The prospect of favouritism in clubs funding has become a topic of particular interest at Trinity College. At the year-end Trinity College Meeting (TCM) on December 4, an amendment to the constitution of Trinity’s student government was brought forward seeking to remedy the disproportionate allocation of funding by the Finance Committee (FC) to clubs whose past or current executives are sitting members of the FC.
The underlying principle of the motion appeared quite reasonable. It was a preventative measure, intended to preserve impartiality for those handling finances. Should it have passed, FC members would no longer have been allowed to 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,” it read, “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.” Yet, counterintuitively, the motion failed.
There were a number of reasons cited by Jessica Rapson, who brought forward the motion, for the failure from the TCM: voter turnout was low, the reliability of the data that led to the suspicions of favouritism was questioned, and much of the debate was preoccupied by seemingly minute details. The TCM also requires two consecutive two-thirds majority votes in order to pass an amendment, significantly raising the bar for motions such as Rapson’s.
The decision of the TCM is both disappointing and perplexing. It seems only obvious that measures should be put in place to avoid favouritism in the allocation of student funds. Such an act of favouritism contradicts the democratic ideals of impartial representation of constituents, and it is, by its very definition, a conflict of interest.
When it comes to student government, money matters. The sums allocated to student groups for funding are not solicited by free donation but by student levy — a process in which students consent to be taxed with the expectation that their money will be returned to them in the form of events or services. It is expected that the allocation of this money will be determined fairly, without bias, and with the primary interests of the society’s constituents in mind.
The consequences of ignoring such a mandate are no clearer than at the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), which, less than a year to the current date, was discovered to have spent sizeable quantities of its collected levy on activities that can only be described as frivolous.
The example is different, of course, but no more concerning. The notion that money students willingly give to their unions may be spent in ways that serve to unduly benefit those who administer it is, quite frankly, unsettling.
Our befuddlement toward this decision is further stoked by the nature in which those involved in this decision avoided explanation. TCM Chair Leila Martin, FC Chair Amanda Cutinha, Co-Head of College Bardia Monavari, and Co-Head of Arts Lukas Weese all declined to speak to The Varsity on the motion and its outcome. Co-Head of Arts Julianne de Gara, Co-Head of Non-Resident Affairs Katrina Li, and Co-Head of College Victoria Lin did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment either.
Transparency from student representatives is most necessary in instances like this. A simple acknowledgment of their commitment to accountability or a comment on the findings and potential for conflict of interest would have at least served to meet the bare minimum of a response to students. It’s disappointing and notably suspect, then, that so many student representatives refused to comment on the outcome.
More than anything else, incidents like these, and like those at SMCSU, bring to mind the necessity of proper accountability mechanisms, issued specifically by those whose money is collected by these institutions. The motion presented at the TCM, were it ratified, would have served as a safety mechanism to ensure the prevention of improper action — something that student governance and its members should collectively and agreeably work to avoid.