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Disaster 101: Faculty Meetings

Douglas E. Heimburger

At the faculty meeting, the ad hoc committee to review the alcohol policy introduced a sweeping group of proposals. One of the interesting proposals for the future, however, was the idea to revisit "activity funding and needs."It's one that is direly needed.Activities at the Institute currently suffer from a lack of funding, space, and more than token support from the administration.

In many ways, most student groups are like mini small businesses, connected to the Institute only through a small office on the fourth floor of the student center and a tax ID number allowing them to purchase things tax-free.

Unlike at many other universities, activities at MIT are treated like a self-sufficient department - they're required to pay for most of the facilities that they use. For example, a student group wanting a phone line in their facilities, which is central to doing any level of business or fundraising, must pay the Institute about $25 a month, plus the cost of phone calls. Want a network drop?That costs an additional $30 a month.

Not only this, but only the smallest of the small activities even receive any funding from the Institute. It's no wonder - after all, the Institute as a whole only allocates about $80,000 per year to give to student groups as a whole, and with groups requesting multiple thousands of dollars a year, it's impossible to give all of the groups the funding they deserve.

In fact, many decent yet small groups only get a fraction of the funds that they really need to stay afloat and end up scraping by with old equipment and without the materials that they really need. Larger groups and even many small ones are left to collect the funds they need on their own while the Institute severely limits their ability to raise funds from outside groups because it may threaten general Institute funding.

It gets even worse when activities decide that they want to hold an event. If the event is judged to be even remotely dangerous or if money is being collected and more than 100 people are expected, a group must have and pay for at least one Campus Police officer at a rate of almost $25 per hour per officer.

Considering that most parties in La Sala de Puerto Rico or Lobdell require three or four police officers at a minimum, it's not surprising that most groups can't afford a party or concert or any social event when they have to shell out $500 so that CPs can secure the place and are only receiving $1,000 or $1,500 from the Institute for a full academic year's worth of expenses.

Those allocating the funding agree that it's not enough. "As to whether the groups are adequately funded, I don't think anyone could argue that they are," said then-President of the Association for Student Activities Douglas K. Wyatt G two years ago. "But until MIT decides that extracurricular student life is a priority, there's not a whole lot that can be done, unfortunately."

Well, it's time for extracurricular student life to become a priority. As the administration looks for new non-alcoholic opportunities for students on and off campus on the weekends, it can look to student groups to fill some of the void. There's already a wealth of theater and other artistic productions on weekends, and there's almost always a movie showing in 26-100. For those who want a party or just a nice social event, however, there generally aren't any. Not to mention concerts - there's only been one of those in the year and a half that I've been here, and it wasn't really a big-namegroup.

For ideas on where we could go with activity funding, we only have to look at some of the Ivy league schools. Brown University, for example, assesses a $106 student activities fee on all its students. It then distributes about $750,000 to student groups. For example, their finance board gives $90,000 to a student-run group to bring several major concerts to campus each year for Brown students. The groups still have to pay for police officers and the equipment being used, but they actually have the funding to do it.

Most smaller groups at Brown receive funding that is orders of magnitude higher than those here at MIT. The debate society at Brown received almost $7,000 two years ago, compared to less than a thousand dollars for the debate group here at the Institute.

Here at MIT, there was a movement to establish a student activities fee a few years ago. It was to be far more modest - less than $40 per year. Still, it would have been a step in the right direction, but it fell flat on its face because of student protest.Activity funding at the Institute has not kept up with inflation as research and external funding has fallen. A student activities fee would provide the impetus to finally increase activity funding to at least keep up with demand.

However, a student activity fee is unlikely ever to occur because, in some way, it's bound to cost every student some money. Since this is inevitable, the administration should either step in and give activities more money unilaterally, institute an activities fee, or pay for many of the services that most schools of MIT's caliber pay for as a matter of course - phone calls and network drops, for one.

As the administration and the MITcommunity in general searches for ways to improve the climate of the campus and shift it away from alcohol, it's important to note that activities have suffered for many years from poor funding. Yet they remain a great diversion from the stress of the academic workload and other things that take their toll on students.

If activities were better funded, they could produce more meaningful events and programs for the MITcommunity and perhaps provide new diversions from the alcohol environment that has permeated this campus to a large extent until the events of the last two months.