Trinity College’s direct democracy student government will address potential conflicts of interest affecting club funding at their meeting on December 4.
A constitutional amendment is on its way to the floor of the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) regarding the correlation between the Trinity College Finance Committee’s (FC) allocation of club funding and its members’ affiliations with those clubs.
Trinity student Jessica Rapson proposed the amendment after calculating that, this fall, Trinity clubs with previous or current executives on the FC received on average over three times the amount of funding as clubs without executives on the FC.
The motion would amend the Conflict of Interest clause of the TCM’s constitution regarding procedures of the FC.
The altered clause would read: “No member of the FC shall vote on matters pertaining to the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers. Furthermore, no member of the FC shall be present during any in camera discussion of the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers.”
Rapson commenced her investigation after hearing that several well-established clubs, including two of which she is Treasurer, received “very little from the FC.” She used the publicly shared FC budget proposals to calculate the results.
Fellow Trinity student Luis Lopez ran a statistical regression on Rapson’s calculations through the system Stata and determined the relationship to be statistically significant with a 99 per cent confidence level. In his published report, Lopez cautioned against assuming a causal relationship.
“As I state in my research, the simple fact that the evidence seems to confirm a relationship could be problematic, since it could signal to Trinity students that there is preferential treatment in the FC — even if that is not the case,” wrote Lopez to The Varsity. “Perceptions in politics matter.”
While FC members must abstain from voting on their club’s received budget, Rapson believes this is inadequate in mitigating possible impartiality.
Rapson suggested that club executives sitting on the FC wield influence over budget allocation through their presence in the room. Their presence, said Rapson, pressures fellow committee members during voting. They are also able to answer questions about their clubs during discussion.
Rapson does not believe there is malicious intent on the part of the FC, or that members are actively misallocating funds to disproportionately benefit their clubs. However, she does think her numbers illuminate an issue that must be addressed.
“I think [the amendment] gives a better chance to people who are not really involved in student governance but who still want to have a Trinity club and make an impact on Trinity life,” said Rapson. “And it will also just level the playing field for everyone.”
TCM Chair Leila Martin confirmed that she received the amendment “about a month ago.” However, both Martin and the FC Chair Amanda Cutinha told The Varsity that Rapson had not presented her calculations to them prior to The Varsity’s request for comment. On November 26, Rapson posted her findings to a private Facebook event for fellow Trinity students. Martin was invited to the group. On November 30, Rapson also publicly posted her data to the TCM’s Facebook event, for all members of the college to review.
According to Cutinha and Martin, as of this academic year, no FC discussions occur in camera, so minutes are taken and available to the membership.
Both chairs believe Rapson is generating important discussion for Trinity’s direct democracy. However, both also told The Varsity that they will investigate the calculations further to see if other factors are at play before assuming a causal relationship between FC members’ involvement with clubs and the funding those clubs receive.
In order for the constitutional amendment to pass, there must be a two-thirds vote in favour of the motion both on the December 4 meeting as well as the subsequent meeting in January.