Smith: Compartmentalized budgets woefully outdated

In the wake of devastating program cuts, it's hard to walk by the construction fence erected around Doty Hall and not cry foul.

Even students unassociated with the three deactivated programs are reeling from President Christopher Dahl's budget announcement two weeks ago.

Responses have been varied, with some students saying "stop whining, it's necessary," and others declaring, "but I love art professors!" These arguments all have an inevitable connecting thread.

Even as we throw professors out in the cold and shut down long-standing programs, we're able to completely renovate Doty, expand the budget for the spring concert and even demolish the Holcomb building to make room for a new athletic stadium. One student even made the furious claim that The Lamron uses up $500,000 of the college's money each month (yeah, we wish).

Whenever you bring up these arguments, the answer is always the same: It's a different budget. The money collected by the college through tuition, fees and state support is doled out into compartmentalized budgets which ensure that there's a fair balance between construction, newspaper printing, Activities Commission, etc.

Because the funds are obtained from a variety of segregated sources, transferring funds from one budget to another is currently impossible. People pay certain fees – like the student activity fee – expecting that such money will be used for its intended purpose.

Without such a system checking and balancing how money is spent, we could end up in all kinds of trouble based on the subjectivity of those moving the money around. Someone could decide that the sciences need more money and confiscate funds from a "less important" concert, or someone invested in theater could appropriate funds for a stage set that could have been used to make provide new resources to the Department of Computing & Information Technology. People who paid their student activity fee expecting a concert would be furious if that money was used instead for an athletic statement without their consent.

When we're so deep in the hole that we have to cancel a pep rally, it's time to start re-evaluating the system. Compartmentalized budgets are acting like brick walls right now; while money overflows in one sector, another is completely dry. Would it really be that unreasonable to leave some openings so things can balance out?

We need a way to check the checks and balances system when things get so out of hand that we're cutting programs one day and building unnecessary sports coliseums the next. If we had a committee — with student representation — that could vote on reallocating money from one budget to another in times this desperate, we could address and avoid these disparities.

We'd also have to modify the way we collect money for different budgets, either giving people more options in what they want to pay for or offering some kind of disclaimer that the money could be reallocated in the event of a fiscal crisis.

It's entirely possible that even fund reallocation wouldn't be able to revive the three deactivated programs, but at this point, something has to give.

The money it's going to cost to turn the highly specialized art studios into usable classrooms could probably have kept the program going for several more years, but construction cash comes from a different budget. Now we're using one compartment to clean up another compartment's loss. How does that make any sense?

Conversation shouldn't shut down just because the money we need is in a different budget. The system to which we adhere so strictly is losing its relevance in the face of severe state cuts. Instead of complaining about the cuts that were made, we need to start new discussions that focus on the framework of the system itself.