Stamatakis: SGB follows rules for a reason

By Nick Stamatakis

The strict adherence to rules could be seen as too conservative. I get it — rules are stupid sometimes. We all spent most of our adolescences navigating what seemed to be nothing more than a maze of regulations governing everything from clothing choices to bathroom breaks. Restrictions like these often seem unnecessary and counterproductive — every “no turn on red” sign makes a little part of me die.

It’s little wonder, then, that some people might regard two recent SGB decisions with distaste. Increasingly, the Board seems to resemble the cranky old teacher not allowing anybody to use the bathroom because the hall pass is out, ignoring common sense while a seventh grader writhes on the floor waiting to relieve himself.

The two rules acting as hall passes are the restrictions on funding for international travel and the restriction on funding for events that conflict with Alternative Spring Break. The two organizations applying for the affected allocations — the African Students Organization and the Pitt club baseball/softball teams — both requested allotments for events that probably met basic standards for allocation funding; they had historical precedent and provided broad benefits to students. Both proposals, however, had to be withdrawn: the former because Board members said ASO had asked a comedian to include international airfare in his speaker’s fee, and the latter because it would interfere with the Alternative Break program. (On Tuesday, SGB approved more than half of ASO’s revised funding request, which didn’t include international travel.)

From the high school anti-rules perspective, it seems like rules are once again making life overly difficult. Completely legitimate activities are losing funding because the SGB is not making exceptions — they’re not allowing for any grey area.

But this is where the Board deserves praise. Just as high schools need restrictive rules to keep things in order, the SGB needs restrictive rules to maintain an atmosphere and appearance of impartiality. Without strict following of the rules, the Board would need to resort to messy, value-based decision making that could easily become manipulated and subject to favoritism.

Take the Alternative Spring Break issue. The rule is in the book because one thing is inarguable — most trips over Spring Break are a bad use of funds. There are exceptions, of course, but benefits are generally almost entirely concentrated to those enjoying the time off from school. The reasoning behind the rule is that if a club decides that it has nothing to do over the break, the Allocations fund should not act as a purse for saunters down to Florida.

If an exception is granted for the baseball and softball teams, however, the Board can no longer default to the position that funding trips over Spring Break is wasteful. Instead, allowing an exception for the teams would set a precedent that every club has the ability to try to debate the merits of a Spring Break trip. With the number of requests likely to go way up, the Board would be in quite a pickle.

SGB would need to make decisions on a case-by-case basis, a process rich in fraud potential, to try to see if the benefits would justify the costs. Although many decisions would undoubtedly be impartial, chances are just as high that many more would be weighed down by conflicts of interest. A particularly athletic Board would have different preferences than a particularly Greek board; decisions would be reduced to a reflection of the interests of the members.

And because SGB largely governs in a bubble, with very little feedback in terms of voting or even student interest, there would be nothing to provide a basis for what is justifiable and what is not. At the end of the day, for allocations over $500, we would just have nine possibly well-intentioned students making decisions that could easily be slanted, consciously or unconsciously.

I believe this is why this Board is so strictly following the rules. It could, of course, observe the rule that allows it to scrap the rules, but it is choosing not to: a process that helps keep all decisions above the Board.

The strict adherence to rules could be seen as too conservative. The students of the baseball/softball teams and ASO probably feel this way. Indeed, these two instances show that good projects sometimes lose. But even if this is the case, the overall decision-making process when taken together is much more efficient and cost-effective than when we have gray areas. This is, after all, how we feel about our own spending; I know I’d much rather have a Kindle after spending $100 than two Kindles and a bag full of chewed sunflower seeds for $500 dollars. Most should feel the same about allocation dollars.

Yes, following the rules often is unwieldy and troublesome. Hall passes and unnecessary traffic signals are a pain. But there is no middle ground in student government. Either we have a restrictive system that predictably follows the rules as we do now, or we have a system that unpredictably throws decisions to a group of students.