Drowning in Committees

Marina Lazëri and Ottilia Nikula

Remember that odd poster you saw in Dining Hall at some point, a film with hipster background and artsy letters?  That was CinemaCo advertising their next movie night. Yes, we have a CinemaCo. And yes, people participate in it, even though you’ve never heard of it before.

Towards the end of Introweek, you probably went to visit the committee trail, and most likely got overwhelmed by the sheer number of committees and groups you could have become part of. In total, there are over 30 committees on campus, not including the various teams such as the Cultural Cookery, Prom Team and Enactus. Furthermore, the Campus Life Forum is a story in itself, subdivided into various bits and pieces like the Environmental Working Group and the Employment Group, each with a life of their own.

In the past few years, the number of committees has been increasing exponentially, the newest additions being MartialArtsCo and EconCo. The ratio of committees to students is 1 to 21, which makes us wonder: Do we really need this almost perfect one-on-one representation?

Emiel Stegeman, Treasurer of CinemaCo, would say yes. He explains, “The UCU student body is diverse, we all want different things and it’s important to be able to pursue these interests without being hindered.” We argued that a committee with lower participation might not contribute much to campus life, and wondered whether it’s justified to formally institutionalise this pastime. Glaring amiably he said that “the meditation room is a case in point, and it’s not even a committee. Not many people go there but this doesn’t take away the fact that we should have such a room on campus. That which interests less people is not less real.”

We have to grant him that: We’ve all experienced the disappointment of not having loads of people showing up to the open committee meetings, or even our private parties. Yet those events were still lots of fun, weren’t they?

So what is the problem of having so many separate committees? Many people complain that it creates confusion and a lot of spam mail, and that there’s not really a point in having so many separate entities for activities, especially when many sound rather similar. Admittedly, none of us know the whole story. Clem Borgstein, UCSA CAO of Lectures, tells us that the procedure for the establishment of a new committee is actually rather strict. Besides certain basic requirements that applicants are supposed to meet, the UCSA Board researches whether or not a new proposal should indeed be adopted and a new committee created.

A case in point is MarathonCo. We asked Clem why the UCSA Board did not just decide to incorporate MarathonCo into SportsCo – after all, SportsCo has many subunits already. “MarathonCo is big enough of a committee that it’s important to have its own board. They have runs four times a week, which need to be organised by someone who knows the routes well. It is in their best interest to have their own board to organize their events and runs. It wouldn’t make sense to have them as a subcommittee; they organize too many things that require specialized knowledge,” says Clem.

Clem does admit that having a lot of committees can create problems. There might be overlap, and different parties might partially cater to the same audience. But is this an excuse to merge committees? Not necessarily. Emiel tells us that CinemaCo is in fact already a sub-committee of UCStudios, even though they don’t really fit together.  The former is concerned with watching and discussing films, while the latter is focused in making them. “Of course, these interests don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Emiel says, “but that is often the case. CinemaCo caters to the needs of a particular niche whose interests are not covered by any other committee.”

What about committees that intuitively seem to mach? LiteratureCo and LibraryCo are such a case. “LitCo orders books for its active members, which are then discussed, often during lectures by professors or authors. LibraryCo is involved in running and keeping up the library,” says Borgstein. Once again, we could ask whether these tasks are so radically different: After all, LibraryCo people have access to books and an environment where book discussions can be very appropriate. However, the need for specialized knowledge comes up once again in this situation. Eun A Jo, Chair of LitCo, supports this point as well. “Merging two committees just for the similarity of their function would be detrimental to their efficiency,” she says.

And what about BarCo and its affiliates? It’s striking to see that we have four different nightlife committees, when, well, it’s all nightlife stuff! When we asked what BarCo thought about being a more centrally organised committee, Mirjam van Kampen, BarCo Inventory Manager, said: “Even with seven people in one board, taking care of the bar is quite a lot of work.”

Liselotte Goemans de Sèriere, BarCo Human Resources officer, touches upon another issue. “If you had a BarCo meeting with PartyCo represented as well, you wouldn’t have as much time to brainstorm for themes and you would lose out on time and creativity, which would be a shame,” she says. “If BarCo were to adopt more board members to be in charge of more stuff, it would turn from a committee requiring a lot of work into a committee requiring a horrendous amount of work, a “Super-Committee”, where issues are delegated down through the tiers, rather than people doing their own individual contribution.” It seems like a classic case of concerns for bureaucracy. Smaller units make for better internal organisation and cooperation, or at least so the story goes.

Admittedly, we all work better in smaller groups. But wouldn’t we be able to maintain that efficiency in a hierarchical structure? BarCo members wouldn’t all have to brainstorm on party ideas if the committee would be bigger, tasks can easily be delegated. Would that be a better option than the incredible amount of chair positions at this college?

A final question we asked concerned CV building. Are considerations of a good track record part of people’s decisions to join certain committees? Emiel doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this, even if it is the case. Eun A, who is on the boards of Enactus, UCUMUN, LitCo, LawCo, and UCWorld says, “I don’t think any of my current positions as a board member will go on my CV. They are not unimportant but they are more for character building. I’m rather sceptical about whether these part-time college extracurricular activities are that relevant for professional careers.”

Bottom-line, committee numbers are justified by many. Are we drowning in committees, or more like happily swimming in them? Still, do we really need to have everyone’s interests covered by a committee? People have rooms, living rooms and a whole town to explore. To what extent does a committee facilitate student life and to what extent is it simply unjustified pampering?

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