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UFB releases student group funding data

Board allocated $1.5 last academic year, student groups support move toward transparency

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Undergraduate Finance Board published the funding amounts of nearly 200 student groups Monday afternoon, revealing how much each group has received from the Board since the 2014-15 school year.

Last year, UFB allocated almost $1.5 million to the student groups listed in the release. Only Category III groups are eligible to request funding from the Board that goes beyond a $200 baseline. UFB’s budget comes from the $286 student activities fee included in the University’s yearly tuition.

Student groups interviewed by The Herald responded positively to the Board’s decision to release data, though some expressed concern about UFB’s funding policies and the discrepancy between top funded and lesser funded groups. 

Funding allocation

Brown Concert Agency, which organizes Spring Weekend, was the highest funded group in 2018-19 by a wide margin, receiving $303,262 from UFB. Brown Lecture Board and Class Coordinating Board followed BCA with $150,005 and $139,003, respectively, in UFB funding. All three groups have been the top funded groups since the 2014-15 academic year. 

In a statement that accompanied the data release, UFB explained why certain groups receive more funding than others. 

Groups that receive far more money than others are those that would not be able to operate (fulfill their mission) without that degree of funding,” according to UFB’s statement. “Such groups often reach a large number of students,” require extensive travel, host conferences or require “capital-intensive” funding such as printing. 

The most common amount of funding per group was between $0 and $1,000, with 94 groups falling in that range.

Groups UFB categorized as “campus service and events” received the most funding in 2018-19, with $543,460 allocated to 11 groups. Student governance received the next highest amount with $178,411 split among seven organizations. 

Some other categories of groups received little or no funding above the Board’s baseline. The five a capella groups listed took an average of $138.58 each, for instance, and the two comedy and improv groups received no additional funding.

Steps toward transparency

The data publication is part of UFB’s ongoing efforts to be more proactive, said UFB Vice Chair Fatoumata Kabba ’22.

“The goal (of releasing the data) is that … we’ll be able to gain a lot of insight into how the student body thinks about our funding — what are their primary concerns?” said UFB Chair Julian De Georgia ’20. “That will very tangibly drive future conversations and make policy changes.”

“Our hope is that more groups will be transparent as a result of this, that this will push everyone to be transparent,” he added.

The statement UFB published alongside the report outlined why the Board released the data and provided insight into how it makes funding decisions. 

UFB recognizes that “our current funding principles may be imperfect,” the statement reads. 

As such, both UFB policies and funding principles may change upon student feedback on the data release, Kabba said. “I don’t think we’ve ever really asked anyone, ‘What do you think about how UFB even thinks?’”

In addition, every undergraduate student has the “right to know” how UFB allocates its funding, Kabba said.

“We acknowledge that this data should have been public in the past,” the statement reads. 

The Board has published student group budget totals previously. For instance, in 2012, UFB made public the funding amounts for its top 30 groups over the previous six years.

Monday’s release comes one year after UFB released a budget report that gave an overview of how it allocated approximately $2.2 million, The Herald previously reported

UFB was previously unable to release more detailed data about how much funding each student group receives because of data analysis difficulties posed by BearSync, the online organization management software the University uses, De Georgia said.

BearSync is currently being phased out and UFB and the Student Activities Office are looking for a replacement platform, he added.

Student group leaders respond

Representatives from student groups interviewed by The Herald supported UFB’s decision to release the data. 

“Personally, I’m really happy that UFB is releasing all this information and … giving students a good chance to see where the student activities fee is going,” said BCA Co-Chair Michael Mills ’20. 

“As a student, … I think it’s particularly important to be able to know exactly how our money is being allocated,” said Brown Outing Club Co-President Maxwell Kozlov ’20.

But some group representatives raised concerns in light of the data release, particularly regarding service groups and inclusivity.

Nathaniel Pettit ’20, chair of the student learning committee on the Swearer Center Student Advisory Committee, said that there is a discrepancy in funding between organizations that directly benefit the University community and organizations that “do work beyond the Brown community.” 

According to UFB’s transparency statement, the Board “does not allow groups to donate funds allocated by UFB or pay for services for non-Brown students.” UFB allocates funds “in such a way that directly benefits (undergraduate) students.”

But by not funding certain service groups fully, Pettit said, “we’re preventing student organizations from carrying out their mission and in turn, preventing students from reaping the benefits of participation in community-engaged work.”

In a resolution on the data release reviewed by The Herald, the members of the Swearer Center SAC urged the Board to revise their policies to “eliminate archaic, exclusionary policies” and “work alongside service-oriented student organizations to fully fund community-engaged organizations.”

“We definitely understand the nuance of service groups,” De Georgia said. He acknowledged that “there are situations where giving something away is actually core to the mission (of a student group) and actually does support individual Brown students.” He added that UFB would be open to having a “larger conversation” about how the Board’s imperative could be reshaped. 

Junaid Malik ’20, executive board member of the Pakistani Students Association at Brown, raised concerns that some of the highest-funded groups have “historically excluded” certain groups like first-generation and low-income students. 

“Student groups that have more funding also have a greater obligation to think about questions of inclusivity,” Malik said. The data release “enables us to look at a broader picture” and “demand for UFB to think about questions of inclusivity.” 

Elizabeth Rogan ’21, president of Brown University Band, the 10th most funded group in 2018-19, said “financial accessibility is really important to us.” The group offers free music lessons and instrument rentals, for example, and does not require prospective members to audition.  

De Georgia said that “UFB has never played an active role in determining how groups do their recruiting,” but that UFB allocates funding “equally within our policies” to all student groups based on the minimum amount of funding they need to operate.

UFB will host an open forum on Dec. 4 for the Board to engage with students, receive feedback and address any concerns based on the data, De Georgia said.

“We hope that full transparency today will set a precedent on UFB and a public expectation for continued transparency in the future,” UFB’s statement reads.

— With additional reporting by Melanie Pincus

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