Student organization funding process to be restructured

Getting funding from career fairs is wrong incentive structure, Nelson says

The Student Organization Review Group, a committee of students and administrators commissioned by Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, is discussing ways to restructure the budgeting and funding process of student groups.

“Student groups are funded through multiple revenue sources. If you think about those as buckets — so you have the General Institute Budget, and you have career fair revenue, and you have the Student Life Fee, gifts from alumni, ticket sales — groups will be petitioning for a new fund, which is a new bucket, into which the GIB, career fair funds, and the Student Life Fee flow,” Suzy Nelson, vice president and dean for student life, said in an interview with The Tech.

The General Institute Budget (GIB) is a base fund of authorized MIT funding, and the Student Life Fee (SLF) is a $312 mandatory charge to all students that is dedicated towards the improvement of student life.

“It's better to have a more straightforward funding model with more clarity on the way funding is distributed with regards to the funding sources,” GSC Treasurer Krithika Ramchander told The Tech.

The discussion for restructuring originated from complaints about the annual Fall Career Fair and a desire to provide stabler sources of revenue for groups that currently benefit from profits made from Career Fair, which are the Graduate Student Council, the senior class council, and Society of Women Engineers.

In past surveys by MIT Global Education and Career Development (GECD), the Fall Career Fair has frequently been criticized for catering to companies that can afford to pay more money for a chance to recruit MIT student instead of representing a breadth of professional organizations.

“Career fairs, in general, shouldn’t be used to fund student groups because it really is the wrong incentive structure. It incentivizes those companies that can pay a lot to come to a career fair to come, and those that might not be able to pay a lot of money not to come,” Nelson said. “We’re aiming for a kind of decoupling of the Career Fair proceeds from the funding of groups.”

Members from the GSC, the UA, Senior Class, SWE, as well as Nelson, DSL Executive Director of Administration Peter Cummings, and Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Community Involvement Gustavo Burckett currently sit on the committee and are working on creating a set of guidelines and best-practice processes for student groups to follow in order to create a rigorous, transparent way of distributing MIT funds.

“We want to have a rational, transparent way of looking at the way money is spent,” said Orpheus Chatzivasileiou, the GSC secretary in an interview with The Tech Sunday. “Our budget is on our website, and is available to pretty much anyone, and we feel that it is good practice for everyone do that.” 

In contrast, undergraduates must meet in person with a member of their class council to see the budget. In May, a UA vote to make class council budgets public did not pass, with 12 of 34 votes in favor and one abstaining.

“Is it the right way to keep spending money without having a group of people actually think about how the money is spent? Maybe there are different ways to do that, that we as an institution haven’t really thought about before,” said Cummings.

The committee aims for the changes to be implemented in fiscal year 2019.