Every person in a dorm or house pays social dues at the beginning of the year, and the dorm uses that money to plan and execute events for the dorm community. The dorm is supposed to use all of that money, and many dorms do. But in some cases, for whatever reason, a dorm does not use all of its social money. For example, I ran into a bunch of people this week who casually told me that their dorm still had 10,000 dollars.
Common sense would dictate that unused money would go back to dorm members; as it stands, though, housing policy prohibits this action.
Currently, if a dorm has leftovers, “any unused money will be funneled into a fund allowing [dorm] alumni to plan reunion parties.” The dorm is not allowed to refund money, nor is it allowed to use it for any other purpose than future reunion-type social events. I can see this being well-intentioned: housing wants to encourage dorms to use their social dues for social events, and if there is the possibility of refunding money or donating it elsewhere, dorm staff might feel pressured to not plan events.
The problem is that the system fails in reality. Dorms like the one above with huge surpluses are never going to use that much money for dorm reunions, if they even occur. As a result, these dorms have thousands of dollars at the end of the year and very few days to either spend it or essentially lose it. So they do what most people would do: they spend it in any way they can, which usually means going out to dinner with a small group of people from the dorm at the most expensive restaurant they can find.
This is not to vilify those people who do this: they are using money that will otherwise go to waste. But I believe we all can think of many more useful ways to use this money if the policy were to allow it: namely, either refunding the money back to residents or donating it to a local charity. Since some dorms still have leftover funds even with a policy that prohibits any incentives to not spend it, it is clear that some dorms will just not use up all their money. To not have a more flexible refund policy in these cases is extremely inefficient, not to mention frustrating.
Now, to a possible solution: perhaps a better plan than all or nothing on social funds is one that sets a cap on how much money you can roll over into a reunion account. Any leftover funds on top of that can either be refunded or donated to charity. Imagine we set this at 2000 dollars: any leftover funds under 2000 dollars will be put in a reunion account. But if the dorm has even more than that amount in extra money, they can either refund it to dorm members or donate the rest to charity. It seems hard to argue that more than this can even be used for future social events: any amount over a couple thousand dollars would be sufficient for an extraordinary number of reunions.
This is an improvement over the status quo because it works to counter both the possible incentives to not spend and the inefficiencies of no refunds. The incentives to not spend are avoided because dorms will still not be able to refund or donate the first 2000 dollars–if they decide to not spend their money, they will still not have free rein over that first large threshold sum of money, which should encourage them to use their funds. But at the same time, the excess money above 2000 will be flexible, meaning that the dorm can choose to give it back to residents or give it to a good cause instead of just letting it fester and get swallowed up by the university.
Excess social dues should be opportunities, not hindrances. The current system is a failure: we need to adopt a system that makes sure dorms feel comfortable using money for its intended purpose but is also not incredibly wasteful. Instead of moving towards more rigid and less flexible structures, as Housing seems to be doing, we ought to find a better solution to dorm refunds–and a better solution should not be too hard to find.