The Model United Nations club at Bates is not very large. We have about eight members spread across each class year. However, what we lack in size, we more than make up for in passion. Our club loves to travel, debate, make friends, and compete with other schools. Through our discussions about international justice and development we have become more responsible global citizens and more engaged students. We understand that due to our size we will not always be preferred when it comes to budget allocation. However, we have a reasonable ambition each year: to attend one conference. On Monday evening, that ambition was shattered. That was the night I received our budget for the 2015-2016 school year. Along with a general cut of about 5% which was applied to all clubs, our hotel and transportation funds were completely removed. These cuts represent more than a 50 percent reduction in our budget. Please take a minute to fully appreciate the impact of a 50 percent reduction in funds. It is more than just annoyance; it is, in effect, a death sentence. This year, our club was hard-pressed to attend our conference, even with the “full” budget. Members paid for all parking, food, and gasoline expenses out-of-pocket. Losing half of our budget means that the Model UN club is over at Bates College.
When pressed, the budget committee will stammer, claiming that they expect us to pursue Cosponsorship. The Cosponsorship process essentially entails begging our student government to give funds as needed, when the deadlines to a given expense comes closer. This response is a non-sequitur. Not only does it push costs up by making payments dangerously close to deadlines, it insults the identity of what student activities is supposed to represent. Every year we would be required to justify our own existence to a student government who, with a stroke of a pen, could destroy our club’s aspirations. The security of a club should not change upon the whims of non-affected students who have won a popularity contest. Clubs who have demonstrated their worth to the campus and have attracted a dedicated membership should be given the chance to succeed, period. How can I justify advertising to new students when our club, by default, is not able to do anything? I can only imagine the barriers for any bright-eyed student with the ambition of starting a new club. If the cuts to current clubs are any significant indication of how desperate our Student Activities Fund is, I expect funds for new clubs to be close to nothing.
We are not the only ones. Across campus last Monday night, almost all clubs were devastated by draconian cuts to their budgets. My question then is the following: where is the money? Our tuition rates consistently go up. Our budget allocation for existing clubs consistently goes down. Is it really the case that costs are so high that the college needs to both raise revenue AND reduce relative spending for student clubs? If it is a fact that budget allocation has been diluted by a huge influx of new clubs, why can’t the absolute value of our Student Activities Fund increase to at least maintain the status quo? After all, it should not be the case that, for example, a new videogame club takes away funding from an existing chess club. There is no transparency regarding the spending of our college and it is sickening.
I can tell you where the money has not been going. It has not been going to our academic education. Where are the professors that our college desperately needs? Every student at Bates knows that the highly touted 10-1 student ratio is at best a distortion of the truth and at worst an outright falsehood. If you are unlucky enough to be interested in a popular major, brace yourself for 4 years of petitioning and 30 plus-student classes. Due to their relative popularity, majors such as economics and neuroscience have even removed their thesis requirements, a staple of the Bates education, simply because they do not have enough manpower to provide every student with a thesis experience. Many departments have not changed their overall faculty numbers in decades, despite enormous changes to interests and major distributions. Bates has no politics, economics, biology, psychology, sociology, biochemistry, English, art & visual culture, or environmental studies minor. Bates has no computer science major (a school for the coming times indeed). Bates has no international relations major. There are huge gaps in our academic repertoire that the college has shown little indication of filling despite huge decreases in the relative funding for student activities.
But instead of addressing budget concerns, our administration seems to be spending its time playing office politics and antagonizing the student body. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard students (seniors in particular) say that they are either not donating or are less enthusiastic to donate. And who can blame them? Our college has shown itself to be incapable of spending its money wisely while at the same time demonizing student traditions. Sneer all you want at the Trick-or-Drink protests, they perfectly epitomize the state of relations between administration and students: a student body that is fed up of being patronized and an administration who thinks they can purchase good will from Papa John’s. This sort of attitude exacerbates our budget crisis, and our administration has not put forth any genuine concession to salvage the relationship. The RA’s recent vote of no confidence is evidence of how drastic the situation has become, although the RA betrays the stature of its office when it states that its vote has no “practical weight”.
Speaking of student government, what is the stance of SG on this issue? Where is the outrage from our campus leaders? I am calling on all members of student government to challenge the administration on its spending priorities. It seems that money is not being allocated according to students’ best interests and the college needs to explain why such an assessment is mistaken. I have treasured my experience with Model UN and I’m sure many of you feel the same way about the activities in your clubs. It would be a shame if we resign ourselves to lose future friends and experiences just because nobody is willing to fight for them.