The once-a-semester event allowed students to air their grievances to leaders of ABC, the governing board that oversees cultural, academic, preprofessional, publication, performance, and special interest groups. Many of the approximately 130 student leaders in attendance raised issues they had with space reservations and funding.
Ben Paladino, GS '14 and executive director of Columbia University Milvets, said that it is frustrating that groups cannot book rooms in Lerner Hall during the day because it is contracted for daytime use to raise money for the maintenance of the building.
ABC president Saketh Kalathur, CC '13, acknowledged that space is a universal problem for groups.
“Even more than funding the thing that ABC groups need the most is space,” Kalathur said.
Kalathur said that ABC is attempting to improve the situation by changing the precalendaring process, during which, in the middle of each semester, groups submit space requests for specific times, dates, and locations for the following semester.
Kalathur said the process can be inefficient because a group's specialized space needs are not taken into consideration.
“For example, we have a room in Lerner called E477 which is a great dance space,” Kalathur said. “A lot of times a group might just be using it for a meeting. There are a lot of times like that—space may not be used as efficiently.”
Other times, he said, groups book space and don't use it, but fail to cancel the reservation, leaving the room unused. Julian Richardson, CC '14 and ABC vice president, said the board has also been working to give groups a way to swap spaces—possibly via Twitter or Google Groups—so that space doesn't go to waste.
“One problem I ran into was that you can't switch the accountability of the person who has that space,” Richardson said.
Kalathur also discussed revamping the electronic approval form, or EAF, which ABC groups have to fill out for every event they hold. Though LionLink has already made spending allocations much easier for groups—since the entire process can now be done online—Kalathur said there is still work to be done.
“What we've realized and what we've heard some feedback on is that there's a lot of redundancy,” Kalathur said of EAFs and financial transaction forms, or FTFs. Currently, a group has to fill out an EAF for each event it holds and an FTF for each purchase it makes. Most events entail multiple purchases and thus multiple forms to fill out.
“In the past, when there was no electronic tracking process that groups could easily access, EAFs served as a way for them to keep track of their budget on our ABC website,” Kalathur said after the town hall. “Now that both of these are online, a lot of the information needs to be entered twice ... so what I really want to work on is to figure out what can be eliminated from the EAF.”
Nathaniel Byerly, CC '15 and treasurer of the Russian International Association, said that for recurring events—such as the group's weekly conversation hour—clubs should only have to get one approval each month or each semester, instead of each week. About a third of attendees said they also held regular meetings for which weekly approval seemed unnecessary.
No more than five people in attendance knew about LionLink's functionalities outside of tracking finances. Kalathur urged club leaders to take advantage of the new system, and students were impressed to hear of its advertising and documentation capabilities.
“LionLink is where freshmen will go when they first come to Columbia and want to join groups,” Kalathur said, adding that many times first-years can't see the club details upperclassmen post on Facebook because they are not yet friends with them. “It's really to your advantage to use LionLink to its full potential.”
He said after the meeting that leaders “seemed really excited at its potential to establish institutional memory—to have all your documents stored on there instead of floating around the inboxes of e-boards.”
Richard Baldassari, GS '14 and Milvets president, asked ABC to address funding for rapidly growing groups like his, in which the membership grows faster than its maximum allocation. A group's funding is based on its original number of members—in this case, 12—and though it generally grows a little or stays the same each year, allocations are inadequate when a group sees a large change in population, he said.
Nikhil Krishnan, CC '14 and the ABC representative for Milvets, said this was a more long-term problem that the board was working on.
“The overarching problem is, after we recognize a group, how do we keep tabs on it?” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Ben Paladino, GS '14, as treasurer of Columbia University Milvets. He is the executive director. Spectator regrets the error.