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29 November 2012

Students combat lengthy approval process for new student organizations

Sophomore Merrick Stein hoped to bring together students who work as disc jockeys and produce music through a university-affiliated student organization. This brought Stein before the Committee on Student Organizations (COSO) board one day in late October.

Stein pitched his concept, Ibis Music Group, to COSO, but one week later he was notified that the organization had been sidelined.

Sophomore Dan Englert, who co-founded Ibis Music Group with Stein, said he was shocked when he found out the group had not been approved.

“We don’t understand why,” Englert said. “We have all the members that are interested, we have a plan for exactly what we’re going to do, we’re really passionate about it, and we’re in Miami, where there’s so many connections in the city that are involved in the exact same thing.”

COSO reviews more than a dozen applications per semester, but not all of those can be approved.

The 14 students that sit on the committee are responsible for approving new student organizations at UM, re-registering existing student organizations on a yearly basis, coordinating Canefest and the Spring Involvement Fair, and more.

To approve or not to approve

When it comes to ruling on a proposed student organization – which involves deciding whether to approve, sideline or deny the group – COSO Chair Bibi Moghani said the qualities that COSO members look for vary from organization to organization.

“Every organization is very different, so what we rule on one org is very different from what we might rule on a different org, because there’s a different purpose for a different organization completely,” she said.

Stein sought COSO approval for Ibis Music Group to help promote student musicians’ craft throughout Miami, a city with a large EDM fan base.

Before pitching, Stein and Englert approached COSO members to discuss what they would need to do to ensure approval for the group

“The biggest thing they told us was to look at other student organizations that already exist and make sure that we’re not doing the same thing as them,” Englert said.

Englert said he believes that Ibis Music Group has a distinct purpose beyond existing music-related organizations, such as Cat 5 Music Publishing, Cane Records and the Music and Entertainment Industry Student Association.

Stein said he will probably re-apply, despite being frustrated with how COSO handled the first decision. Regardless of whether it becomes a university-affiliated organization, Stein plans to continue developing Ibis Music Group.

“I will go back to them to figure out what we need to do to be official, but that’s not the main priority,” Stein said. “The main priority is that we’re getting work done.”

A club does not have to be registered with COSO to meet and operate on campus, but the benefits include tax-exempt status, the use of University Center facilities and equipment at no cost, and the eligibility to apply for funding through the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee (SAFAC).

What it takes

COSO does not let just any organization pitch to the board. Of the 16 organizations that applied this semester, 12 went through to give pitches, according to Moghani. Eight of those were approved to draft a constitution, but only six were ultimately approved as COSO-registered organizations in the fall. Some groups may be better suited as a committee within an existing organization, according to Moghani, so COSO often tries to determine how to combine groups.

“It’s almost like building a bridge between organizations that don’t know what they can do,” she said.

For example, COSO members were concerned about a Chinese musical instrument club that wanted to start up, Moghani said, and they suggested putting the club underneath the Chinese Students and Scholars Association.

“Some people get afraid and say, ‘Oh no, I want to be an org, I want to be an org,’ but they don’t realize it’s a lot of work to be an org,” Moghani said. “Those organizations like the cornhole club, or the Miami polo team, they move on to see the whole COSO committee.”

COSO might not approve an organization if the board thinks there will not be enough student interest and is set to fail, or if the group serves no purpose on UM’s campus, according to Moghani.

There is a difference between being “sidelined” and “denied.” “Sidelined” means having to refine the club’s purpose. “Denied” refers to being rejected.

While various groups like Relay for Life and FunDay have been “grandfathered” into the system, a proposal like a Dolphins Cycling Challenge club, centered on one event, would likely be sidelined, according to Moghani.

Anything that brings concern, or that the Department of Risk Management says is not acceptable, such as the paintball club, usually gets denied, Moghani said.

Those pitches that are approved move on to present a constitution. Those that are sidelined can sign up to pitch again in the following month, and those who are denied can send in their appeals.

“They have to change the idea completely of their organization,” Moghani said.

