New College’s exclusive dining society, the Smith Society, is under fire for its £2,106 subsidy from the JCR.
The Smith Society holds two dinners per year to reward undergraduates who have made outstanding contributions to the JCR. The JCR contributes £36 per head.
The issue surfaced after student James Rhodes posted a poll to the New Freshers Facebook group.
A majority of respondents were critical of the Smith Society with 21 choosing “I believe this is a waste of college funds as it benefits circa 5% of the JCR”, and 11 electing for “I don’t believe the committee should get to vote on their own reward dinner”.
8 JCR members supported the society, voting for “I agree with the cost of SmithSoc, the selection procedure and the JCR funding it”.
Others seemed more indifferent with 2 suggesting that the subsidy should be halved and 4 claiming not to care at all.
As well as cost, SmithSoc has been attacked for its vote timing. Rhodes claimed “the motion for SmithSoc is passed at the committee handover meeting in [which] effectively 2 committees are present thus they are usually in the majority”.
SmithSoc did, however, have its defenders. Robert Harris, a New fresher, slammed the cost criticism as “an absolutely absurd accusation.”
“Virtually all spending by the JCR, whether on kit for sports teams, investment in musical equipment, or even on the whole of freshers’ week, benefits only a minority of students at College. As long as a majority approve part of the budget being spent on a minority, there is no issue, and I see no reason why spending on SmithSoc is any different to spending on anything else. What’s next? Saying that OUSU and JCR spending on welfare is unjustified because only a minority of students benefit from these services? Ridiculous.”
Student Harry Jewson weighed in on the procedural critiques, saying “If anyone objects they can vote against the motion. Two committees is still well under a majority of even one year group, Motions are submitted in advance. If you don’t like it turn up and vote. Many who could simply don’t bother”.
Katherine Nicholls, New JCR President, told the OxStu “The budget for the dinners this year was adjusted to £2,106 after a vote on an amendment to the motion. The amended motion then passed without opposition. Additionally, the JCR Committee this year intends to spend about two thirds of the amount mandated.”
Nicholls went on “At the moment the JCR is thinking about the procedure by which the JCR approves both the idea of Smith Soc, as well as the details of the budget assigned to it. A Facebook thread is not the ideal way to properly explore this issue, but I do agree that Smith Soc, and the procedure for approving it, does need to be discussed.”
“We are planning to hold a JCR forum at the start of next term dedicated to debating this. I’m going to look into ways to ensure the forum is as directed and productive as possible.”
SmithSoc was also debated by the JCR in Trinity 2013 and though it was easily passed,student Adam Piacsick castigated it for taking money away from Access schemes.
An anonymous New undergrad commented “So, I think lots of people think that if you have a JCR committee position, you should want to do it for the good of the college, not so that you get a reward (a posh dinner with free flowing wine about twice a year). I think SmithSoc is a nice idea but I don’t think the JCR should foot the bill. College should.” ”
The student added “This has all been a big debate on our Facebook page very recently and now our JCR president has decided to call a meeting next term about it and is sending everyone an email with all the details so we can be more informed. It’s definitely democratic to have the whole of the JCR voting (which includes ex committee members and future ones). It’s just that the rest of the JCR doesn’t understand the situation.”