Spring Concert and the AAS
Issue   |   Sun, 02/12/2012 - 20:58

Dear Mr. Borsellino and the Amherst Student Body,

I am the author of the “nasty email” referred to in this last week’s column titled No More Red Tape in the Red Room. Overlooking the fact that my opinion was misrepresented through the excerpt selected for the article, I am writing again with the same, though intensified, concerns regarding the earnestness and methods with which the AAS solicits opinions. Motivated by the fact that the results of the most recent survey regarding the Spring Concert were not published, and having noted the allocation of nearly 10,000 additional dollars to the cause, I wrote frustrated that the AAS seemed to be disregarding an opinion that I believed to be held by a large portion of the student body: namely, that in its current form the Spring Concert is a poor use of a large amount of money. Given that the results of the original survey in the fall indicated that students wished to allocate $65,000 to the event, I was surprised that the AAS would think that a $75,000 concert was one that we could “all get excited about.”

In a private email response, Mr. Borsellino informed me that the unpublished survey was apparently “not representative of the facts and was void” due to a third option that had not been presented therein to the students, that being the option the AAS is now pursuing. He also informed me that any amount under $10,000 is under the discretion of the AAS and not up for referendum. To this, I say the additional, and strategic, $9,950 constitutes in fact a lump sum of $74,950 that we did not approve, as necessary, by referendum, and that should a public question become invalid, it ought to be posed anew rather than discarded.

Though shocked by these decisions, I also wrote because the treatment of these surveys appeared to represent the larger issue of how the AAS solicits the opinions of the student body. I am not accusing the AAS of laziness or a lack of transparency, but rather of seeking student opinions merely superficially and ultimately without truly representing the entire campus. Though a limited number of surveys are distributed, and some issue-specific forums are open to the public, I have seen little active solicitation of and engagement with student opinion, and many decisions made behind translucent doors. Though the issues are technically accessible to students, I don’t believe that the AAS does a good job of educating us about the nature of these issues. Transparency is not the same as engagement.

I am writing here because this issue is clearly manifest in the President’s hypocritical treatment of a student’s criticism. While his column preaches a new brand of openness, it simultaneously seems to attempt to cow critique by publicly calling out my letter and implying its lack of rational foundation. “The AAS always wants to hear from [students] through emails” – except, apparently, when it does not. I could, but will not, accuse the President of dictatorial double-speak and instead hope to represent my original views, unmolested, with the hope that others also do so in the future.

As such, I have decided to include here the full contents of the nasty email, so that the student body at large can talk amongst itself, debate, and judge if I am, as accused, someone who is “going to be upset regardless,” and whether or not the Senate’s appropriation of additional funds in this case is acceptable to us, the students.

Dear AAS,

I am writing with some concerns that I have, and that I noticed many other students have, regarding the way the spring concert debacle has been handled. I was hoping I could voice one of the major concerns so that such things could be avoided in the future.

I recently read in The Student that the AAS allocated an additional ~$10,000 to Program Board for funding the Spring Concert. I do not remember ever being asked by the AAS, nor by a single one of my class' AAS senators, what I thought about these funds. What I do remember is being surveyed about whether Spring Concert should even happen this year, but as of yet I do not believe those results were ever announced. A great many students I have talked to don't believe the Spring Concert is a good use of our funds, yet somehow it doesn't feel like that view is represented at the AAS. I know there was a town hall, but students are pressed for time. I believe it is the job of my class senators to figure out our opinions on matters as important as another $10,000. I voted no to the Spring Concert, never found out the results of the survey, and then discovered that not only has the concert not been canceled, but also additional funds have been allocated to Program Board, which if my perception is correct is widely believed on campus to have handled the situation poorly.

I know that my personal opinion shouldn't drive the decisions regarding the concert. However, I feel the collective opinions of the student body should be taken into account far more than they have been, and I truly believe that I am not in a small minority in having this view on the Spring Concert in general. Outside of the single issue of Spring Concert, this issue seems to fit into a larger pattern of our class senators not asking for our opinions and representing our class at AAS meetings. While I have been asked to complete online polls, I haven't been asked by my supposed AAS senators for my opinion on almost any topic in my 3.5 years at Amherst. I hope this can change, as it will also likely help change the perception that the AAS doesn't represent and work for the student body as a whole.

Thanks,
Ben.

Anchor
Comments
Andrew Kelly '12 (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 21:25

Well spoken Ben. I honestly can't say I know anyone who has expressed excitement or desire to see any spring concert. $75k is a huge amount to spend on one night. I believe that it could be better spent on a recurring event such as a weekly "Milk and Cookies" night to give the students some stress relief.

not a senator (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 00:48

i am totally excited about the concert. AAS has a lot of money and it is annoying when funds allocated are not spent.

