SFB: A UTILITARIAN CRITIQUE

By JACK MECCIA

$209 per person – it’s the current student activity fee. The figure that, every semester, funds undergraduate entertainment and extracurriculars. If the number is aggregated, there’s certainly a hefty sum of money to allocate and manage. Sure, it costs $209 on average to pay for all these expenditures, but let’s make things interesting by examining another aspect of that number’s meaning; namely, the benefit. Weigh this consideration in a practical sense: if you had the choice, would you pay $209 (excluding ticket prices, etc.) for the overall value the student activity fee provides?

I suspect that, in many cases, the response will be yes. For the typical student, clubs and school-funded activities are probably worth it. Understand, however, that whether or not you would give that $209 to the Student Finance Board is an entirely separate question. There’s a compelling alternative here that needs to be explored.

Picture a different method of ensuring that $209 gets used for student activities. The money is still taken from your semester bill, but instead of it being transferred to SFB, you have a balance of $209 in a “funds transfer account,” bearing a resemblance to PayPal. Every registered student organization has an account, and individuals have the option of giving the money to whichever group they wish (they’re also free to add their own money). But clubs aren’t the only ones with accounts. Others can post events, such as concerts or performances, that are authorized to pool funds. Such a system would have a number of desirable features worth discussing.

The first is greater choice. Direct translation of student preferences to programs is a difficult process. For example, the College Union Board regularly surveys students prior to coordinating a concert or comedy show. But artist availability and pricing produce logistical constraints, to say nothing of CUB’s goal of bringing “different” acts to campus. Under the existing system, preferences are certainly not sufficient to ensure outcomes that reflect (to the greatest possible degree) individual desires. But an alternative that allows direct movement from choice to event would fully reflect the wants, and most importantly, first choices, of individuals.

Why even bring artists to campus? TCNJ is right between New York City and Philadelphia, where popular acts make regular appearances. College students aren’t incapable of making a simple trip into the city, especially if it means seeing someone like Incubus instead of, say, Cartel. The better approach would be to let students use their activity fee to partially defer their transportation and ticket expenses, and pay the rest out of pocket — because tickets for college shows have to be bought anyway.

The second advantage here is inclusion. Organizations and event planners would have an even more vested interest in securing participants. The rationale is simple. People respond to incentives, and if money had to be voluntarily transferred, only those clubs and events with an adequate and committed membership could afford to hold events. Consequently, those vying for funds would do more to include a greater audience, which would ramp up extracurricular involvement, as well as make casual members feel a greater sense of involvement.

On a related, and third, point, the system would provide a self-checking mechanism to ensure quality. Should an event not meet the expectations of those who contributed funds to it, there will be future repercussions. Students won’t be as apt to commit money next time, which applies a constant pressure to perform. With CUB in control of a programming, we can’t take money away from them if, say, we didn’t appreciate the skydiving rant during the Greg Giraldo/Michael Ian Black show. But under the system I’m advocating, not only is that option there, it is encouraged as part of value assurance.

Although I frequently reference entertainment as a way of utilizing the student activity fee, there are many other options. Academic initiatives are an important consideration here. After all, college is a place to acquire knowledge. But the trouble is that, within a given student population, there will be a significant divergence in intellectual tastes. TCNJ students are mostly smart people who want to learn, but they prefer to learn about different things. For example, lectures about cultural norms might be of interest to some, but others just aren’t going to attend. On the other side of the spectrum, if a remarkable athletic trainer were slated to speak at a nearby gym, I’m sure a number of students would go if they could divert their student activity fund to it.

A fourth advantage is full recognition of available opportunities. Many times, there are interesting (off-campus) events that students would probably go to but don’t know anything about. Searching for these things can be tedious, especially if one doesn’t know they exist in the first place. But having a categorized database of events to transfer money to certainly puts things out in the open, especially since organizers will actively canvass for your money.

I’m not saying CUB and SFB don’t have good intentions. For the most part, they do. But it’s extremely difficult to gauge student interest, and come up with workable solutions that maximize student satisfaction and involvement from such a highly centralized system. Recognize that an organization like CUB derives its strength not from its ability to coordinate workable, but admittedly second-tier options. Rather, its effectiveness stems from the concept of value creation through economies of scale. It’s a lot easier to save money when resources are pooled. What I’m advocating is an approach that gives this power, through autonomy and choice, to responsible college students who know, better than anyone else, what they want.

Comments

9 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Jane Doe,

    TCNJ students already complain that there’s nothing to do on campus. SFB does its best to poll student interest to make everyone happy. But, if those who disagree with their practices don’t speak up to them, they will continue to cater to those who are most involved with campus clubs and activities, ie, CUB and other active clubs. There are a lot more proactive things that could be done besides publishing this article. Go directly to someone who can do something about your complaints.

    • I hate to call you out, madam, but you’re being awfully presumptuous with this comment.

      Who’s to say we haven’t spoken to folks high up in the administration about this? Actually, it is this kind of article that legitimizes our publication and allows us to have influence among the College’s elite. It’s why our editorial board can have private meetings with some of the most influential people currently running TCNJ.

