RTVF students, alumni mobilize against departmental funding system

Stavros Agorakis, Reporter

A new campaign aims to spark discussion around a grant-giving system within the Department of Radio, Television and Film, which some have criticized for diminishing students’ role in funding undergraduate projects.

“Save RTVF” is a student and alumni-run effort to encourage “serious, mutually-agreed reforms” between students and administration on the new system’s effects on campus filmmaking groups, according to the campaign’s website. An open petition, which organizers launched late Fall Quarter and has garnered more than 70 signatures, advocates for finding alternatives to the current grant-allocation process.

Under the new system, RTVF awards Media Arts Grants, which fund student films or other media projects, like animation or music videos. The new funding system aims to end student-driven funding by filtering all applications through the department and allowing faculty members to have more input into which projects are produced.

Before the institution of the MAGs, five student filmmaking groups on campus were independent in their grant-giving and fundraising processes, with student filmmakers pitching their projects directly to them.

Communication senior Erin Manning said she and other students felt the new grant system was instituted without their inclusion in the decision.

“We were kind of just told, ‘This is the way to do it. Make sure students aren’t only seeing the bad things in it,’” said Manning, who co-chairs the Undergraduate RTVF Student Association.

But Communication Prof. David Tolchinsky, who chairs the RTVF department, defended the new system. He said in an email to The Daily that the system allows student groups to carry on all the same activities they did before, with the exception of greenlighting their own projects.

“To me, I don’t think (RTVF) needs saving,” Tolchinsky said in an email. “The student groups are as valued under (the grants) as they were before — carrying on workshops, sponsoring speakers, and yes, producing projects.”

URSA is planning to host a “town hall” meeting in the next few weeks, inviting RTVF students to share their views on the new grant-giving system, Manning said. These views will then be shared with alumni to decide the future of the campaign.

Mike Cavalier (Communication ’06), a director of the campaign, said it aims to give voice to everyone who wants to improve the undergraduate film experience, while also letting students know they are not alone in resisting the new system.

“(Current) students can’t speak as freely as we can because they’re still in the midst of it,” the RTVF alumnus said. “The thought was that a lot of students wanted to push back hard, but the problem is you can’t push back and also be asking … for MAGs.”

Manning said that there was miscommunication when department officials explained how the new system would be run. Officials were not fully transparent with some of its fundamental processes, like who would give out the grants, Manning said.

“In the fall, I asked Dave (Tolchinsky) what the mission statement of MAG was, and he couldn’t give it to me,” Manning said.

The Media Arts Grants committee comprises four faculty and three student members, whose identities are unknown to the applicants and the RTVF community.

The lack of transparency in who gives out the grants prohibited students from knowing whether the committee set the standard for diversity that filmmaking groups do on campus, and if they select the recipients based on a set of guidelines they must follow, said Manning, who also co-chairs Studio 22, a student filmmaking group.

Manning said the campaign started with “high-emotion, high-intensity anger” over funding in student groups that hold an important part in the Northwestern experience, but it has now developed into a widespread advocacy effort.

“We would not be doing this if, in fact, the majority of the students that we talked to weren’t unhappy with the MAG system,” Cavalier said.

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