What is fair?
The tug of war over committee grants
The board of E Pluribus Unum, the study association with American studies, was pretty disappointed when they found out the club would not be getting any board grants next year. They’re currently receiving twelve months’ worth of grants from the UG, and next year that number will be zero.
‘We’re pretty shocked’, says president Iris Marissen. ‘A board year can easily cost a student 700 euros, on top of the tuition fees they still have to pay.’ Students have to buy a suit and organise drinks and activities. They also get behind on their studies. ‘Board work is basically a job that takes up twenty hours. If it was office work, we’d be getting paid.’
CUOS doesn’t properly look at what the clubs have to offer
Student and study association are eligible for financial compensation for board work in the form of board months. The UG supplies these grants, but the Central Executive Board for Student Organisations (CUOS) is responsible for distributing them.
CUOS recently presented the board of the university with its advice for the distribution of board grants up to 2023. Some associations received good news: Idun, the biology and life science and technology study association, will get 36 months, a ten-month increase over their current 26. But for others, like E Pluribus Unum, the advice was a bitter disappointment. ‘We feel like the CUOS is really relying on the points system when they distribute the board months’, says Marissen. ‘It’s like they’re not actually looking at what the clubs actually have to offer.’
It’s five students who are responsible for making some people happy and disappointed others. But that doesn’t mean they’re lightweights: most of them have experience with board work before they joined CUOS. ‘We’re capable people who know how to manage’, says Teun Havinga, CUOS secretary. Housing board member Kristan Otten says that, due to their experience and involvement in student life, the CUOS students are even better suited to distribute the board funds than the UG itself.
But the financial distribution mainly leads to grumbling. After all, the amount of money is limited and its distribution is a tug of war between the associations. Some of them, like theology faculty club Gerardus van der Leeuw, have complained about unclear criteria and poor communication. ‘We’re a foundation, which means it difficult to ascribe us a category. This year, we tried to apply for a grant, like any other organisation out there. But we failed. We don’t know what the regulations are. It’s all so unclear’, says president Ilse van Tuinen.
The board hardly ever responded our e-mail, and when they did, they were late
‘The board hardly ever responded to our e-mail, and when they did, they were late. Our association is in touch with the department and the study adviser. It turned out we could get extra points for that, but we didn’t know that’, says Marissen with E Pluribus.
‘We had a miscommunication with the previous board’, says beach volleyball association De Tweeslag president Velda Tjalma. ‘In the end, we were paid the grants retroactively. But they could have handled it better.’
There are also general complaints about unfair distribution of funds. The CUOS regulations supposedly supports larger associations while keeping the small ones down. Study associations allegedly get way too many months’ worth of grants in proportion to sports and social clubs. It’s also been said that the CUOS is too concerned with the number of members associations have.
Do people have a point? Marinus Jongman with the Groningen Student Union (GSb) says the CUOS puts too much emphasis on things they feel are important. ‘Bigger associations have a relatively smaller number of social activities’, he says. These activities are essential to social cohesion within the associations. ‘But the CUOS prioritises career activities. I think that’s weird; organising a pub quiz takes just as much effort as planning a corporate visit. Shouldn’t it be about how much time you invest and not what CUOS thinks is important?’
The GSb received a lot of questions about this, says Jongman. ‘It’s a hot topic at our club house.’
The fact is that the CUOS distributes the board grants according to a fixed model. This model has been approved by the board of directors and the university council. ‘It’s kind of like a checklist to ensure continuity’, says Havinga.
At the top of this checklist is the number of members associations have. Whether you run an association consisting of over two thousand members, like Vindicat, or just a hundred, like Flanor, matters quite a bit. But calculating the number of members isn’t easy. Often, the count is off. In one particular instance, a mere 60 percent of the supposed members of a club were registered at the UG or Hanze university.
The UG likes to spend money on boards, but just organising drinks isn’t enough
This isn’t wilful deception, by the way. ‘Most of the time, the member administration just isn’t in order’, says Havinga. ‘They’ll have the wrong student numbers, have members on the list who aren’t enrolled at the university, external members, or alumni.’ As a courtesy, the CUOS employs a 10 percent margin.
Nevertheless, an anomalous number of members can have consequences. Kitesurfing club Released said it had 156 members, when in reality they only had 133. That’s two under the limit for a board grant.
The type of association and their activities also impacts the number of board months. ‘The UG loves spending money on boards, as long as their activities are educational. Just organising drinks isn’t enough’, says Otten.
Because larger associations sometimes have an easier time of it than small ones, the CUOS is extra critical of them, as, for example, it’s easier for them to make connections with corporations. ‘Some events are organised every year, which means the burden of board work is less high.’
Communicating with all the associations also isn’t easy. ‘We talk to each association, we organise two information meetings, and we send hundreds of e-mails’, says Havinga. He also checks whether the clubs have sent in all the necessary paperwork, like their bylaws, an updated member list, or their budget. Whenever anything else is needed for the association to be applicable, it’s their own responsibility to supply that.
In spite of all the effort, people keep grousing. Every time the CUOS recalibrates the board grants to see who gets to keep them and who stands to lose them, people are unhappy. ‘Two years ago, the study associations had to battle it out’, says Havinga. ‘The university council then decided to take board months from the sports clubs and give them to study associations.’ Unfortunately, that made the sports clubs unhappy. ‘We then decided to revise the whole system rather than shuffle board months around.’
Few associations actually understand what’s being asked of them. How many members do they need in order to apply, and what are they even applying for? At the same time, the board grants are very important. ‘The board grants serve are important in encouraging people to do board work. In the worst case scenario, we can’t find any board members’, says Marissen.
We decided to revise the whole system
So the CUOS people are working on changing the whole system. They won’t yet say how. However, they’ve involved various associations in the process and they’ll explore whether foundations, which currently aren’t eligible at all, can also be included in the system.
CUOS is currently testing the new rules in practice. If everything goes well, the complaints will be a thing of the past by next year. Havinga is optimistic. ‘We’re working hard on it.’ ‘It’s a completely system overhaul.’