Following the Undergraduate Finance Board’s publication of the funding totals for nearly 200 students groups last week, students expressed concerns about some of the principles that guide the Board’s funding decisions at a forum UFB hosted Wednesday evening.
“UFB’s goal is to help all of the student body. We’re always looking for ways to improve what we do,” said UFB Chair Julian De Georgia ’20 at the forum, which was attended by about 50 students. “I’m here to listen to what you have to say, start a conversation and answer any questions that you have.” UFB Vice Chair Fatoumata Kabba ’22 and UCS Chair of Student Activities Alex Song ’20 were also in attendance.
While students appreciated how the Board handled the forum and its transparency efforts, much of the dialogue at the forum focused on the fourth principle of UFB’s funding policy, which requires funds to “directly benefit Brown students.” The principle means that groups cannot donate UFB funds or use them to pay for services for non-Brown students.
Multiple participants at the forum, many of whom represented service groups such as Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring and Project LETS, questioned how the Board could quantify the amount that a group directly benefits students. They emphasized how community engagement work is a two-way street that inherently benefits both those in need and student volunteers.
Rocket Drew ’22, a member of HOPE, suggested eliminating the principle altogether. As a replacement, Drew proposed that the Board should instead consider “the actual impact that money has on real people’s lives in the community” during their deliberations on funding.
Students at the forum also criticized UFB’s practice of funding only “to the minimum that each group needs,” meaning that the Board only provides the funds necessary to support the cheapest options for supplies, transportation and lodging, among other necessities.
While multiple students agreed that a set minimum amount is reasonable for competition and travel-based groups, they argued that it is not equitable to apply it to service groups who could always use more funds to expand and deepen their outreach.
Met with loud snaps in agreement, one student at the forum also said that funding the minimum for small groups that require high amounts of funding and have high barriers to entry fundamentally benefits students who are already privileged.
During the forum, De Georgia also acknowledged that UFB has not been a “good advocate for students” in the past and that the current Board has “inherited a lot of precedence.”
Gabrielle Santas ’20, a member of the Student Advisory Committee in the Swearer Center for Public Service, said that she “would like to see (UFB) move itself in a different light” that upholds the “certain institutional culpability and accountability that Brown has to the greater Providence community” by funding groups that better the community. The SAC has adopted a resolution urging UFB to revise their policies, The Herald previously reported.
Drew told The Herald that the Board’s reliance on precedent was “hamstringing their ability” to allocate funding in a way that students would support. “Their highest priority should be to reflect what students want right now, not the ways in which past boards have spent this money.”
De Georgia wrote in an email to The Herald that he was impressed with the “thoughtful and productive” conversation at the forum. To ensure that these conversations lead to meaningful action, UFB is planning to take several steps to encourage further discussion and increase transparency.
For instance, they plan to create small working groups composed of students who are interested in addressing specific aspects of UFB’s funding policies, De Georgia added. The Board is also considering adding information about funding precedents to the UFB website, establishing office hours and creating a presentation that outlines the many pathways student groups can take to receive funding at the University.
“My hope is that UFB can change from primarily making budget decisions to acting as a champion of the student body and thinking proactively about what we can do to ensure that student activities at Brown are as successful as possible,” De Georgia wrote.