A Call for BCB Transparency

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The Budgets & Clubs Board (BCB) is the governing body for all club funding on campus. There are currently 94 active clubs and the great majority receive funding through BCB. The ten members of BCB are students selected through an interview process by the Committee Selection Board. I served as BCB Chair from January 2017 through January 2018 and helped implement many changes during my tenure, but there is still a great need for better structure and transparency.

Clubs are required to renew annually with BCB to continue as an active club for the following academic year. “We like to meet with each club to discuss their budget for the upcoming year so we can better understand what they want to do as a club,” said Willy Anderson ’19 BCB Chair of Allocations. Allocations are a chance for clubs to show off the work they have done all year long. Making the structure of this process more transparent and more formal would benefit all concerned.

The Office of Campus Life dictates the amount of money BCB has available to distribute annually to student clubs. However, Campus Life does not have this information prepared in time for spring club budget allocations. When BCB makes initial allocation decisions, as it did from March 24 to 28 this year, BCB works from a loose target of how much money it will have the following school year. Flying somewhat blind, BCB make preliminary allocations hoping the figures will be within range of the final budget to be announced in September. Clubs do not receive any notification of funding prior to the second week of school in September, at which point budgets are given directly to club leadership and never published to the campus community.   

Historically, clubs receiving the most funding have been WRBC, Outing Club, Club Frisbee (Women’s and Men’s), Club Skiing, and the Equestrian Team.

One critical element missing from the budget process is specific feedback from BCB to clubs for budget cuts. When BCB does not approve requested funding, its explanation often does not enable clubs to understand the cuts and improve their budget processes. BCB does provide line-by-line notes on items it opts not to fund. But, the feedback is generally opaque. A common justification is: “Funding for particular event cut due to the need for greater discretionary cuts to all budgets.” This ambiguous line is a catch-all that fails to give the transparent and student-centered feedback BCB should provide.

Another missed opportunity to improve the club funding process is under the control of Bates College Student Government (BCSG), which reviews and votes on all expenditures made by BCB. BCB is a sub-committee of BCSG, but BCSG oversight is essentially a rubber stamp. Remarkably, BCSG has not denied nor formally reviewed a single decision made by BCB in the last three academic years. This system of supposed checks and balances is clearly not functioning as intended because there is never a substantive review of BCB decisions by the BCSG assembly. One reason for this may be that BCSG has no criteria for evaluation or approval of BCB requests. The process only puts the requests up for a majority vote by the general assembly. A concrete set of funding parameters and guidelines for the BCSG assembly members would provide needed framework for club funding approval.

Another concerning area surrounds new clubs petitioning. If a new club applies for approval and is denied by BCB, there is an opportunity for appeal. Unfortunately, the appeal must be made to the same group of BCB students who declined the initial application. A new grievance body should be formed, separate from BCB, to give students a fair appeals process for new club applications.

Not only does BCB lack transparency in funding decisions, it also currently suffers from lack of organizational unity in decision making. Internal power struggles among BCB co-chairs have impeded board members’ ability to work well together, provide a cohesive forum for club funding applications and decisions, and make unbiased funding decisions for the campus community.

The path forward should involve refocusing BCB efforts on providing funding and support to all student clubs through transparent, rational BCB processes. Explicit rules should be created, published and consistently enforced to develop an environment where club leaders can trust BCB to make reasoned decisions about funding for club activities. A full publication of club budget allocations and additional funding requests (including denied requested and budget cuts) would help ensure accountability for both BCSG and BCB as they allocate club funding.

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