We Are Organizing

An Open Letter from Northwestern Alumni to the Radio/Television/Film Department.

To Dave Tolchinsky, chair of the Northwestern RTVF department,

As you know, many alumni only recently learned about the MAG funding structure from an article in North by Northwestern, which — let’s not mince words — constitutes a massive funding cut to student organizations, and represents an attempt by the department to seize control over which projects get produced on campus. Emotions ran high; folks were alarmed.

On Tuesday, we formed a discussion group on Facebook with 300+ members and hashed it out for three days straight with the intention of making a coordinated alumni response. We also reached out to student leadership and recent alums who had first-hand experience with the MAG process to get their perspectives and concerns.

But the longer we talked, the more it became apparent that (a) there were many things we did not yet know, (b) there were some areas where we could not reach consensus without the other stakeholders, and (c) there were too many ways forward to suggest any particular approach or alternative as a proposed “solution,” particularly without the input of current students.

At the same time, two things became clear:

  1. There’s really no existing structure for students, alumni, and faculty to have a complex dialogue together. On the student side, there is URSA, but there’s an obvious imbalance of power between a body of undergraduates and the faculty who control their grades, funding, and access to equipment. On the alumni side, there are are only the NUEAs, which in practice are more like regional professional societies that do not get involved with campus matters.
  2. If the MAG structure is really as flawed as we’ve been told, it’s urgent that we fix the system in a way that will safeguard organizations like Studio 22, Women Filmmakers Alliance, and Niteskool, which are cornerstones of the RTVF experience and, for many alumni, our only lasting connection to the university. We also take issue with the banning of “grant-powers” outright from certain institutions, particularly since they have proven more than capable of self-governance and have been responsible stewards of the school’s money for decades. (In my own view, I believe the department’s insistence that organizations like Studio 22 are made “too powerful” by having the ability to award grants, as well as the characterization that they grow cliquey, unfair, and corrupt by virtue of their level of responsibility, is both an insult to the generations of students who built those groups, and also a blatant attempt to divide RTVF students against one another.)

Because of this, the alumni have decided to organize. We are working to corral our conflicting, chaotic thoughts and emotions on this topic, and hope to present them early in winter quarter 2017.

We are also reaching out to URSA and the student community at large in hopes of forging a lasting collaborative partnership to readjust the dynamic between students/alumni/faculty, in that order: students first, former students standing in solidarity, with the faculty being asked (respectfully, though firmly) to take the students’ concerns more seriously, to include them in the decision-making process more fully, and to allow them the considerable degree of autonomy that all Northwestern students enjoy in their extracurricular pursuits.

Mike Cavalier (C’06)
New York City