The High Cost of Funding

by ursavoice

Peter Kovalsky

J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law

For Law & Economics Society

    So, like many of you/us at UCI Law, I am involved in a number of student organizations. I am one of the founding members of the Law and Economics Society and the Space Law Society, and a rank-and-file member of the IP and Cyberlaw Society. Though my involvement in these groups has waxed and waned (mostly waned) over time, it has always been in an “idea guy,” “bouncing-board” sort of capacity. Which is just to say that, though I haven’t actually done very much of substance myself, I’ve been involved in perhaps more conversations about how and whether to do stuff than have most people.

     And I’ve noticed that it is hard as all get-out to get anything done. You know how 90% of what our student groups do is arrange talks/panels? That is because all you have to do to make that happen is convince someone to come talk to you, then reserve a room and ask the SBA for a couple bucks for food. No big deal. Now think back to how many student-group-run trips have happened since the start of the year, how many movie showings, how many events at which wine or beer were (officially) served. Maybe I just have not been paying attention, but as far as I know, there has not been more than two or three of any of those since August.

     Now, I want to preface the following statements with a resounding declamation of my own ignorance—as I mentioned above—I’ve got a lot of second-hand knowledge about the issues our groups run into, but no meaningful first-hand knowledge. That said, my strong impression is that trying to organize anything with more moving parts than “room” and “food” summons the micromanagement fairy; suddenly, all the minutiae of your event become totally super relevant and necessary to discuss in excruciating detail, any picayune element of which detail can make you ineligible for funds (even for things that are ordinarily funded, like food) or raise more hurdles.

     I don’t mean to suggest that the SBA should just hand us money willy-nilly or that the people in charge of making those decisions are unnecessary or incompetent or malicious. The problem here, being largely one of efficiency, is that the transaction cost of organizing any but the simplest of events effectively prices most of us out of the market most of the time. It’s telling that it’s more painful to deal with the various hoops we have to jump through internally than it is to reach outside of campus, contact professionals, convince them to take/make the time to visit us to do a talk, and find a time that works for them and most of the members of the group and student body.

     What we need is a system that facilitates rather than impedes student-group action, offers solutions, alternatives, and workarounds rather than leaving the burden entirely on event organizers. I suspect that this administrative morass—again, a morass that makes student groups less active and therefore less meaningful than they might otherwise be—grew gradually and organically from the “anything goes” funding model from previous years. As they say, “The bureaucracy has expanded to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”

     This explains, but does not excuse.