Reforming a pitch

Junior Jenna Boller had to pitch the concept of a Students for Education Reform (SFER) chapter at UM twice before COSO approved the organization.

SFER encourages college students to work toward closing the achievement gap, or the gap between students from low-income neighborhoods and students from high-income neighborhoods.

Boller submitted SFER’s application at the start of the fall semester, after being wait listed at the end of last spring.

She gave her pitch at the beginning of October but was later informed that the organization had been sidelined. This came to Boller as a surprise.

“There’s nothing else like it on campus, and I know a lot of people were interested in because we were already working with the Butler Center,” she said.

But Boller did not plan on letting the decision stop her.

“I wasn’t disheartened,” she said. “I was definitely going to go through with the process and make sure it got approved no matter what.”

COSO made the sideline ruling because Boller’s pitch was not on target, according to Moghani.

“When she came to the board, she only spoke about how she was going to collaborate with other organizations,” Moghani said.

After SFER was sidelined, Boller met with COSO Vice Chair Djevelyne Philieus to discuss the ruling and improve the pitch. After their discussion, Boller realized she had not emphasized the right aspects of the organization the first time around.

“They were more interested in the political advocacy and the ability to bring different legislators on campus to talk to us, and grassroots educational advocates on campus,” she said.

The second pitch was successful, and SFER’s constitution has since been approved. The organization will begin operating at the start of the spring 2013 semester.

Crystal clear decision

Senior Samantha Smith brought the Glass Guild to UM in fewer than three months.

The Glass Guild promotes glass art on campus as an alternative for students who cannot take the glassblowing course offered by the art department.

“We wanted to make it more available for the rest of the campus so that everyone could partake and learn a little bit about glassblowing and glass art,” Smith said.

Starting the application early on in the semester helped Smith get through the process quickly, despite a lot of paperwork and red tape to go through, she said.

Everyone on the COSO executive board seemed to be behind the premise of the club, according to Smith.

“It is a very unique club because we didn’t have anything like it before,” she said. “I think that’s what really helped.”

Once approved, an organization can start operating in full swing at any time. The Glass Guild held its first fundraiser by selling glass ornaments during the last week of the semester.

“Then next semester we’re actually going to have club meetings and we’re going to start up and running,” Smith said.

The Glass Guild will meet twice a month to bake glass art using the facilities in the Studio Arts Complex on Levante Avenue.

6 thoughts on “Students combat lengthy approval process for new student organizations

  1. I can attest that there is a lot of red tape involved. I pay the student activity fee, so my money should be used towards my organizational needs. You admit it yourself; you want less organizations on campus; I want more bang for my buck.

  2. The success of student organizations is not due to COSO. COSO allows them (selectively) to exist; it is up to the club to ensure its success.

  3. There isn’t much red tape… Its a process that is fair and helpful to student organizations. If an org has a clear and concise plan, COSO will approve them. COSO offers support to organizations existing and in the process of forming. If the orgs ideas aren’t, well then thats probably why it was denied. Seriously? No one ever considers the success of the organizations that COSO approves, rather it releases the upsets from organizations who were unsuccessful in forming a concise idea. COSO works exactly like other similar programs in different schools across the United States. And every organization IS different, therefore they should all be evaluated differently. They don’t make it harder for orgs to operate on campus, they make the process justified and reasonable. In my opinion, COSO should be stricter in what they consider an org to be. Looks like Lyssa forgot to mention the good sides of COSO.

  4. The school needs to reconsider its approval process. COSO is the sole arbiter of these decisions, and there is a lack of transparency and a lot of red tape. COSO makes it harder for groups to operate on campus. Lyssa, well done.

  5. A club does not have to be registered with COSO to meet and operate on campus, but the benefits include tax-exempt status, the use of University Center facilities and equipment at no cost, and the eligibility to apply for funding through the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee (SAFAC).

    A MUST be registered with COSO to meet and operate on campus and to be recognized by the University. Violating this will cause an organization to meet with the Dean of Students.

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