Both Student Assembly and Palaeopitus are organizations that provide student leadership on campus. And while both have reputations for ineffectual and wasteful programs, Palaeop's recent offenses, particularly their prominent red sweatshirts, have been relatively minor. The Assembly, in contrast, seems to have outdone itself with a number of questionable funding decisions that go beyond the doubtful efficacy of Big Green Bikes. These measures, particularly the decision to fund a documentary filmmaking project in Biloxi, Miss., and the possible partial funding of the party pack program, are not the best use of the Assembly's large budget. The more serious question raised, however, by the Assembly's liberal dispensing of funds, is why they have such a large budget in the first place and whether their money should instead be directly allocated to the groups that approach the Assembly for financial help. In the zero-sum world of student activities funding, money given to the Assembly is money taken away from other student groups and programs.
The party pack program, which provides pizza and water for registered parties, originated in the Student Activities Office, the Office of Student Life and the Dean of the College, and is only partially funded for the coming year. The Assembly allocated $2,750 to fund the program for this year, along with Programming Board and the Greek Leadership Council. Furthermore, it passed a resolution arguing that the Undergraduate Finance Community should fund the program in the future, which would also reduce the money available for other student projects. While the party packs are enjoyable, it is unclear whether they actually ensure safer nights out. However, we commend the Assembly for providing a service that benefits a large portion of the student body that would not otherwise be supported.
Unfortunately, not all of the Assembly's initiatives benefit the entire community, as can be seen by the decision to fund the Biloxi documentary. The Assembly must be praised for its willingness to support student projects of all types. However, this decision is problematic on a number of levels. First, it is arguable that, while the film will help educate the Dartmouth community, we are so saturated with images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that the effect may be negligible. The allocation of $7,000 to an endeavor aimed at publicity and self-promotion shows an alarming willingness on the part of the Assembly to welcome attempts at self-aggrandizement. And, while funding the meal allowance of volunteers is admirable, alternative spring breaks and other service trips find their own funding. Secondly, the fact that one of the sponsors of the proposal is also directly involved in the filmmaking trip raises ethical questions about conflict of interest. Thirdly, funding a specific student group breaks with the Assembly's supposed mission of broad student advocacy. Perhaps the money the Assembly receives from the Undergraduate Finance Committee should be allocated directly to student organizations. Everyone who has complained about Vanessa Carlton or the Council on Student Organizations' lack of money should realize that the funds to procure a more popular act or pay for additional club programs are partly in the Assembly's hands.
The Assembly does many valuable things on this campus. However, with control of a large budget and a leadership role comes responsibility to act fairly and practically. The issues of allocation, precedent and interest raised by these recent proposals indicate that the Assembly needs to have a clearer policy as to what its large budget is used for, and should clearly justify why it needs control over such a large sum.