The RSO application process is riddled with problems

We need reform now

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The RSO application process is riddled with problems

Mehroz Kapadia

Mehroz Kapadia

Mehroz Kapadia

Mehroz Kapadia

By James Mazarakis, Op/Ed Editor

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The University of Massachusetts touts having a community where its students can build plenty of social, political and academic groups on campus. But does it really?

Every year, the right to be recognized as a Registered Student Organization (RSO) is given to a select few groups. This status privileges them access to facilities, vendors and Campus Pulse, a multi-purpose website forum. It’s no wonder that many informal groups want to take this extra step.

But the numbers show a gloomy outlook for prospective RSOs. In 2017, 49 out of 55 applications to become RSOs were denied; last year, it was 43 out of 48. That’s an approval rate of approximately 10 percent over the last two years. These denials routinely lead to protest and frustration among the student body.

To the credit of the current Undergraduate Registry Oversight Committee (UROC), that rate has increased to 60 percent, with approximately 40 out of about 60 applications accepted this year. That is progress, but at the end of the day, has anything really changed?

Applying to become an RSO is a grueling, high stakes process. It calls for the production of a constitution, meetings with Student Government Association (SGA) members and a drawn-out review process. Prospective RSOs are frequently met with denials due to mundane errors like wording, formatting and incorrect interpretations of instructions.

Sure, it’s logical to compel groups to outline their responsibilities and establish a financial plan. Students pay $131 a year to sustain over two hundred organizations on campus, and no one wants the SGA to risk pouring emergency funds into dozens of RSOs. They also need to know the group is organized enough to work alongside the SGA even if they ask for no funding—every RSO needs members to participate in a council, complete trainings and take actions to prevent being frozen, according to the RSO Handbook. What’s unclear is why the UROC answers that with an arcane vetting process that is constantly met with wrath. Notoriously, the Women’s Club Basketball team was rejected for four years for missing menial details like the phrase “signature responsibility.”

One group I’m a part of, the Sustainable Community Development Student Organization (SCDSO), was in its second year of applying to be an RSO. The group did write “signature responsibilities” in their constitution, but were apparently rejected for not referencing the term again with each officer.

What’s worse, SCDSO took advantage of an opportunity to meet with an SGA officer and discussed the section in question before submitting their application. This raises questions about whether these expectations are even understood by the very people who set them.

“It’s disappointing,” SCDSO Treasurer and sophomore sustainable community development (SCD) major Jake Butler said. “Our group is put through this difficult process multiple times, constantly stressing and wondering if it was going to work out.”

He pointed to “miniscule” problems in the club’s constitution that led to their denial. SCDSO filed an appeal but were denied. It is still not clear on what precise format the SGA is looking for.

“We are now debating whether to contact the SGA for clarification or to move on,” SCDSO president and senior SCD major Jessica Daury said.

The question is, if UROC is looking for ways to judge an organization’s grit, why punish them for edits that could be fixed by the authors in two minutes? Is the committee suggesting that it is a policy’s writing and not intent that is the basis for recognition?

UROC Chair Yashika Issrani told the Collegian that the committee “expect[s] no less” than meeting the “exact criteria” in the handbook in order to be “fair.” But this doesn’t explain why RSO applicants who make minor errors aren’t allowed to correct them immediately. Is the location of the word “signature” truly important enough to brand budding groups as ineligible for recognition? Navigating the difficult process does not suggest to the SGA that you are a responsible RSO – it only tells them that you are good at completing time-consuming checklists.

“If UMass is going to advertise that students can form their own clubs on campus, they also need to add that the process is extremely hard,” Butler added.

The intent of these barriers remains to be seen. In 2018, the open period for RSO registration was cut down from four weeks to two in order to curtail what was described as “unsustainable growth.” If the SGA has an onus to reduce the number of approved RSO applications, or limit the number accepted per year, they should say so — not hide behind bureaucratic jargon in order to keep the numbers down. That way, applicants can see their low odds of success and decide whether to spend their time doing something more productive.

There are more ways the SGA can improve this process. For applications with few mistakes, prospective RSOs should have a short revision period to meet expectations. If this gives the green light to an unfeasible number of RSOs, the SGA and UROC should declare reasonable new prerequisites like increasing the size of entry. Finally, if constitutions need to meet requirements to the teeth, there should be a public template that saves RSO applicants the time it takes to navigate a plethora of oddly specific instructions.

Unfortunately, the SGA has been wrought in debilitating drama over the last year, not to mention an impeachment inquiry on the president himself. I do support the rule of law, but needless political fractures might make addressing issues that affect students fall to the wayside.

The RSO application is no exception. Reforming the process will demand focus and attention from the SGA, not just an opportunity for students to give “feedback.” We need active engagement between the student government and the student body — without that, frustrations will fester with every new semester.

James Mazarakis is the Op/Ed Editor and can be reached at [email protected] or found on Twitter at @dailyjmaz.