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SEPC funding

Topics/tags: Grinnell

Grinnell’s Student Educational Policy Committees, or SEPCs, form an important part of the Grinnell academic program. SEPCs have a variety of responsibilities and activities; two of their most important ones are to provide input to the department on personnel issues (e.g., hiring and promotion) and to build community in the department. As you might guess, many community-building activities take money, so SEPCs need budgets.

I’ve heard that there is a movement to change SEPC funding from the current model of so-many-dollars-per-major. That change may be tied to the Student Government Association’s (SGA’s) work on revising policies and practices for student groups. I thought I might add my two cents to the conversation.

I will admit that it’s hard for me to be neutral about SEPC funding. Computer Science was screwed by the funding system for much of my time as department chair. I recall asking why our funds had run out so quickly, and discovering that they had under-counted the number of majors by about half. When I pointed out the mistake and asked that our SEPC receive the funds they deserved, I was told Sorry, we can’t make any changes. I hope that the under-counting wasn’t intentional, but it sometimes felt like people had it out for my department. In any case, I dealt with the issue as I often do, by saying That’s okay, we’ll just use the department’s restricted fund [1].

I don’t know all of the details of the change. As I understand it, while there would be some amount available per major, there would also be additional funds available by application that are not tied to the number of majors. That kind of change makes sense to me. There are certainly some departments that serve a disproportionate number of students. The Department of Mathematics and Statistics is often identified as a key service department because of the number of students who take Calculus or Statistics 209. But there are many others. For example, Chemistry appears to have a comparatively small number of majors, but it handles a very large number of Biological Chemistry majors [4]. Switching divisions, our Music Department has very few majors, but large numbers of students are involved in music, whether through lessons [5] or ensembles. I’ve heard that at their last study break, attendees claimed about 120 plastic flutes, which is about a factor of six times the number of majors they have [6].

SEPCs also seem to vary significantly in the amount of activity they support. Some seem quite active. For example, the CS SEPC not only runs a weekly study break for students but also conducts regular professional development sessions. I’m not sure how you adjust for that in funding, which suggests that an application-based model makes some sense.

There’s also another financial issue related to SEPCs that I don’t feel gets discussed much. Particularly as Grinnell explores ways to ensure that students are compensated for their work [7], it’s worth considering whether the members of the SEPC should be compensated for some of their time, particularly the time spent reviewing candidates and faculty.

I guess that’s it for my opinions [8]. I suppose I should do a bit more background research on current SEPC guidelines, but I don’t know where to look since Student Affairs carelessly excised all of the SEPC guidelines from the Student Handbook. I’m hoping that I can find them when I return to my role as Department Chair; they were not readily available [9] the last time I served as Chair.

[1] I always find that the term restricted fund feels like a bit of a misnomer. I realize that the funds are restricted to use by the department. However, there are rarely restrictions on how the department is supposed to use those funds. As Department Chair, I preferred not to use them for things I thought the College should fund directly, such as SEPC activities, the Senior Breakfast with parents, and CS Table. But there are times we need to dip into the fund for those kinds of activities. Someone also decided that we need to spend down the fund [2]. Since then, whenever I’ve given to a department’s restricted fund [3], I’ve added the note The department should not be required to spend this money within any particular time frame. I wonder if that makes any difference.

[2] Who cares about saving for a rainy day?

[3] I most frequently give to my department. But I’ve also been known to give to other departments.

[4] Biological Chemistry is usually our second or third largest major.

[5] Every Grinnell student is entitled to one set of weekly lessons per semester. While not everyone takes advantage of that wonderful opportunity, many do.

[6] No, it is not the case that each Music major took six plastic flutes.

[7] For example, we’ve started giving stipends to the students who volunteer to help with pre-orientation programs.

[8] That is, my opinions at this point in time about SEPC funding models. I have many other opinions about other subjects, and I am likely to develop more opinions on SEPC funding models as time goes on.

[9] Or perhaps available at all.

Version 1.0 released 2019-12-15.

Version 1.0.1 of 2019-12-16.