November 20, 2013

EDITORIAL: ALANA Budget Cuts: Tough But Necessary

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On Tuesday, the Student Assembly Appropriations Committee voted to reduce byline funding for ALANA Intercultural Programming Board — a multicultural umbrella student organization — by more than $25,000 due to what it called fiscal mismanagement and wasteful spending. Understandably, the leaders and beneficiaries of ALANA are enraged, fearful that the reduction will restrict support for numerous multicultural groups and initiatives on campus. But their implication that the decision reflects the Assembly’s lack of commitment to diversity is a shameless emotional smokescreen that skirts the real issue: whether or not ALANA has responsibly handled the budget it collects from our Student Activity Fee each year.

While we believe ALANA is one of the most crucial byline-funded organizations at Cornell, the details of their financial habits have led us to believe that the committee acted appropriately by unanimously denying the group’s request for a funding increase — and probably by slashing its budget as well. The Appropriations Committee’s review of ALANA’s expenditures revealed that the organization regularly funds events with an overhead cost of up to $40, $80 and occasionally even $100 per person in attendance, according to their report. We understand that multicultural events often rely on food to spread awareness about a particular culture. But we agree with the committee’s reasoning that a reduction in the “quantity and expensiveness of food” — a simple move toward budgetary restraint — should not negatively affect ALANA’s ability to promote cross-cultural understanding.

Our trust in the fact-driven approach that guided the Appropriations Committee’s decision in this case is not in the slightest mutually exclusive with our deep support for ALANA’s crucial mission to promote multiculturalism at Cornell. We acknowledge that the umbrella organization has added new groups under its purview since the last byline funding cycle, and if money were no object, we would love to see support for ALANA continue to grow exponentially with its expansion. But every additional dollar drives up the cost to Cornell students — and we have yet to hear a compelling argument that details how ALANA would both shore up wasteful spending and put the additional funds they requested to productive use.

It is unfair for ALANA’s leaders to accuse the S.A. — which dispenses countless capital and human resources on diversity initiatives and programming — of failing to prioritize campus diversity. The committee’s recommendation simply espouses a belief we share: that ALANA can continue to thrive if it responds to this funding reduction with much-needed reform and more conscientious spending. All byline funded organizations, whose generous allocations come directly from our contributions to the Student Activity Fee, are expected to meet the highest standards of fiscal responsibility.

If ALANA’s leaders have substantive, numbers-based counterpoints to the S.A.’s recommendation, we hope they will make them heard over misguided accusations of willful neglect. We’ll be at the meeting today eager to find out.