Cecilia Pessoa '14 (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 22:00

Agreed. I also voted against having a spring concert and have been wondering when the actual results from that vote would be published. If most students want to spend so much money on this event, then it should happen, but I don't think this is true. I think and hear from others that events like AC after dark are a much better use of our funds.

anon (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 01:17

1. no one but me shows up to ac after dark events
2. there is money for both.

Anonymous Alum (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 22:05

As a recent alumnus, I agree that spring concert overall is generally a disappointment, especially given the horrible venue of the gym. The money would be better spent for other community activities.

Spencer Russell '12 (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 22:58

Preach Ben, Preach!

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 23:08

MILK AND COOKIES

Geoff (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 23:30

Just for a quick clarification. The Program Board (the organization that puts on the Spring Concert) is separate from the AAS. They have their own advisors and are funded through the same budget that funds ACEMS. They sent out an email with a survey, not the AAS. This comment was just to make that distinction, not necessarily to deflect your wider criticisms. Also, a lot of things could be cleared up with a face-to-face discussion.... Back to thesis.

Amherst '11 (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 23:31

do some comparison shopping...
hire a new faculty member? hire two recent grads to run clubs, etc? buy acems the stuff the actually need, such as a car? give a few popular clubs a real budget? have weekly different campus events (the people on program board are creative! let them be creative!) or, at about $40 per student, send everyone to have dinner in town?
OR! you can pay that money to stand in a gym unable to hear a band you don't like.
I wish Ben had been around before I was at Amherst to state this widely-held opinion.

Anon (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 01:27

Actually, AAS did just buy acems a new car! And a lot of people complained about it (see Rina's comment- shes a good person but I think she misunderstood the electric car campaign). We have events at amherst: lectures, amherst after dark, etc... but not a lot of kids show. I am glad that AAS can afford all of this. The problem isnt that AAS is 'wasting' funds. The problem is that they aren't spending enough, fast. But getting thigns done always takes time and effort--- and you shouldn't as an alumni who left the college -- blame kids who are trying to put together events for kids here now for having good intentions! Shame!

Rina Vernovskaya '12 (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 23:39

I also believe that the AAS needs to be much more transparent in how it handles funds. I know many students' requests for funding have been denied by the AAS Budgetary Committee with the quick cop out phrase "we're short on funds" or "we don't fund those types of events" reply. I believe that the budgetary committee should create a more flexible discretionary fund that would allow for an increase in the variety of activities that could happen on this campus--for instance, student discussions or student panels. In addition, doesn't the AAS already send out a survey asking specifically about how much funding the students would be willing to allocate to the Spring Concert, in addition to whether or not the Spring Concert should be held at all. I find it hard to believe that after such a survey, that the AAS can just make the decision to increase funding for an already-over budgeted event, from funds that can only be assumed, would be put to other causes.
On a related note, my friends and I agree that the recent poll about whether or not to buy a "charger" and a car for ACEMS was very manipulative and illogical. "We Need You To Vote Yes" does not respect my personal abilities to judge for myself as to whether or not a charging station is an appropriate use of student funds. While I understand that perhaps a charging station is a good idea for the SMALL percentage of students who have the money to even own a vehicle, but I believe that this money should be appropriated from somewhere other than the student funds, given this relatively tiny percentage. And it is completely disrespectful to try and manipulate the vote with expressing the AAS's personal opinion that everyone should vote yes, because they need it. Clearly if this is put to the vote, the students can assume that the AAS "needs" yes votes, but a student who disagrees should not be made to feel as those their vote is going against the greater good.
All in all, this just makes me worried and consider what other "under 10 grand" appropriations have been made throughout my years at Amherst. This NEEDS to be addressed and the student government, if it claims to represent the students, NEEDS TO TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY, and avoid paternalistic judgments as to what they consider to be more appropriate.

Sam (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/12/2012 - 23:47

I voted 'no' on the survey about the spring concert. Where are those results???

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 00:02

I just wanted to respond to Rina's comment, and say that I agree. I thought it was a poll, but everywhere I saw AAS senators and flyers trying to force me to say yes. I don't believe that's fair campaigning, frankly.

I would also like to raise the point that Romen Borsellino had immediate access to the survey results being the president of the AAS , has seen them, and as the writer of this article notes, decided they didn't matter.

While the survey seemed to be more of a gathering of information rather than a definitive decision maker (given the situation at the time), I think it raises a red flag when the President of the AAS simply decides that a survey directed at the student body does not reflect the student body's opinion.

anon (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 01:20

hi! I think Romen is a good president. If you want to know how he decided the survey wasn't representative(maybe not enough people voted?) and what his thought process was-- you should ask! I doubt it is blanket disregard or 'simple'.

