On Monday, the Collegian published a column by Ryan Pfister arguing that the University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC) was still the best option for distributing the money collected through the $74 fee students pay each semester (the Student Activities Fee).
The beauty of UPAC is that it’s organized around rules, rather than people. UPAC doesn’t put all the requests on the table and decide which ones it likes best.
Instead, it funds on a first-come, first-serve basis. Requests that fulfill the funding guidelines get money. Those that don’t, do not. And since UPAC designates specifically what the student activity fee money will be used for, the potential for misuse and waste is minimal.
He also cites some extravagant expenditures by UPUA last year.
Pfister was prompted to write the column by the news that The LION 90.7fm and UPUA were trying to secure a guaranteed source of funding, so that they didn’t have to petition UPAC every year. Pfister effectively says that he doesn’t trust students in general to not waste the money (he does note that he doesn’t think this year’s UPUA board would do that).
His distrust is compounded by his legitimate criticism of Penn State’s student government, namely the low election turn out. (Last year, Gavin and Valerie won with 2,217 of the 4,457 votes cast. That’s only 12.2% of the Penn State undergraduate student body.) He thinks this reduces accountability for student leaders.
Thomas Shakely, president of The LION 90.7fm, responded to Pfister’s column in a Letter to the Editor today. In it, he makes the argument that the Collegian is already enjoying the kind of guaranteed funding that The LION and UPUA are petitioning for.
Shakely raises a very interesting point. Is the Collegian funded by the University or not?
The Daily Collegian, though, is the only of these three central student groups that receives annual, guaranteed funding, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars for daily subscriptions to the paper, from the university. If the student newspaper requires a guaranteed annual subsidy from the university to serve its mission, is it so absurd that the student radio station and student government require similar independence?
What would happen if the University no longer “subscribed” to the Collegian? How many students do you know who would be willing to pay 50¢ or 25¢ every day for the paper? Though the Collegian’s Editor-in-Chief is not under President Spanier’s jurisdiction, the Collegian could be financially suffocated if Spanier were to cancel Penn State’s massive subscription. In that sense, the Collegian is not independent.
Don’t get me wrong, that would be a bad situation. The Collegian provides an essential service for the Penn State community. I read it every day, and so does a large percentage of the undergraduate student body. But that’s the very point of Shakely’s letter– The LION and UPUA also provide essential services to the Penn State community. He’s not arguing that the Collegian should not receive annual funding, but rather that The LION and UPUA should enjoy that same privilege.
On a related note, Chris Morrel, the Executive Director of Safeguard Old State, argues that UPAC should be merged somehow with UPUA. He says that UPAC is flawed because its members are not elected. While I agree with his desire for a more enlightened system for distributing the SAF, I don’t believe that UPUA is the right organization to execute it. It would be easy to convert UPAC to an elected position.
A guaranteed allocation for the Collegian through the University’s subscription and for The LION and UPUA through UPAC or some other organization seems to be a very good idea. Let’s figure out a way to achieve both criteria, so that these organizations have guranteed funding and transparent budgets.