The Speaker Allocation Fund has always been an underused resource on campus. So far this year, only a mere 5.5 percent of the fund has been distributed. The Council of Academic Affairs (CAA) hopes to raise awareness of the speaker fund as well as make changes to the application process in order to increase its use to better serve the community.
The speaker fund was created in 2011 by redistributing money from the Student Allocations Committee (SAC). Its first year in existence the speaker fund was set at $7,500, the following year it was doubled, to $15,000 – the amount it continues to be today. The allocation of this money is the responsibility of the CAA.
The CAA is comprised of 14 voting members and led by the Vice President of Academic Affairs (VPAA) – currently third-year Kira Rib – who votes only in the case of a tie. While the CAA has many duties, including representing the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) to relevant administrators, sending representatives to faculty meetings and selecting a Student Appointed Professor each year, it is most widely known as the funding source for students’ academic projects such as tutorials, independent study projects and theses.
The funding for student projects comes from the Grant Allocation Fund, but the CAA is also in control of the lesser-known Speaker Allocation Fund, meant to be used to bring academic-related speakers to campus. Although in its previous four years of existence the fund has never been fully used by the end of the year – leaving the remaining money to be transferred into the NCSA reserve the following year – the decline in use has shown to be a dramatic trend over the past two years.
Between fall semester of 2011 and spring of 2014 around 73 percent of the money allocated to the speaker fund was applied for and allocated. However, for the 2014-2015 school year only $5,653 was applied for and allocated — leaving nearly two thirds unused by the end of the year. So far this semester only $850 has been distributed from the speaker fund. At the same point in the year in 2013, the majority of the year’s allocations, $11,250, had already been allocated.
The first allocation for $700 was made during the September session and went to help pay for the travel costs of Lila Quintero-Weaver. Quintero-Weaver – who wrote a graphic novel about her experience growing up in Alabama after moving there from Argentina – gave a talk in ACE on Oct. 23.
On the Nov. 1 allocations session $150 was requested to bring in a performer and community organizer from New York to talk about radical organizing.
Both applications received a unanimous vote for full funding. According to Rib, this is not uncommon – because the speaker fund has never been fully used, CAA members often unanimously vote to fully fund applicants.
“Because so few people usually apply we want to use what we can and get the money to the students,” Rib said.
Ideally, the CAA would like to see the fund used as a resource to the point that members would have to make tough decisions regarding which applications to fund.
“It’s such a good resource to students,” Rib said. “You can bring the speakers you want to see here, we have the money for it.”
In the past, some students have done just that. While attending New College, alum Taylor Rothenberg (’10) used the Speaker Allocations Fund to bring slam poets Buddy Wakefield, Anis Mojgani, Andrea Gibson and Lauren Zuniga to perform on campus.
“Reaching out to my speakers was pretty easy, with the exception of Andrea who uses an agent. I was able to negotiate directly with everyone on the price and details of providing transportation and lodging,” Rothenberg said in an email interview. “It can be hard, though, because we’re such a small school with a really strained budget even having a dedicated speaker fund we can’t always afford to pay people their normal rate.”
The fees for the performers Rothenberg brought to campus ranged from $1,500 to $3,000. Other notable speakers that have been brought to campus in the past include Sonia Renee, Duane de Four and Megan Andelloux. Even bringing in these speakers, the speaker fund still had unused money at the end of each year.
“Sometimes the student body gets ahead of itself, though, and shoots people down for wanting to bring an expensive speaker and then the potential event host doesn’t even pursue funding,” Rothenberg said. “I think that sometimes gets the school into situations like we have now where the fund has hardly been touched.”
NCSA co-president, third-year Shelby Statham, plans on applying to bring in speakers for both the InterACT independent study project in January and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
“Everyone else needs to use it though,” Statham said, encouraging other students to apply.
The CAA is hoping to increase the number of applicants by changing the deadline for the speaker fund onto a rolling basis. Currently the CAA meets once a month for an allocations session where it reviews applicants, and this would remain the case for students seeking funding for academic projects. However, speaker fund applicants would be able to submit an application at any point during the semester and it would be reviewed at the next CAA meeting – which usually takes place every other week. This new rolling deadline took effect immediately following the Nov. 1 allocations meeting.
The application for the speaker fund is similar to the standard CAA application and still requires a faculty sponsor. For a strong application the requester should be able to demonstrate interest.
“We want something that people are going to be interested in,” Rib said. “Either widely interested in or deeply interested in.” Students can demonstrate interest by beginning a “gauging interest” thread on the forum and printing it out, or by making a petition for people to sign.
“I do really think my biggest advice for students interested in hosting events is to cast a really wide net in terms of funding. I think, especially with more educational speakers, it’s important to remember that each of the academic divisions have event budgets, as do Student Affairs, the Provost’s Office and the President’s Office,” Rothenberg said. “You’re more likely to get money from one group if they know you’re also looking for funding from other sources, especially the CAA.”