Empty seats lead to cuts in funding

Evan Hill

Funding is a vicious cycle for many student groups.

When For Members Only, Northwestern’s black student alliance, brought artists from Def Poetry Jam to campus in the winter, the audience was significantly smaller than expected. Because of one event, the Student Activities Finance Board recommended the group receive about 55 percent less funding than last year, said Michael Collins, FMO Coordinator.

The board’s funding recommendation for FMO was $19,887 this year. Last year it was $44,972.

For A-status student groups — which receive yearly funding from the $120 Student Activities Fee each student pays — event attendance can determine a group’s goals for the coming year. The emphasis on attendance as a measure of success is a concern for student group leaders, many of whom will appeal their recommendations at Associated Student Government’s Senate meeting Wednesday night.

“Without the funding, it’s pretty difficult to draw a big speaker who would draw a larger audience. It’s kind of a Catch-22,” said Vivian Shan, president of the Taiwanese American Students Club, whose recommendation was about 44 percent less this year than last.

Collins, a Weinberg sophomore, said he thinks SAFB shouldn’t rely so heavily on attendance to decide where funds will go.

“Rather than actually doing the job they’re supposed to be doing, they’re taking the easy way out by looking at bare-bones numbers,” Collins said.

By relying heavily on attendance, he said, SAFB discriminates against groups representing a smaller portion of the student body and have a harder time attracting large numbers.

SAFB denied the Korean American Students Association its entire $22,016 request because it hasn’t held its main event, which SAFB would use to gauge its funding recommendation, said KASA President Vivian Han. SAFB members told her to apply for supplemental funding in the fall instead.

“To receive a budget cut is one thing, but to not receive anything at all — it just kind of feels like they’re not giving KASA any credit,” said Han, explaining that the group’s cultural show had high turnouts in the past.

College Republicans President Ben Snyder said SAFB places higher priority on attendance than on the content or value of the event. Low attendance at the group’s Fall Quarter speech by Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, led to a drop in the College Republicans’ funding recommendation from about $37,500 last year to $17,074 this year, Snyder said.

“SAFB designs its process to maximize the number of students who can reap the benefits of SAFB’s funds but not to challenge those students’ ideas,” said Snyder, a Weinberg junior. “I think that the intelligent discourse that so many students want gets drowned out by the purely humorous or sensationalist discourse that a larger group of students finds amusing on a Thursday afternoon.”

Jason Spears, president of the minority premedical group One Step Before, said poor attendance at the group’s Winter Quarter speaker last year caused SAFB to recommend they receive no funding for this year.

“We really had to pull all the strings and options available to us to get funding for a Winter Quarter speaker,” said Spears, a Weinberg sophomore.

Such a problem is now facing FMO, which will have to find outside sources for money if SAFB’s funding recommendation doesn’t change, Collins said.

“Obviously to survive as an organization, FMO is going to have to look to outside sources for funding,” he said. “What I told my (SAFB) account executive is that they’ve effectively nailed our hands to the ground.”

The appeals to ASG will be made Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Norris University Center’s Northwestern Room.

Reach Evan Hill at [email protected]