sex Weeks. We don’t disagree with the second point, but treasurers, to some extent, used it to justify the first, running against the collective values of the student body and those that Sex Week seeks to promote.
This experience ought to be a lesson on a larger scale: Ability to draw a crowd, while important, should be a secondary factor in determining whether or not to fund a student group’s appeal for a speaker.
In a press release sent Thursday night, Student Union President Morgan DeBaun wrote, “Student Union will be examining its procedures and processes to allow for increased student body input on future decisions.” We are encouraged by SU’s willingness to look into this matter, and we can only ask that its members do so in earnest.
What has transpired this week can continue to be a learning experience for students discontented with Treasury’s actions. Treasury meetings are public, and any student can campaign to become a member. If we want an allocative body that accurately reflects student opinion, we need to create an appropriately participatory environment. And we hope that, in the least, this week has given us a reason to do so.