      I assure you, darlin’, we’re being far more proactive than you think. If you think anything needs to change at this school, please e-mail us at mail@tcnjperspective.com and, if we deem it appropriate and worthy, we will do our best to be the catalysts to bring about the change you’re looking for.

      Thanks for providing your two cents though… We love the feedback. Please keep commenting.

      Cheers,
      Ron

  2. Jane Doe,

    Your demeaning remarks are not appreciated. I am many years past graduating from TCNJ and therefore well older than you. Or maybe I’m being too presumptuous again and you’ve been held back a couple years. If you’re going to run a publication that you wish to be respected, do so professionally and treat your readers with respect as well. If you’ve talked with people from SFB, you should mention so in your articles. Cite your facts like any good journalist should do. I’m only trying to help you out and make you think so this publication can succeed in getting its message across.

  3. Jill,

    I agree with the article. I personally hate that my money funds Snoop Dogg and Third Eye Blind, and I don’t remember being polled about my interest in seeing a man who can regurgitate goldfish. I think that the activities should be funded by those who attend them, and a selective system would be an interesting means of correctly allocating funds, though there remains a potentiality for issues, such as general loss of funds if not all students participate in the selective allocation.

    I understand that it’s easier to make people attend an event if it is free or discounted, and so by hiding event admission fees in the tuition bill, SFB/CUB can receive the same amount of funds, but this is entirely unfair to those with no interest in these useless forms of entertainment. I hate that my money gets wasted on so many events that I would never have interest in attending.

  4. Glenn Eisenberg,

    Jane Doe, my vision of the Perspective is that it can raise questions, complaints, etc. that people may have. Those articles can then inspire thought and action by our readers. We, as involved students and activists ourselves, will do our best as individuals to work along with the readers who want to take action.

    We can effect change; outside of our role as journalists for the Perspective.

    It is my hope, and my goal, in writing for the Perspective that it will allow for students to formalize their feelings on the College and world around them with well thought out writing that can then be released for the rest of the College to see and reflect on.

  5. M.C. Tracey,

    In determining that TCNJ students wanted Tucker Max to speak at TCNJ, CUB allegedly misrepresented the results of its survey. So, there is certainly reason to be concerned that SFB/CUB is not doing a terribly good job at representing what sort of acts we’d like to have on campus. The first step in addressing a problem is identifying that one exists in the first place, which was exactly what Jack sought to do with this article.

  6. L Joo,

    I agree with some of the benefits the article proposes, but I think there’s also the problem of resource allocation. A top-notch band like Incubus commands ridiculously high fees (I’d say close to $80,000 + administration costs and the like), which might be difficult to amass through the new system. I think SFB/CUB does the best that they can – they play the necessary role of the middleman, in negotiating and doing the background work.

  7. Allie,

    I think that this article brings up really good points about our current system, I have to question the alternative solution. The PayPal-esque account proposed would take a lot of effort to involve all of the students. Honestly, most of TCNJ is comprised of bros and biddies that can’t be bothered. I think we would really risk the funding we have available. CUB really tries it’s hardest to provide something for everyone, event wise. I understand that people’s desires are not being met but the fact is that we go to a school where the typical student is really into Third Eye Blind or Vanessa Carlton. Personally, I hate that kind of music but I can’t argue with the fact that these shows sell out because this is what the majority of campus wants to hear. I became involved with CUB to broaden the horizons of the organizations and to give my non-bro/biddie two cents. I really encourage others to do the same. We place a very, very high importance on the feedback from our G-Board and the surveys we send out. I got involved with the Rat so I could try to bring more diverse music to the campus.

    I want to stress the fact that CUB tries it very hardest to put on events that everyone can enjoy. I think it would be very beneficial for anyone that has complaints with the organization to come to our meetings and talk to one of the e-board members.

  8. CRM,

    I am an alumni and former SFB member and I think that some issues need to be addressed in this article. First, let me just say that TCNJ students should be proud that an organization, such as SFB, comprised entirely of students is allowed to manage the student activity funds. Most colleges in the nation have the administrative financial office manage these funds, with little student involvement. Secondly, there are many legal considerations that must be followed when handling organizational cash in general, not to mention public funds. The tracking of the proper use and designation of public funds must be audited yearly to ensure that the money is being used for the purposes of which it was designated. If the money is held by every student in private accounts, it would make this process very difficult, if almost impossible. Thirdly, as a former SFB member, I can speak for the larger student organizations when I say that every involved organization on campus makes as much effort as possible to reach the student body with regards to events and meetings. It is the student body who always appears to be uninterested and ambivalent to anything happening on campus. Case in point: Check the election poll votes for student government and the numbers will speak for themselves. Lastly, you only need 5 or 6 people to start any organization on campus. If you are really that unimpressed by use of activity fees, then create your own organization that promises to use the money more wisely.

Add Your Comments

Disclaimer
Your email is never published nor shared.
Tips

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <ol> <ul> <li> <strong>

Ready?
Required
Required