Also, the Senate didn't campaign. 2 senators spent their own money and campaigned as senators representing acems interests!

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 09:20

oh okay, i get it. that makes sense! (referring to the two senators campaigning)

Max Lloyd '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 00:10

Great writing, Ben. I like Andrew's idea about free weekly events. What a difference that would make!

anon (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 01:24

hi! aas can afford the electric car, the concert, and amherst after dark(monthly events). isnt that great? dont worry so much!!!

Annoyed (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 18:56

Dude, who are you anon? You keep writing the same basic comment over and over, some senate fanboyism much?

Carolyn '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 00:12

Well said, Ben! I agree that $75K is an astronomical amount to spend on an ill-attended event. This money could be put to far better uses i.e. hiring an additional staff member or funding a student's tuition.

nice thought (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 01:21

Hi Carolyn,

This is a good idea but unfortunately AAS funds are allocated for specific purposes and these funds are not for hiring staff or giving scholarships as far as I've heard. Maybe you should ask AAS to set up mechanisms to help influence the school to hire staff and help fund that. Or maybe you should ask your senator to set up a funding mechanism to pay for tuition. I'm not sure if it is possible though!

Sam Feldman '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 00:28

I also feel that most everyone I know doesn't want to spend that much on a spring concert. It's a ton of money, something the AAS really needs to be up-front about.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 00:30

I would much rather spend the $75K on a guest speaker for commencement that will be remembered forever (at least by the seniors) than on a spring concert that will most likely not be remembered (by anyone).

Insider (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 00:50

That is sadly how the AAS works. The system is flawed. The more you dig, the more dirty secrets you get. To change the AAS, choose your representatives wisely.

Amherst '13 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 01:48

I agree with the ACEMS charger poll response writer! It seems like the president Romen Borsellino has the results and is not releasing them. Why is that? If th poll results were shared to him as the president, then it is his responsibility to share them, even if it "wasn't an AAS survey" but a program board one. The survey results are a reflection of what the student body thinks and as our president he should be trying his hardest to represent our interests. I have heard from my friends that are senators that even they don't know the official results of the survey, and that the president certainly hasn't shared them. I call on someone from program board to share the results with students since the AAS president has clearly seen them and chosen not to. We should have the opportunity to see what our fellow students think about spring concert so that we can make a more informed decision about how to proceed, not just be told by president Romen Borsellino that we all want a spring concert and want to spend tons of money on it. We could do so many cool things that more students would enjoy with that kind of money.

kwu (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 02:02

"I am not accusing the AAS of laziness or a lack of transparency ..."

"I could, but will not, accuse the President of dictatorial double-speak ..."

I see what you did there.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 03:45
Michelle J. '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 07:43

As everyone else has said, you articulated solid points very well. I hope that you can have a constructive conversation with Romen and, from your and other conversations, the AAS can craft a mechanism to better engage the student body about what's going on with AAS money.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 09:33

why not spend money on a great concert?

Lilia '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 10:20

The majority of people expressing support for a spring concert or the AAS on this thread have been posting anonymously, while the majority of people expressing support for this article or an alternate event have been willing to give their names. We can't have productive discussions of these kinds of issues unless everyone is willing to engage.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 12:24

I think we can all agree that the likelihood of the "anonymous" commenters (yes, I am the pot calling the kettle black) being actual AAS senators (or people directly involved with this situation) is very high.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 10:50

Define "great concert."

Meme '15 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 12:44

I really like many of the comments on this thread. I would just caution against conflating the AAS and President Romen Borsellino. As someone who knows many senators, and knows that not all of them were in support of Spring Concert or the way the president Romen chose to handle it, I think it is unfair to blame them also for his choices. These senators were never shown the survey results or given an opportunity to vote on whether they were shared or anything. From what I have been told by my senator friends, this vote to give more money to spring concert was set forth by the President Romen Borsellino at the senate meeting and was not through the usual procedures and the budgets committee they have. It seems to me like it isn't a problem with the system, but a problem with the way the president chose to handle it without seeking student input. It would have been really simple to just have another survey about whether people really wanted spring concert or whatever and they take like 2 seconds to fill out. I guess to sum up, I LOVE THE MEME, just change it to President Borselllino, Y U no listen?

Anon (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 14:41

I agree with this comment. People should remember that even within groups like the AAS, etc. there will be dissent, but in order to ever be able to make decisions, the members must come together.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 14:22

The previous comment is actually false, with the exception of one Senator who abstained from voting, the Senate unanimously supported the allocation of the funds.

