Under the Microscope: An investigation into YIRPA and DoS
Photo used with permission from YIRPA
When the new executive board of Yale-NUS International Relations and Political Association (YIRPA) was elected into office on Oct. 8, they took a vote on whether to keep YIRPA open and running. The eventual vote was in favour of keeping YIRPA for the next academic year, before another vote will be taken by the next executive board. Why was there a need for the vote? What issues are student organizations like YIRPA facing?
When organising an event, student organizations in Yale-NUS College have the option of booking venues within RC4 or in University Town. For the recent Yale-NUS Model ASEAN (YMA) held from Aug. 22 to 24, 2014, YIRPA utilized seminar rooms in RC4, the multipurpose hall in RC4, seminar rooms in the Educational Resource Centre (ERC) and Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium.
According to YIRPA, the Dean of Students Office (DoS) had initially agreed to cover the cost of all venues. This was recently revised. “DoS had originally agreed to pay for the venues, and then it [was] later retracted, very recently.” Walter Yeo ’18, President of YIRPA, commented, “[They expect that] YIRPA is going to pay for it.”
On booking venues for events, Chris O’Connell, Student Programs Manager, said, “Here at RC4 [venues are] all free… typically the student organization should bear the cost for the venues [outside of RC4]”.
Andrea Lee ’17, Vice-President (International Relations) of YIRPA stressed the importance of having venues sponsored. “When we organize conferences, we always… try to get venue sponsorship.” Lee said, “Venue is a very big cost and if venues are not covered… it does not make economic sense [to organize the conference].” According to Lee, the key reason cited by the DoS was prior miscommunication.
YIRPA made a profit of approximately $20,000 from YMA. They are expected to pay approximately $6000 for the venues.
Faculty approval or ‘buy-in’
Trojan Model UN took place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 in Southern California, America. 12 YIRPA students were scheduled to participate in the conference. According to Lee, this was an important conference as it was an opportunity for YIRPA students to take part in conferences beyond Asia. However, YIRPA was later unable to send a delegation to Trojan Model UN.
The official stance of the DoS on missing classes for extracurricular events is that faculty approval must be obtained before any funding proposal will be considered. “You are a student first,” O ‘Connell commented. “We won’t consider funding proposals from students unless they receive approval from their faculty.”
However, faculty members are allowed to change their minds on granting approval. While all students scheduled to participate in Trojan Model UN had initially obtained faculty approval, they were later informed that their funding proposal would not be considered due to a lack of “faculty buy-in”.
O‘Connell expressed, “In some instances… faculty has looked into what the student has asked permission for… and shifted their opinion about it… Faculty have every right to change their mind.” When asked if there is a deadline by which faculty can change their minds, O‘Connell responded that “[they hadn’t] quite crossed that bridge yet” on setting a specific deadline.
According to Yeo, “a couple of students had already paid for the hotel and they are in the midst of trying to get refunded. One particular student had already paid for airfare using her Miles.”
While recognizing that students may incur additional costs due to last-minute changes, O‘Connell suggested that “there’re trade-offs to everything; having to navigate these trade-offs, whether extra-curricular or not, is all part of [being a student].”
Payment of Registration fees
Both regular registration for Pan Asia Model UN in Taiwan and stage one of priority registration for World Model UN in Seoul closed on Oct. 15. On Tuesday night, Oct. 14, the YIRPA board received an update on recent policy changes regarding payment of registration fees of conferences and competitions.
One version of the Travel and Conference Funding guidelines released by DoS dated ‘Semester 1 — 2014’ states that “The Dean of Students office will cover registration fees for events that require early sign-ups, even if travel funding has not yet been secured.” An updated version of the guidelines dated ‘2014/2015 Academic Year’, that is available on the Yale-NUS website at the date of publication, states “Funding may be used for registration fees and travel expenses.” Students are also expected to “submit [the] completed form to the Dean of Students Office at least six weeks in advance of the departure date.” Registration fees no longer fall under individual student organization budgets but under the Travel and Conference Funding budget.
According to O’Connell, these changes in funding policies mean that where only registration fees would previously be paid for, student organisations can now apply for subsidies for both registration fees and travel expenses through the Travel and Conference Funding guidelines.
Yeo, however, expressed doubts over whether this is an advantageous change in funding policy for student organisations. As subsidies for registration fees are now subject to approval of travel funding, “it’s a higher uncertainty.” Yeo commented, “If you secure registration fees… that’s absolute certainty in a very small amount. But to students, that’s comforting.”
Furthermore, Yeo raised the concern that the change in funding policy was only communicated to YIRPA on the night before the registration fees were due. “As a student in a new school, I can understand that changes have to be made, but why was [the] financial policy not revised at the end of the academic year, or at the end of the semester, rather than a random Tuesday night in the middle of the week in the middle of the semester?” Yeo stated, “We expect change, but we expect change at a reasonable time like the start of end of the financial year so that YIRPA can also budget.”
“Changes should be applied in the future, not retroactively.” Yeo added.
YIRPA will be sending a delegation of 22 students to Pan Asia Model UN in 2014 and 12 students to World Model UN in 2015. According to Yeo and Lee, the fees were eventually covered by YIRPA instead of individual members. Registration fees for both conferences add up to approximately S$6210. YIRPA is applying for funding through the Travel and Conference budget, and this is subject to approval by the DoS.
Student organizations play a large role in student life in Yale-NUS. YIRPA is the largest student organization with 126 members and one of the fastest growing organizations on campus. YIRPA’s rapid growth however, has also brought many challenges with it. “I feel that YIRPA is limited by what the school has already done.” Lee commented, “We cannot grow faster than the pace at which Yale-NUS is growing.”
At the same time, O’Connell expressed, “We’re very impressed with YIRPA.” O’Connell acknowledged that changes are happening all the time in Yale-NUS, and said, “The more flexible everyone is, ourselves included, the better off all of us will be. Change is hard.”
The total DoS budget for student organizations from this semester to March 2015 is $65,000. To date, 21 recognized student organizations have received some form of a budget from the DoS Office.