Once again, we are approaching the giving season. This, of course, includes the Associated Students of Madison’s Student Service Finance Committee General Student Service Fund hearings and decisions that will be held over the next month. Organizations whose budgets were increased by percentages in double digits last year are now upping the ante by requesting percentage increases in the triple digits.
Some would question the tangibility of these requests. Let there be no ambiguity. If an increase of $800,000 for one organization were to pass, your tuition bill will increase by approximately $20.
Some involved with student fees might argue that there are many other factors involved with determining the end result of your bill. The fact is that in actual practice, budgets do not get cut. Proposed astronomical increases get modified from time to time.
The real dilemma is the cumulative effect of these astronomical increases. The result is manifested in the skyrocketing cost of segregated fees. There is no meaningful control mechanism in place to stop this inflation. In fact, there are many ratcheting mechanisms that encourage massive increases and discourage frugality. The very tangible result is that the allocable portion of student fees, or the portion that ASM most directly gets to play with, has increased by 500 percent over the past six years.
What we have now is a faceless and practically limitless pot of available money. If students discovered that by assembling 50-100 people to organize politically enough to place themselves in positions of power in the allocation system, they could set the rules for allocation and reception of that money to their favorite causes. If they discovered that the university administration will not intervene, no matter how corrupt the system, then it is reasonable to suggest that there would be significant incentive for individuals to set the system so that they could find a way to get a piece of the money in their own pockets.
SSFC members, past and present, have been instrumental in constructing the very budgets they are later called on to critically evaluate on behalf of their constituents. The problem is that most groups of ASM voting constituents are almost exclusively organized around segregated fee-funded groups. The result of the construction of this system is that the incentive for misuse of funds is extremely great.
In fact, misuse is precisely the result. Throughout the history of ASM GSSF allocations, the overwhelming majority of new student groups receiving money from SSFC has had either direct representation or significant connections to at least one past or present SSFC member.
If you were going to attempt to embezzle money to you and your friends from student fees, how would you go about doing it? Looked at through this lens, some requests become quite transparent. Especially dubious are any groups that discard modesty and simply ask to pay people that they hire, and institute minimal or no supervision of labor. If the Dean of Students office ever looked at the fee system the way the NCAA looks at athletes, there would be quite a few students missing these apparent “scholarships.”
The system has no incentive to change from within. One example of how entrenched groups are in the ASM funding system is the way the viewpoint-neutrality provisions were constructed last spring. When changes were being proposed to the funding system to deal with the Fry case, currently being litigated in federal court over the ability of the UW to compel student fees, the priorities were bewildering. With the axe of the judicial system swaying over the head of segregated fee advocates, more attention was paid to making the system more user-friendly to recipients than to actually taking the wolf off lamb-watching duty.
Unfortunately, due to divided loyalties and systemic favoritism, ASM Student Council members will never have the fortitude to stand up against those special interests that placed them in their offices and stand up for the students they purport to represent. Student special interests and ASM funding are indistinguishable. Again, this is why students must stand up and demand to be respected and heard. Normally this would be the job of a representative student government. And that is why there is a desperate need to create one.