Benjamin Lin '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:41

I do want to second, somewhat, the electric car concern. I actually did ultimately vote for the measure, after having a long and considerably productive discussion with Ian (who was spearheading the project). The contents of our discussion allayed my concerns, and I believe my viewpoint was heard and incorporated pretty well. That being said, those details and the different issues surrounding them should have been more public, and I do agree that it felt like a case of the AAS 1) creating a project and then 2) convincing us that we wanted it. While I ultimately agreed that it was an appropriate use of money, I did feel that the idea of "we need you to vote yes on this project we created" is certainly different than "what do you think about this idea we're working on?"

Secondly, much of this discussion has been interesting to participate in but has also oft missed one of my bigger grievances - namely, that Mr. Borsellino quoted a portion of my email to the AAS, which was intended to be the feedback they so consistently pine for, in a public forum for the purpose of misrepresenting my argument and essentially publically criticizing me for making the feedback. This I found especially unacceptable.

Cbs (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:54

I hope our dear president is reading this rather than sending out useless polls and spending too much money on sxxx everybody is going to complain about! Good luck

An Alumnus '10 (not verified) says:
Tue, 02/14/2012 - 22:43

As others have stated, the real issue of the spring concert is the fact that it is a waste of tens of thousands of dollars every year. Based on the College's mission, the graduates of AC are expected to "link learning with leadership--in service to the College, to their communities, and to the world beyond." How spending $75,000 on a concert prepares current AC students for this, I am unsure. Maybe it is time that those on the Program Board--and the students in favor of spring concert--realize that the stage of spring concert is not the world. Terras Irradient? I think not.

Rina Vernovskaya (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/15/2012 - 00:51

I just wanted to make a brief response in regards to the Charger issue.
I was NOT aware that the table tents were NOT AAS related, so my response to that issue was more to the weird and manipulative way the table tents were supporting AAS's referendum as AAS TABLE TENTS. It was not clear to me or the people who I had spoken with about the wording, that they weren't made by the AAS and I am sorry if I offended the students who were running that campaign- I completely misunderstood.

Risalat Khan '13 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/15/2012 - 07:18

Background: I was a senator this past semester, but am now studying abroad, so I don't know much about what's happening on campus. But I just wanted to share a few points:

1. I'm really glad this conversation is happening. Whenever I see conversation and engagement at Amherst, I feel good. Most students agree that there is a general sense of apathy (I've dealt with a lot of it through organizing fundraisers and being in senate). Let's keep conversations going. They're the starting point for things to change for the better.

2. Ben, I agree with some of your points. But, I will tell you that the AAS has been trying to engage more through the AAS Listens table at Val, town halls, assigning senators for each dorm, etc. And I will also tell you that it's very frustrating to not get much meaningful response - for example, I heard nothing back from any dorm resident I was representing. I won't claim that the AAS does not need to engage more, but it does try to, and it's an ongoing battle. I hope you would agree that it is not possible to solicit opinion from every single student directly. That's why the forums I mentioned are in place for students to use. But student confidence in the AAS is very low, which is probably the reason why the AAS fails to meaningfully represent the entire student body's views. It's a vicious cycle - and one that would need the support and effort of both the AAS and the student body to break out of.

3. I will not try to insert my opinions on the matters that have been going on, because I clearly don't know enough. However, I hope to see the discussion continue here and in other places so that a meaningful solution can be reached.

Kia Ora from NZ!

Tony Starks (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/15/2012 - 13:16

How can Romen write an article saying he wants to hear students' opinions but then (in the same article!) call out and misrepresent Ben's "desired" feedback? Messed up.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 03/26/2012 - 20:31

Whole Time, UMass is 250k in one night on their & we got that in a briefcase chilling and we are a smaller school. We got money son. People objective of this are talking like we 3rd World. Lets be real now, its Amherst College. Spring Concert would be a good look for us. One, it looks good on the outside because we never do things like this. I read something about funds would be better used for Milk and Cookies. I mean, that sounds good, but 75k on Milk & Cookies is certainly not aiding in the fight of obesity. 75k IS NOT a lot of money. Even WESTFIELD STATE is having a Spring Concert and let me tell you.. they didnt spend 10k bro. 75k will bring a respectable artist, MULTIPLE IF CHOSEN CORRECTLY, to our campus of any genre. We can even do a massive concert covering all genres of music to fit everyone. Or Even one HUGE artist everyone enjoys. So Spring Concert is a go! Ima need yall to expand yall horizons a little bit. Plus, no one goes to AC After Dark. 75k, towards an event that continuously brings in 7 people... Yall talking like we going broke doing this concert. How much is tuition? Oh... Im going to see J. Cole at UMass anyway. UMASS STAND UP!

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