March 15, 2010

Reviewing the Reviewers

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The Student Assembly’s recent formation of an ad hoc organizational review committee to begin consolidating overlapping student groups has its proponent and its detractors. Supporters of the committee, which will become officially active in Fall 2010, cite the move as an admirable attempt by the Student Assembly to more efficiently allocate resources. On the other hand, opponents of the committee see it as a waste of time and resources — a useless attempt to exercise power over previously functional and content student groups. While we agree that the S.A. should more efficiently allocate resources, we have reservations about several aspects of the committee.

Our main concern with Resolution 29 (which will create a larger, more powerful review committee than the current ad hoc committee established by Resolution 49) is the manner in which groups will be declared similar or dissimilar. S.A. President-elect Vincent Andrews ’11 proposed a hypothetical in a Mar. 12 Sun article, saying: “… you have the Poker Club, the Card Playing Club and the Texas Hold ’Em Club. All these organizations have something similar to each other. But they’re also a tiny bit different.” Andrews is right to point out that the magnitude of similarities or differences between these theoretical clubs is relative. One could argue that these three “card” groups are redundant. However a card-game enthusiast could also argue that these clubs have nothing in common outside of having some sort of association with playing cards. How will groups de deemed “overlapping?” Obviously, with more than 900 campus groups, there will be some overlap, but exactly how the committee will decide what overlap constitutes is the key to its ultimate success or failure. The groups themselves should be the final decision-makers about their potentially overlapping functions, and how to eliminate that inefficiency.

We have doubts about the fundamental premise of R. 29: Creating a Student Assembly Organizational Review Committee (SAORC) with the absolute power to arbitrate a group’s RSO status. This is a tremendous amount of power placed in the hands of a few people, and could easily be misused, whether willingly or unknowingly. A more pragmatic approach is to conceptualize the SAORC in an advisory role. An advisory SAORC could make similar groups aware of their overlap, and if deemed necessary, put non-binding pressure — using SAFC funding as a carrot or a stick — on the groups to merge. If overlapping groups had a financial incentive to merge, or a disincentive to remain independent, R. 29 would achieve many of the same goals, but would keep ultimate power out of the hands of a nine-person committee.

Furthermore, the makeup and procedures of the committee are suspect: The resolution states that the committee will be filled by one chairperson, four additional members of the S.A. (including one liaison from the SAFC) and four community members — a total of nine members. Voting quorum is six members. This leaves it unclear exactly how the committee will achieve the four-fifths majority required to revoke a group’s RSO recognition, as stated in the resolution.

Even if the numbers worked out, the requirement of a four-fifths majority seems arbitrary and counterproductive to the committee’s goals. If the primary goal of the SAORC is to limit overlapping RSOs, why did the authors of the resolution hamstring the committee’s power with the requirement of a four-fifths majority to revoke RSO status for an existing organization? The committee can deny a new organization RSO recognition with a two-thirds majority. Why should existing overlapping groups — the root of the problem as well as its corresponding resolution — enjoy more lenient standards for RSO recognition? Why not measure each organization with the same yardstick?

There is a real problem with the number of overlapping student groups on campus, and the S.A. should move to correct this inefficiency. However, the SAORC, as currently proposed, is a draconian solution to a problem that requires a more nuanced and collaborative approach in order to benefit the student groups and the student body as a whole.