Student Finance Committee Needs Long-Term Position

For many of us, the highlights of student life at Oberlin are student-led events and organizations. Being able to share space and responsibility with our peers and facilitate meaningful experiences is, without a doubt, a privilege, and one that is enabled by the efforts of the Student Finance Committee. Annual budgets for student organizations cover expenses that range from cultural celebrations and group trips to newspaper production and employee payroll. The potential for student-led activities is nearly infinite, and these activities are enabled by SFC’s meticulous planning. However, several structural limitations of the Committee dampen its ability to excel and cater to the student body.

SFC has many strengths, and they often go uncelebrated. The fact that a committee of full-time students manages more than $1 million annually while negotiating the demands of dozens of organizations is spectacular, and it is a duty that we do not envy. The hours of deliberation over budgets, the attention to detail in fulfilling ad hoc requests and filing reallocation forms, managing concurrent projects, and so much more make SFC’s work arguably among the most complicated and hands-on of student jobs on campus. We want to celebrate these efforts because without SFC, most student organizations would be defunct. Unfortunately, the scale of student operations at Oberlin is so vast that student organizations must have access to funds throughout the year. If SFC members didn’t work overtime and throughout the winter and summer shutdowns, despite the explicit mandate not to, student activity on campus would suffer  in its current form.

The COVID-19 pandemic also changed the way SFC runs. During the pandemic, students were unable to use student funds in the same way. In-person events couldn’t be held, and in turn fewer things needed to be funded. As a result new SFC members learned less about how the organization functioned prior to the pandemic. This has left gaps in understanding among a new generation of SFC staff members of how to carry out protocols and file forms. There has been a lack of institutional memory carried on to a new generation of staff members. Students running SFC are only at Oberlin for four years — maybe five, if they are double-degree students — and it’s unlikely that a student would be heavily involved in SFC for their entire college career. This leads to rapid turnover within the organization, and we, as a fellow student-run organization, are familiar with the pitfalls that come with frequent changes in staff. The resulting loss of opportunities to pass down institutional memory leads to frequent overhauls of procedures and practices, which ultimately often take more energy to carry out than continuing existing protocols. 

While SFC’s student-led status is among its greatest strengths, the limitation of finite student bandwidth is one of its greatest weaknesses. Students should not be expected to work long hours during exam periods or the weeks leading up to breaks, but at these points in the semester, many organizations still host events or pay individuals for speeches or performances, all of which require ad hoc funding. The academic year may draw to a close, but student life doesn’t stop during shutdown periods, which means that organizations need access to their funds. Additional bureaucratic roadblocks, such as a lack of access to money an organization has independently earned or the difficulty of getting precise numbers for the amount left in an account, can create uncertainty for student organizations. The fundamental issue is that the regular functioning of every student organization is dependent on the assured functioning of SFC, and with hurdles as extreme as the pandemic or as regular as shutdowns, stable SFC operations can never be guaranteed.

Given the immense responsibility placed on SFC to keep student organizations up and running, and the unavoidable rapid member turnover, we believe that SFC needs bolstered institutional support. 

Institutional support in the form of a permanent staff member paid by the College would allow SFC to better function on a year-to-year basis, while student staff naturally shifts as people graduate or otherwise restructure their involvement in campus life. Having a full-time staff member with sustained knowledge of SFC’s functions would allow for better preservation of the organization’s knowledge over time, giving the students involved in SFC the opportunity to focus more on the distribution of funds rather than the burden of relearning how the systems in place work.

We recognize that SFC is doing what they can with the resources and time provided to them. SFC makes numerous events, clubs, and publications function. It is the institution that we call to action. With institutional support, SFC would not only better help the student body thrive, it would preserve an essential part of Oberlin College that should be passed down for years to come.