Earlier this week, the SGA Finance Committee (FC) and the Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC) sent out a joint survey to students regarding the Middlebury Outdoor Orientation (MOO), a program cut last year by the school in an effort to save money. They asked students on a scale of one (opposed) to five (support), do they “support reviving the MOO program with partial funding from the Student Activities fee?”
As of Sunday, 525 responses were received — 54% (286) said they strongly support reviving the program (a five vote). 7% (37) said they were strongly opposed with 38% voting in between (see chart left).
The FC indicated that reinstating the program requires $20 per student, per year which is 5% of the $380 Student Activity Fee (SAF). On top of that, students participating would pay half of the cost of the trips (with financial aid already covered).
MOO would be able to accommodate all incoming students that wish to participate and would use the MiddView model of also having community service and more local options for activities.
Don’t get me wrong, I think MOO is a great thing, but I argue that a survey is not how we should be making decisions like this. An email survey seems logical and democratic as a way to gauge student sentiment but it gives students a false sense that they are voting on this decision. They are not. The FC will vote on this decision with the survey data in hand and they could easily say no, despite the survey results above.
The survey data is probably not the most representative even though 500+ people responded. Why? The framing of the discussion is that students need to respond to the survey to “save MOO!” There clearly is no one who is willing to be “anti-MOO.” Only those people who feel strongly about MOO will vote/take the survey and the indifferent rest probably won’t respond.
The reality is that reinstating MOO means taking money away from someone else. This survey doesn’t do enough to make that trade-off clear. Most students don’t realize that this is their student activities fee (SAF) dollars which also go to support the likes of Quidditch, the Commons, Yearbook, ISO, MCAB Concerts, etc. The $40-50,000 required for MOO should be framed as a trade off for similarly priced activities like the entire budget of WRMC or MCAB Speakers. Frame it this way: would you rather have MOO or a radio station? would you rather have speakers come to campus or MOO? It’s true that this money might come out of the FC reserves for now, but what happens in three years when it has to come out of the SAF?
The FC should take particular care in this decision. Once the FC takes on this program, it is permanently their responsibility to fund it each year. Do not expect the administration to pick up the costs once the economy improves. Dean Spears’ calls this “the new normal.” Furthermore, the FC would find it hard to ever cut the program back once it is in place.
I am a fan of keeping the OINK model, pioneered this year.
All students who wanted to participate were accepted and they went on trips in the first two weekends of school. MMC worked expertly under a new normal to form these abbreviated trips. These trips are short and sweet, preserving the spirit of MOO within new budget constraints.