Op-eds, Opinions

Singh ‘19.5, Gold ’20, Gomberg ’20: UFB funding is inequitable, misguided

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Op-Ed Contributors
Tuesday, December 3, 2019

In light of this week’s funding release by the Undergraduate Finance Board, we, the leaders of Brown’s largest service organizations, wish to voice our profound disappointment in UFB’s funding practices. The release revealed that UFB disproportionately funds some student groups, while service and social action organizations struggle to make ends meet. UFB’s decision to concentrate funding into a narrow subset of Brown’s student groups is a historically misguided practice that disservices community engagement and reflects poorly on our values, commitments and priorities as Brown students.

Currently, UFB distributes all of its annual $2 million budget with the requirement that funding must directly benefit Brown students. This requirement is extrapolated from a narrow interpretation of a single clause of its constitution: “Decisions of the UFB shall in all respects reflect the fact that the student activities monies do not belong to the UFB, but are held in trust for the student body.” In practice, UFB applies this policy to deny certain funding to service groups. We disagree with this inequitable, unclear and misguided interpretation.

The funding release shows the perverse outcomes of such an interpretation. Essentially, it is fairly straightforward to acquire UFB funding so long as funds are not used to address systemic inequality in Rhode Island or support the continuation of meaningful partnerships between Brown students and the Providence community. Service groups work in sustained partnership with community members to tackle systemic inequality that Brown often perpetuates. In doing so, they also provide their members invaluable experience in this kind of work. These groups are limited in their ability to implement these objectives because of UFB’s current funding practices.

Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring, Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment, Sexual Health Advocacy through Peer Education and the Petey Greene Program together have hundreds of members, who work in long-term, meaningful partnerships with various parts of the Providence community. These six groups are collectively funded at $28,451. More broadly, the 22 groups classified by the UFB as “Service Organizations” are funded in total at $43,094.

HOPE alone has 142 direct service workers and several dozen advocates, totaling about 200 students. The collective effort of HOPE students are funded by the UFB at a total of $4,557, or about $23 per student. This money covers vital direct outreach supplies like water, first-aid kits, toiletries and winter clothing.

In contrast, the 20-person Brown Mock Trial team received $40,446 in the 2018-2019 school year. At a rate of about $2022 per student, this money mostly pays for significant cross-country travel. Other examples of disparate funding include: Chess Club ($12,592), Table Tennis Club ($11,447) and Formula One Racing ($9,775).

In drawing this contrast, we are not targeting Brown Mock Trial or any other organization. The top three funded organizations — Brown Concert Agency, Lecture Board and Class Coordinating Board —  all serve important roles in the Brown community and host large-scale student events. We also recognize the importance of student groups as a way for students to find community around shared passions and to gain valuable skills for life after Brown. Mock Trial and the Brown Debate Union, two of the top funded organizations, are good examples of organizations that provide students with strong communities, valuable public speaking skills and exposure to the legal field.

But organizations such as HOPE, BEAM and BRYTE also provide strong communities and vital professional exposure, often to fields where there is a stark shortage of qualified practitioners. Shouldn’t our UFB also fund a student’s exposure to work as an engaged social worker, an educator working with marginalized populations or a community organizer? Doesn’t that constitute a “benefit” even if it is not as direct as paying for plane tickets?

While Brown Mock Trial and other highly funded organizations are surely worthy extracurriculars, it is difficult to believe that a viable mock trial team would struggle to exist without tens of thousands of dollars in travel fees. It’s also difficult to believe that this allocation of UFB’s limited resources equally weighs the needs and considerable impact of all student groups. At the same time that UFB approved these lavish travel fees, it denied funding to BEAM, HOPE and BRYTE for important organizational functions. As a result, BEAM students have had to pay out of pocket for school supplies for their classrooms; HOPE has been unable to help clients obtain vital documents for acquiring housing; and BRYTE has been unable to fund more than one tutor/tutee community event.

We want to reimagine UFB funding practices as one small way to address the marginalization that Brown perpetuates and has failed to address sufficiently throughout its history. Of the top 15 funded groups, not one is categorized by UFB as a service or social action organization. Service organizations continue to pick up the administration’s slack by working closely with communities to advocate for reform and equity.

For example, HOPE fights for affordable and dignified housing alongside its community partners, a struggle that reckons with Brown’s gentrification of Providence and its exemption from property taxes. Railroad pushes Brown to institute fair hiring practices for formerly incarcerated job applicants, an initiative the administration has slow walked. Brown students involved with BEAM serve Providence Public Schools in a far more sustained way than Brown’s own institutional efforts. These are just a few of countless examples. UFB’s policies should assign more value to this vital engagement.

UFB might claim that its funding choices do not reflect value judgments of groups’ missions. But what you pay for shows what you care about. The policy of funding only what “directly benefits” Brown students, and the narrow way UFB applies it, fails to consider the needs of student service organizations. The 35-year existence of this policy does not justify its continuation. Indeed, it is all the more reason for the policy to change. The recent funding release and the policy upon which it is founded show how much UFB cares about student involvement in meaningful advocacy and community engagement. Quite frankly, it shows that UFB does not care enough.

Michael Gold ’20, Will Gomberg ’20, and Dhruv Singh ’19.5 – On behalf of HOPE Leadership. They can be reached at michael_gold@brown.edu, william_gomberg@brown.edu and dhruv_singh@brown.edu.
Mia Pattillo ’20, a former Herald section editor, Evan Lincoln ’21, and Sara Montoya ’21- On behalf of SHAPE
Natalie Feinstein ’20, Mneera Al Saud ’20, Vaishnavi Sankar ’21, and Josué Zepeda-Sanic ’22 – On behalf of BRYTE Leadership
Cayla Kaplan ’20 – On behalf of BEAM Leadership
Yesenia Puebla ’21, Estrella Rodriguez ’22, and Nina Wolff Landau ’20 – Sunrise Brown and RISD Hub Coordinators
Leni Kreienberg ’20 and Catherine Carignan ’20 – On behalf of Camp Kesem Coordinating Board
Jenny Lee ’21 and Idalmis Lopez ’21 – On behalf of PAL Soham Kale ’21 and Eva Kitlen ’21 – On behalf of SEADD

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3 Comments

  1. Louis J. Schepp says:

    Nothing prevents the authors from making contributions to those organizations that they feel are underfunded. Nor are they estopped from engaging in fund raisers for those organizations. Those are steps that no one would object to.

    But a mandatory fee assumed to have been assessed against all students, should primarily benefit students at Brown, not the larger Providence community.

    • Those are actions these organizations already engage in. Most of these organizations spend a significant amount of time and energy in fundraising. Camp Kesem, for example, is fundraising $70,000 on their own this year. Yet, Brown Mock Trial, for example, has never once in the last 5 years had to raise funds–they are given $40k to participate in an extracurricular that helps no one but themselves, and one that allows them to party like a frat every other weekend. Trust me, many on the Mock team do NOT need to be subsidized by Brown.

  2. > Other examples of disparate funding include: Chess Club ($12,592), Table Tennis Club ($11,447) and Formula One Racing ($9,775).

    Correction: There is no “Formula One Racing” club—I think you mean the “Formula Racing Club”, which constructs cars that race in Formula SAE events, not Formula One.

    Using this club as an example of “disparate funding” is a discredit to this piece. The Formula Racing Club exemplifies how UFB can empower undergraduate students to collaborate and achieve something incredible—designing and manufacturing a race car! What the group achieves on its budget truly impressive. I encourage the authors of this piece to visit the car team some time.

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