Opinion: Lack of Oversight Allows College Councils to Run Amok with Student Funds

Opinion: Lack of Oversight Allows College Councils to Run Amok with Student Funds

Adriana Barrios

The decentralization of administrative units that is necessitated by the multi-college system creates a maze of bureaucratic offices that is impossible for an outsider to conceptualize. The end result is that the student body is unable to keep a clear record of the way that the school is run or even where their money is spent. A key example of this are the college councils, which are comprised of students, both elected and appointed, that are tasked with allocating college funds and making fundamental decisions about the operations of their respective college. Those are substantial responsibilities for groups that enjoy relative anonymity within the student body. This existence in the periphery of the student awareness creates problems with accountability and transparency. Students should not be forced to navigate the strange web of offices and committees in order to find out where their money is going. The responsibility of maintaining elected officials accountable falls on the constituency, but in this instance it is up to the administration to not only make sure that these organizations stay on mission, but also to disseminate information to the rest of campus.

The college council system itself lacks coherent organization, which heavily contributes to issues in accessing information. Each council is structured differently, which makes it hard to compare efficacy across colleges and to track spending. While it is true that each council is supposed to serve the needs of their college, our colleges are not so inherently different that the university could not standardize their structures. Instead, each college council is left to create their own bureaucratic mechanisms. Lack of standardization seeps into other areas as well. Councils have varying abilities to provide services and launch events. For example, student fees collected in every college are different, which gives the students of each college disproportionate experiences.

This bloated bureaucratic system has churned out decision after decision that puts into question how much oversight these college councils actually receive. Take, for example, the seal at the entrance to Earl Warren College. Engraved with the Warren logo, it (along with the Warren College motto, which is emblazoned on the path) sits next to a nondescript bench next to the path. Its only defining feature is its enormous cost: the project cost at least $42,000. That is more than the estimated cost of undergraduate attendance for a year at this school. Even if these prices were reasonable, the question arises of whether the students should be paying them. The money came from Warren College Student Council reserved funds and heavy contributions from the provost. Saved student funding is primarily intended to be used for permanent or long-lasting projects that will tangibly benefit the Warren community. Although the seal project fulfills the permanence aspect, their benefit is doubtful, as the seal is nothing more than a self-aggrandizing photo-op in Warren Mall.

This project was started six years ago, a generation of students ago. This time frame’s absurdity is only rivaled by the accompanying costs. Students who are no longer here decided to spend tens of thousands of dollars of student funds on a project that does not serve the purpose for which those funds are allocated and there is nothing to be done about it. Lack of oversight on council projects and lack of purposeful transparency to the student body can account for this. College councils should have a time limit on council projects, and administration should stop projects that don’t serve the student body instead of encouraging them.

The accountability problem is easily seen throughout the six colleges. For example, Eleanor Roosevelt College’s council has allocated $7,500 to their retreat for multiple years now, even amid criticisms that argued it was a unnecessary expense. Although retreat provides training, workshops and bonding opportunities for council members, the student body should not bear the brunt of the financial responsibility. Especially given that other college councils manage to have retreat without spending nearly as much in student fees on them. Clearly, there is a systemic problem in translating student input on spending to college council actions.

Largely, this is due to each college’s administrations; they fail to provide the necessary guidance for councils to operate in the best interest of the students. Lack of oversight is not something that can be easily implemented, partially due to the way the decentralized administration operates; standardizing and mandating timely reports to the student body however can serve as a means of accountability. By standardizing structure, organization and fees, councils can more easily be held accountable and it would allow students to better understand their college’s government. Only by informing the populace can they truly hold their leaders accountable.