John McCormack: Give students the power of the purse

On October 1, the Student Association will allocate funds to hundreds of student organizations. Shrieks of injustice will fill the Foggy Bottom air, as students curse the SA for doling out insufficient sums. Thus continues the proud GW tradition of squealing about money.

Early reports that student organizations across the board will receive cuts in funding ensure that the fallout from allocations will be especially bitter. But there is one simple solution to this problem – let students choose where their money goes.

Your right to determine which student organizations receive your money is justified by the simple fact that your money is, after all, yours. Why should students who drive home for Thanksgiving be required to pay for other students’ bus rides to Dulles Airport? Why shouldn’t student fees be allocated to sororities, fraternities, charities and EMeRG, if that’s what some students want? And most importantly, why should the SA have the authority to allocate up to 19 percent of all student fees to itself?

It’s time to take away the SA’s allowance and return the power of the purse directly to students. If the SA isn’t spending your money on luxurious dinners at Sequoia, then it’s squandering your money on boondoggles like former SA president Audai Shakour’s $11,000 Web site that never was. Just imagine how nice and easy it would be to login to GWired or GWeb, and point and click your student fee away to worthy organizations, instead of letting a handful of SA bureaucrats choose where your money is best spent.

Indeed, not only would the proposed system be fundamentally more just than the current scheme, it would be more efficient. Thomas Jefferson said, “That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.” There is little doubt that students would be more fiscally responsible when they realize they’re directly spending their own money. Student groups might even finally refuse to pay about $60 for 100 soggy microwaved mozzarella sticks to the lawsuit-waiting-to-happen that is Colonial Catering.

Small student organizations that rely on large SA co-sponsorships may be reluctant to endorse this proposal, but, in the long term, direct allocation by students is in their self-interest. Bake sales and other fundraisers present no more of an opportunity cost than wading through SA bureaucracy for initial allocations or co-sponsorships. Freed from SA bureaucracy, groups could carry over funds from year to year in real bank accounts, enabling students to invest in long-term goals and pay for neccessities with ease.

Some might balk at the prospect of corruption amongst student group leaders wielding debit cards, yet corruption would be no more likely than under the current system that only requires a couple of student signatures and a receipt for reimbursement. Perhaps the SA or the Student Activities Center could require student organizations to fully disclose all expenditures to their members, providing students with necessary information to determine whether groups deserve their support.

Perhaps aspiring central planners think it is a dangerous idea to let people spend their own money, because it might not be spent appropriately. What if Bob and Steve start up the “Bob and Steve Like Beer” club? So what. At least they’re spending their own money. Economist Friedrich Hayek once wrote that “whoever has sole control of the (economic) means must also determine which ends are to be served, which values are to be rated higher and which lower – in short, what men should believe and strive for.” Are these decisions you want to leave to the SA?

There is a large group of students at GW who simply don’t vote in SA elections. It’s not because they’re apathetic, but because there is no one worth voting for. The political climate is ripe for a new breed of SA hopefuls to ensure victory by promising policies that give students control of their money. Current SA senators would also be wise to take the same route before elections roll around next spring.

The last group of leaders that didn’t serve the interest of Colonials didn’t end up so well.

-The writer is a senior majoring in international affairs and history.

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