The MOO Survey

chart15Earlier 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.

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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.

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7 thoughts on “The MOO Survey

  1. Agreed on all points. I don’t think many students are aware of the extent of the financial burden involved in reinstating MOO.

    I’m unclear as to why this proposal has been raised given that the college is trying to cut back (and cutbacks should include direct expenses to students as well as expenses to the college).

  2. Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for covering the issue, I appreciate you taking the time to present the survey results and discuss the issue in the MiddBlog forum.

    I just wanted to weigh in with a few clarifications regarding your post this week about our survey.

    First, and most importantly, your closing assertion that under the OINK model “all students who wanted to participate were accepted” is simply false. The OINK program had to turn away a very large number of applications due to lack of space, and the coordinators received dozens of complaints from freshmen or parents who were outraged that their freshmen’s incoming experience would be rationed in that way.

    Through the survey, we received multiple comment’s from this year’s freshmen class highlighting just how frustrating it was to miss out on the chance to participate in an outdoor orientation. Many survey respondents also stated that hearing about the MiddView program had been a serious draw to Middlebury, and that they had been shocked to find the program cut for their year.

    The program being discussed would be the answer to those concerns, offering enough spots for every freshmen interested in participating. The proposed program would also allow the college to offer a full range of trips, based on the diversity of student interest. OINK is, necessarily, an outdoor-only program model.

    Second, you say in the article:
    “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.” ”

    While the response was overwhelmingly positive, we received several dozen thoughtful comments with suggestions about how to improve the program or about why we shouldn’t undertake it at all. Your suggestion that no one would be willing to be “anti-MOO” is simply not reflected in the survey results, as is clear from the summary graph you included in your post.

    Third, although of course you are right that any use of resources represents the implicit opportunity cost of other activities or programs, the funding structure that we are proposing does not come from the Finance Committee Reserve (therefore making the funding unsustainable, and eventually guaranteed to cut into other activities). Quite the opposite, the funding would come from currently unspent monies within the yearly SAF budget, while still allowing the FC to add to their reserves.

    I suggest that you refer to the campus article published last Thursday, November 5th. It contains a pretty good layout of the proposal, as well as the problems with OINK and the advantages of a revived MiddView/MOO program.

    Thanks again for taking up the discussion, and if you want to talk about my clarifications at more depth please feel free to shoot me an email (plafarge@midd).

    Pier

  3. Thanks, Pier. Always good to be called out by people you respect.

    First, a link to The Campus article you mentioned: http://middleburycampus.com/story/sga-considers-reinstating-moo

    Second, you’re right about the not everyone being accepted to OINK. You’ll see that that change is noted above. To elaborate, 169 students went on OINK this year. Usually 250 students went on MOO/MiddView says this article: http://www.middleburycampus.com/story/oink-keeps-spirit-moo-alive. I think this brings up a slightly different frame that most students don’t know — in the past, of the ~600 freshmen only 250 participate. I don’t know about capacity vs. willingness to participate, but I think the specific numbers is another important point to bring up when students weigh on the issue. How many students does new MOO project participating, if participation is not limited.

    Third, I hope you share some of the comments from the survey since that seems to be of great value.

    Fourth, the details on where exactly the funds come from is important and so far has been unclear. The Campus article implies it would come from FC reserves. You are saying the money comes from the unspent money each year. Normally, this money rolls over to the general SAF pool from year to year. Taking a chunk out of that (as opposed to reserves which deal with emergency situations) still affects the amount of money available for everyone and their activities. But hey, the average student has no idea what any of this means, for better or worse.

  4. Hey Ryan, thanks for the detailed response. By the way, I like the blog you guys have here, I’ll have to check it out more regularly. I think the links to resources on the sidebars are particularly cool.

    Let me dive right in to your response. The campus article you linked to regarding Moo/MiddView participation has a factual error that the campus actually ended up correcting, but apparently not amending on their website. Participation in MOO! was always about 250, usually with about 100 people being turned away each year.

    MiddView, however, sent out 405 student participants, and 86 student leaders. In other words, MiddView (as well as the program we are proposing for next year), was able to and will be able to accommodate the 250 that went on MOO!, the 100 plus that always wanted to go on MOO! but couldn’t, AND the 100 or more students that wanted to participate in an orientation trip, but did not feel drawn to an outdoor trip.

    So, the reality is far from 250 out of 600. It is a minimum of 405 freshmen, although with this year’s class and our projections about next years, we would be planning to have more like 450 freshmen and 95 student leaders.

    That is a very important detail when thinking about the cost benefits of the program. If this proposal is approved, no one will be turned away from orientation that wants to go, and ultimately around 75% of the incoming freshmen class with participate.

    As for the survey responses, we received so many strong responses (and I mean, glowing, narrative responses in paragraph form) that we are going to be producing a sort of booklet with them, that will be available through the MMC, the FC and the administration. We will also explore publishing a selection of the comments, both positive and negative and in between, in the Campus (but that is up to the Campus staff).

    What blew me away about the responses was the fact that in two days, hundreds and hundreds of students just came out of the woodwork with comments that reflected the full range of arguments in favor of bringing this program back. They are almost mind-blowingly passionate, funny, story-driven and really show the engagement of the student body on this issue. In short, I was touched by the response, and hope to share them as widely as possible.

    Finally, in response to the funding source, I agree that this is a complex issue. Much of the misunderstanding (and many of the negative comments we received) have to do with a lack of information about the Finance Committee process in general. It’s not that the FC doesn’t put it out there, in fact, their process is extremely transparent and responsible. However, most students just don’t take the time to find out.

    The short and simple answer is that the money will NOT be taken from the FC reserves. The money will be taken from the unspent portion of the FC annual budget that each year rolls over into that reserve. However, the cost of the program is smaller than the total unspent portion, allowing the FC to continue to add to their reserve each year even while funding a revived MiddView.

    Therefore, this commitment of funds would be entirely consistent with the Finance Committee’s principle of fiscal responsibility in the use of student funds. Like I said in my previous response, any use of funds implies an opportunity cost, however, given the potential positive impact of the program and the fiscal responsibility of the financing decision, that cost will be extremely low.

  5. Great that MiddView might return, but the logical question to ask is this: if there are extra funds to set aside each year coming from the students’ activity fees, why not reduce the fee charged to students so the overall comp fee comes down? The student activity fee is included in the comp fee.

    That is Midd’s student activities fee is what, around $350 ro $400 annually? If all the sum collected is not used fully, but rolled over into a reserve, why not reduce the charge to students each year? Wouldn’t some students (and their parents) like it if the comp fee were lowered by $200 (which, I believe, would put Midd’s activities fee in line with peer institutions), especially in the next few years with the challenging economy?

  6. Hey Ryan,
    Thanks for pointing out the flaw in the survey methods – I think I did answer that survey, as one of those opposed to MOO (I simply have no interest whatsoever in the program, and think the money could be better spent elsewhere) but I would argue that many of those less passionate about the issue are opposed to it, making the numbers shown misleading. I also appreciate the thoughtful discussion going on here – much new information for me.
    MiddAlum – I doubt that HALF of the sum gets rolled over anually, but more importantly, the SAF is a tiny fraction of the thousands of dollars most of us are paying for tuition. I’d much rather pay such a fee, that most folks don’t even notice, and be secure in the knowledge that the dozen-odd student groups I’m involved with (to varying degrees) have funds available when necessary – not that I think the interaction between student org leaders is perfect, but that’s a story for another time. My impression when visiting the college was that the number of student groups available, and the fact that they can get funding for necessary activities without having to do a car wash every week, is indeed part of what sets Middlebury apart, and I still feel that way.

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