Friday, April 13, 2012

MCSG passes 'Community Chest,' collects $2,000

Originally published in The Mac Weekly.

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Macalester now has its own version of Monopoly’s Community Chest.

On Apr. 3 Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) passed Bill #0002, “The Community Chest Act.” The legislation permits the Student Services Resource Committee (SSRC) to distribute funding to students for miscellaneous activities sponsored by individual groups of students rather than individual student organizations.

“The purpose of this program is to grant students with a great programming or project idea the ability to make it a reality without requiring them to take a long-term leadership role in an org or on Program Board,” wrote Jesse Horwitz ’13, Chair of the SSRC and primary author of the bill, in a recent campus-wide email announcing the program.

Horwitz provided several examples of potential activities covered under the fund, including: “pretzel granting, grate painting, shaving cream fight, surprise concert, renting inflatable architecture, omelet contest, chili cook-off and lawn bowling.”

“Stuff that would be fun for a lot of people,” Horwitz said. “They could share it with everyone …we wanted something where it’s just a bunch of students having a good time.”

The bill establishes a pilot program for the idea, allocating $2,000 to SSRC to finance accepted applications through the end of the semester. Thus far, the program has received “a handful of applications,” according to Horwitz.

MCSG Debate

Horwitz, who is also a candidate for MCSG President, originally pushed to vote on the legislation two weeks earlier at the last legislative board meeting. However, to vote on the bill would have required a two-thirds vote to suspend the bylaws of MCSG, which require at least one meeting’s time between introduction of and voting on a given bill.

The Community Chest Act was passed after a significant period of discussion at the next meeting with 15 members in favor, four opposed and two abstaining.

“I think it’s a great idea for the campus, [but] I thought this particular bill at this particular time was rushed. There were elements to it that probably needed to be fleshed out more,” said Robert Strickling ’12, an MCSG class representative.

“Any student who has a good idea should be allowed to ask for funding,” said Patrick Snyder ’13, a junior class representative and candidate for MCSG President. “I think the sentiment about not wanting to get involved and stay committed to a student org but still having a good idea should be addressed.”

“I am a huge proponent of this initiative; typically it is difficult for students who are not involved in student organizations to access the student activity fee money that we all contribute to,” said Kate Hamilton ’13, next academic year’s FAC Chair, in an email. “It is nearly impossible for an individual student who is not in an organization to host an event using these funds. The Community Chest Bill (CCB) allows for just this.”

“I think there just isn’t enough time to start a new pilot program with only a month left of school,” Strickling said. “I think it is admirable to want to start working on it early, but $2000 is a lot of money to give away to programs that have to take place in the span of a month, given that nobody knows about it yet.”

“It’s obviously going to be a learning process,” Snyder added. “But I think going forward we can make it more than just a $2,000 pot.”

FAC versus SSRC 

Debate also centered on control of the bill’s funding. Most allocations of money initially run through the Financial Affairs Committee (FAC), but funding for the Community Chest Act runs through the SSRC.

“The FAC operates under certain guidelines; they are meant to fund orgs, basically, in the manner that reflects their charter [and] according to these certain guidelines,” Horwitz said. “We’re the Student Services Relations Committee … we are addressing what we see as a social issue on campus, so that’s why we wanted to take the funding under our control.”

“We wanted to run a pilot like this without as much regulation and hopefully with a quicker response time under a different framework,” Horwitz added.

“I believe that the program should be run in collaboration between the SSRC and the FAC,” Hamilton said. “SSRC involvement is essential, as this is their initiative. Although not written into the bill, the SSRC has agreed to be in communication with the FAC about which proposals are chosen, and I think that this is critical in having a successful run at this.”

“I don’t take issue, necessarily, with the money going through someone like the SSRC, but I think there needs to be oversight that wasn’t set up in this bill,” Strickling said. “They [should have] set up some oversight to make sure that future SSRCs didn’t misappropriate it or do something crazy.”

Strickling did note the passage of two amendments to improve oversight within the bill. One amendment required allocations greater than $500 to be approved by the entire legislative board of MCSG. Another allowed applications for funding declined by the SSRC to be appealed to the legislative board.

Horwitz, who originally ran for Vice President as a student without student organization affiliations, is careful to emphasize that the money is not a replacement for the FAC and its process for student organizations to request money. The bill itself declares that “no funds will be given to anyone requesting funds for a specific event or project that has previously been turned down by the FAC” and that “a request shall not be considered if the specific goals of the intended project or event duplicate the goals of any existing org on campus.”

Some early applications have tested this rule and others. Groups associated with but distinct from student organizations have applied for funding, raising questions of jurisdiction for both the FAC and SSRC.

Other students have sought funding for travel. Funds from the Community Chest Act are earmarked for use on campus itself or within “the immediate area,” preventing the use of funds for long-distance trips.

Horwitz hopes to sort out these ‘gray areas’ in the bill through the pilot program.

“Most people are very enthusiastic about the program, [but] we need to clarify exactly the kind of things we want,” Horwitz said. “So far, I would not declare it a success quite yet. I might send out a reminder email.”

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