The Cornell Student Assembly is often viewed as a hollow instrument designed to give students the illusion of student governance on Cornell’s campus. However, the Assembly, in a few areas, has significant influence and power. One of its major powers resides in the members' ability to distribute the $6.5 million in byline-funded organizations at Cornell.
Every year, each student pays a student activity fee. For 2012-2014, the fee was $229. The Student Assembly’s Appropriations Committee then divides this fee and allocates it to various “byline-funded” organizations. Every two years, these organizations reapply, making for an exciting but stressful process that will begin next fall.
“This semester, as it is a non byline funding year, we review the allocation from the 2012 cycle," remarked Don Muir, '15, a member of the Appropriations Committee since his freshman year. "Each byline-funded organization provides us with an update on their spending and their plans for future expenditures.”
During the off-year, the Appropriations Committee meets with each organization in order to give these groups a chance to present information and arguments for their funding needs. These reports are then compiled by the Vice President of Finance and reviewed for a vote. Thus, the off-year is an extremely important time for different organizations to make a case for funding needs. After the Appropriations Committee reviews each organization, the members vote on whether or not to increase, decrease, or maintain the group’s funding.
“The off-year decides which organizations will get funded," said Cameron Pritchett member and liaison for the Appropriations Committee. "Funding is given first to the organizations that fulfill service to for the students. Because the activities fee is functionally a tax, the organization must access all the students."
In addition, the Student Assembly passed a Resolution this year creating a “follow up task force” that is designed to create a continued dialogue between the Committee and the organizations after funding decisions have been made, according to Pritchett. This task force is important for the organizations because it allows for increased information to be communicated to the Committee, hopefully allowing for better decision making by the Student Assembly in the future.
However, not every group is guaranteed to be funded.
“The byline funding process is sometimes pretty contentious. In the past, there have been groups that have been denied funding by the Appropriations Committee. One reason this may occur is that a group may be better fit to receive [Student Assembly Finance Committee] funding or some other alternate form of funding, such as through an umbrella organization,” said Muir. Another reason for disqualification is an organizations inability to involve the majority of students on campus, The Committee must decide which groups get cut, which is often difficult.
Because the Student Assembly, vis-à-vis the Appropriations Committee, has substantial control over byline-funding, there is this potential for politics and bias to influence the decision-making. The candidates for Student Assembly President this year all talked about the need to continue increasing objectivity in the process.
Both Muir and Pritchett spoke of the strides that the Committee continues to make in order to best represent the needs of all students.
"Overall, we do our absolute best to make objective and unbiased decisions during the allocation process,” said Muir.
The newly established task force is an example of these efforts.
Understanding the byline funding process is important for every student because it is a micro-example of a government type institution using students’ functional tax dollars towards expansive programs. Which organizations are funded either through the Appropriations Committee or the Student Assembly Finance Committee (which is funded through the appropriations Committee to fund less comprehensive organizations and their durable goods) determines how the student government leads Cornell. As such, every student should be aware of the Committee’s actions and take into consideration Student Assembly member’s beliefs when voting during elections.
“It’s important for students to pay attention to who they elect because the people want [elected members of Student Assembly] to be competent and objective when making these decisions,” concluded Pritchett.
Bill Synder is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.