With inputs from Vaishali Venkatesh Prasad
After every Shaastra/Saarang, and especially after this year’s Saarang, the question of whether core treats ought to be allowed pops up. Should the cores be allowed to spend sponsorship money on themselves, within a reasonable limit? What happens if the system goes wrong and this limit is exceeded?
It isn’t only Shaastra/Saarang that is the focus here. Department fests also spend money on core treats, but the amount spent isn’t as large. The amount spent on core treats this Shaastra was around ₹ 25,000. The numbers for Saarang are slightly higher. These figures are approved by the fests’ advisers before they are spent. The amount mentioned is just for this year. We cannot get an official quote from the organisers, but according to informal estimates this number was close to the ₹ 40,000 mark for previous years’ fests. The amount spent is clearly huge. So, why allow core treats?
It has been argued that the prospect of core treats serves as an incentive for the cores to get more sponsorship money in the first place. After all, the student body does not finance these treats. The sponsors give this money to the cores/sponsorship coordinators. Why should we care about how it is spent, as long as there are no glaring deficiencies in the functioning of the fests?
The money spent on treats could be used to better the fests next year, argue some. However, there is a problem with doing this. The money collected for a fest one year cannot be used the next year unless the fest runs at a loss. Any extra cash is diverted to a main account to be stored for emergencies.
Besides, the cores presumably know the best way to spend the money, right? If they don’t come up with concrete improvements to the fests, or if they spend the money disproportionately on themselves, they will be pulled up by the people they are accountable to, i.e. the Steering Committee. Thus the money spent on treats will not affect the functioning of the fests, so the argument goes. Would they always spend the money efficiently and wisely though? We cannot bank on that necessarily happening.
Another argument runs thus: the core has the responsibility of managing the whole team. He/she is under fire if something goes wrong. Thus s/he deserves incentives greater than what coords/volunteers receive, even if the latter do more of the heavy work (isn’t that the principle by which capitalism is run, anyway?). However, the coords, who do most of the running around, do not get adequately compensated for their work, although they have a skill-set similar to that of the cores. Not all coords become cores either. Shouldn’t coords be given greater incentives then, while reducing the benefits that the cores receive?
It has been argued that becoming a core is itself an incentive, as it makes for a good CV point. Thus further incentives are superfluous. However, some say, banning treats might discourage those who want to do higher studies from applying for a core position, as being a core is not a good app point for these students — an argument that banks on the shaky assumption that most people who want to do higher studies apply to become cores because of the treats.
The ethical argument proceeds on the lines of “They work for Saarang/Shaastra, therefore they cannot spend the money on themselves. These fests are not to be used for personal benefit.” On the other hand, as long as there is nothing illegal about the way the money is used, why can’t the cores spend a part of the money on themselves as compensation for the work they have put into the fests?
Most arguments about core treats center on the amount spent, not the question of whether we should have them at all. Perhaps cores do deserve these treats, but shouldn’t there be a limit on the money spent? If the money cannot be used to better the fests the next year, couldn’t it be given as prize money the same year? Do cores deserve massive treats running into tens of thousands of rupees?
These debates are related to other questions: how fair is the core selection process? And who is the core accountable to for the money she/he handles? As it turns out, the core selection process is quite rigorous. Initially, the department cores score the applicants based on the applications and the interviews. If there is a clear-cut choice, that person is chosen as the core. If the choice isn’t as clear-cut, the entire core team sits down together, rates applicants on a bunch of parameters, and tallies up the scores. If that doesn’t decide it either, they conduct background checks and reference checks and then take a decision.
The cores are answerable to a lot of people. First the Secretary, then the advisers, the Dean and, when there is an audit, the auditors. All accounts are audited properly. However, all this accountability did not prevent the debacle at Saarang this year. The administration is taking steps to prevent this happening in the future. As a consequence, from this year on, the teams will be officially sanctioned “Annual Dinner Review Meetings” instead of “Core Treats”. Meanwhile, asking the questions we are may not magically resolve things, but engaging in these debates will help us move towards a solution.
As an end note, I want to add that a funny thing happened when I called up a core team member of Saarang to get information for this article. I introduced myself, said I was writing this article for T5E, asked a few questions, and hung up. A few hours later, I opened my gmail inbox to find that I’d been given a Flipkart voucher for ₹ 300 by said core team member. My prize money for Saarang Flash Fiction had finally arrived. Perhaps accountability happens only when we ask questions.