Ingber ’15: Abolish the UCS categorization system

Opinions Columnist

One of the most amazing things about Brown is the passion and energy students dedicate to extracurricular activities. Brown students use their time to achieve unbelievable heights outside the classroom. From giving back to Providence to launching technology startups to getting involved in political activism, there are few limits to what a Brown student can do.

Ironically, one of our greatest limits is our own student government. The Undergraduate Council of Students categorization process for approving student groups serves as a tool for UCS members to wield power over their peers who are interested in creating something new on campus. The categorization process runs counter to the Brown ethos of creative thinking and maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit. Student government should not function to prevent students from starting a new group should they so desire.

The UCS categorization process is arbitrary and cumbersome. After reading a 25-slide PowerPoint, students are required to receive the approval of a UCS representative responsible for new student groups. If they do manage to receive this approval, which is by no means guaranteed, their idea is presented to the UCS general body for them. It is unacceptable that students cannot pitch their own student groups because there is a risk that the presentation misrepresents the nature of the group. Keep in mind that UCS also has a spring deadline of Feb. 21. So if students have any creative ideas for a new group after that date, they have to wait until next semester.

This extremely bureaucratic process vests far too much power in far too few people. Why should students need the approval of UCS to start an organization? The lack of transparency is frustrating, and the fact that a group of a few students decides whether student organizations can exist is undemocratic.

What exactly is the point of categorization? According to UCS, categorization is necessary for funding student groups. The Undergraduate Finance Board allocates money to student groups, but categorization through UCS seems unnecessary. Student groups should be able to apply for funding from the UFB at any given point — either on a regular basis or for particular events. What about groups that don’t need money from student government? For groups with outside funding, this argument for categorization falls by the wayside.

Others argue that categorization exists to allow groups to use the Brown name. In theory, many believe there should be some oversight when groups purport to represent the Brown community. Yet The Herald and Brown Political Review, two of the most successful publications on campus, do not appear on the official student group list for 2014.

What should be done? The end goal should be to foster an environment that rewards creativity, hard work and fresh ideas for Brown’s campus. Abolishing the categorization process would create a free-market environment for student groups to thrive or fail. Before you freak out about the free-market analogy, think about it this way — any student group with substantial popularity would have a spot on campus. Conversely, any student group that ceased to have a following would flop. Currently, an overbearing student government and a lengthy categorization process prevent students from realizing their goals.

Last semester, a friend of mine attempted to start a branch of TOMS Campus Club, a nonprofit linked to TOMS Shoes that sends shoes to the developing world. Much to her surprise, UCS denied her categorization under an arbitrary claim that the club would promote a private company’s interests on campus. My friend was extremely motivated about this cause, only to run into the brick wall that is the categorization process. TOMS Campus Club is an accredited nonprofit that would have created an important outlet for charity work on campus.

UCS should not be able to determine which groups should use Morning Mail, make room reservations and take advantage of advertising mechanisms. These services should be available to all Brown students as part of our student activities fee. By abolishing a superfluous categorization process, we would release some of the chains preventing students from creating new ventures on campus. Not every group would succeed, but at least we would know it wasn’t student government that stopped them.



Zach Ingber ’15 wishes more student groups were simply given a chance. He can be contacted at 

One Comment

  1. Categorization is done solely for the purposes of managing money be it in the form of funding for groups directly (dealt with by UFB) or the use of University resources like media services, rooms, Student Activities personnel, etc. The process is tedium and a huge PIA. However, I don’t see an alternative here about the administration and allocation of these resources.

    The bigger issue with UCS is that for the most part, students are not elected onto it and make these decisions largely irrespective of their peers. It’s decayed into a stagnated self serving culture of initiatives to become relevant in student life again with such wonderful campaigns like “You See Us Week” and materials highlighting accomplishments like shelling out money from the Student Activities Fund for laptop chargers at the libraries.

    We have wonderful projects like Ventfull emerge from the Brown community outside of any help from UCS because the student government isn’t very interested in supporting early stage student initiatives. They just lack that early-adopter spirit of engagement.

    former kid in student government.

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