Spring Concert: The AAS Side of the Story
Issue   |   Mon, 02/13/2012 - 13:16

Dear Students,

A few weeks ago, the Program Board sent out an email stating that they were unable to book any of the artists that we had voted for and that we were “left with the option of booking a select group of lesser known artists including the Cataracs or Karmin for Spring Concert.” The email was accompanied with a poll that asked “considering the circumstances above, do you want to have a spring concert this year?” meaning that if we had a spring concert it would be with less-known artists whom we didn’t vote for. Holding a Spring Concert for $65,000 with artists who are not well-known and who we did not vote for seemed, to me, a major waste of money. Therefore, I voted “No” in the survey, voicing that I would rather have no concert than one by an artist who wasn’t in line with the desires of the students. I was not alone in this belief. The survey, which was administered by the Program Board, showed that about 70 percent of students, like me, believed that we should not have a concert under those circumstances. If the circumstances were normal, however, the majority of the student body wanted a concert. In the fall, the AAS sent out a survey asking if students would like a concert with well-known artists. The results showed that 94 percent of the student body wanted such a concert. So we found ourselves in a situation where students overwhelmingly didn’t want a spring concert with unknown artists, yet, 94 percent of the student body wanted a concert with well-known artists.

Members of the AAS and the Program Board met to discuss the situation in an open forum during one of our Senate meetings. Seeking as much student input as possible, we made a Facebook event urging students to come and sent out an all-school email as well. After discussing the situation at this forum, the Senate made a recommendation to the Program Board: Cancel the Spring Concert if we cannot book someone well-known. This would completely respect the beliefs of the 70 percent of students who voted for no spring concert performed by “lesser known artists.” But that fact remained that 94 percent of the student body wanted a concert with well-known artists. So I, along with other students and members of the AAS, voiced that we would be letting over 90 percent of the student body down if we did not continue to try and book a well-known artist.

At this point, which was a week after the Program Board’s initial email went out, members of the Program Board stated that the situation portrayed in the email was not necessarily the case anymore; there was now hope of booking a well-known artist. While they would not disclose the artist’s name, they stated that he or she had multiple Grammy nominations, was very well-known and liked, and was, therefore, nearly $10,000 out of our price range. So a vote regarding the allocation of these funds went before the Senate. The vote was contingent: If the Program Board was unable to book a high-caliber artist using the additional funds, then they would give the money back and we would cancel the concert. With the exception of a single Senator who abstained from voting, the Senate unanimously voted in favor of approving these funds. While I personally did not get to vote (not a duty that I am entitled to as President), I strongly supported the allocation. With the exception of the Roots concert in 2010, students have generally complained that we are constantly unable to book a high-caliber artist even though there is a strong desire for one, so it made sense that we spend the extra amount necessary to book a good artist if we are going to spend $65,000 in the first place. I will reiterate that 94 percent of students voted in favor of a spring concert with a high-caliber artist.

So that’s where we stand with Spring Concert. To my knowledge, the Program Board has not officially booked anyone yet, though they are still in negotiations. So if they can book someone good, who is in line with the artists that students voted on, then we will have a spring concert. If they are only able to get “lesser known artists,” then the concert will be cancelled in accordance with the beliefs of 70 percent of the student body. In Program Board’s email, they stated the possibility of holding a number of smaller events like a winter formal or Groove Boston. I want to make it clear to the student body that we do not have to choose between a concert and these smaller events. The AAS has sufficient funds for such events and as long as students or student groups are willing to organize them, we strongly support holding them. For any event requiring less than $10,000, the Senate will vote directly on its allocation and any amount greater will go to a school-wide referendum (as specified in the AAS Constitution). While there has clearly been some amount of miscommunication this spring, I assure you that I and the rest of the AAS are committed to hosting activities that the student body genuinely wants. To do so, we want as much feedback as possible, so please come to our forums, shoot us emails and chat with us in Val. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Romen Borsellino

Anchor
Comments
Alec Jacobson'12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 15:24

Well, then, feedback (I'm writing it here rather than in an email so that, should it be quoted out of context in future Student articles as "nasty," it will be available for public reference):

As I recall, the original survey began by asking if, yes or no, respondents wanted to have a spring concert. The "with well-know artists" addendum is either a fabrication or a speculative interpretation. Of respondents (not the entire student body!), 94% replied "yes" to the binary and uncharacterized question, and apparently a plurality, presumably, though not necessarily a subset of that 94%, voted in favor of spending $65,000. I can imagine any number of reasons that students might have selected that option - they liked the artists there, they didn't like the artists elsewhere, etc. - but I suspect, given the tone of recent popular conversation, that at least a few voted for $65,000 because it was the smallest sum presented. That was my logic. If $30,000 had been presented, I would have voted for that instead.

The second survey did include the characterization of "lesser known artists," so it is fair to say that an overwhelming majority of those polled do not want a spring concert under the circumstances then at hand including that caveat. To recap quickly, those circumstances, determined by the first survey, were a spring concert priced at $65,000 that would now be played by lesser known artists. This is perhaps confusing to follow (lots of moving pieces and subtlety), but the sum of the two surveys interpreted literally suggests that those polled would like a spring concert at a cost of $65,000 that includes popular bands, but is not necessarily otherwise interested, particularly if the bands are not those that were originally presented. We would need a new survey to determine the popularity of a $75,000 concert, no matter how many Grammy's the artist might have won last night. $65,050 was certainly my breaking point, and perhaps the same is true for others. To read the results otherwise suggests either a lack of critical analytical skills (and we're Amherst students so that's certainly not possible) or a finger that is choosing not to rest on the pulse of the student body.

Now, perhaps more importantly, such a survey round three is, to my interpretation of our school constitution, required and would be called a referendum. Thanks to the clever misrepresentation of the survey data, a sum of $74,995 has been created that will be spent as a lump considerably larger than the $10,000 requisite for a referendum vote. If I'm wrong in this interpretation, what would stop the AAS from writing itself $9,998.99 checks periodically so that it can throw a $65,000 birthday parties every now and then? The "strategic" (according to Mr. Lin) sum of $9,950 was clearly designed to avoid a referendum, suggesting either laziness or a desire to avoid confronting what the AAS must have known was a negative opinion of such an addition.

Robert Suits '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:22

Even if the clause "well-known artists" was in the survey, it's such an utterly meaningless phrase that it might as well not even be there. My definition for "well-known" might differ radically from the next person's, and I'm willing to bet that 94% of the student body isn't likely to vote "yes" for any given artist. "Multiple Grammy nominations?" I'd like to hear the music of the artist Christopher Tin perform, and he's a Grammy winner, but I doubt a majority of the Amherst student body knows who he is. The fact is that, barring booking someone of the level of Adele, Lady Gaga, or Taylor Swift, you can't just call them "well-known" and be done with it.

So essentially, you're taking a phrase utterly devoid of content and using it to justify private negotiations to the tune of $65-75,000, and then dressing it up as a popular mandate because 94% of people voted for some weird ideal of their favorite "well-known" artist visiting.

We live in the age of electronics and the Internet. It's ludicrously trivial to organize a new vote between the likeliest candidates who you might be able to get, or to hold a referendum on someone who's tentatively agreed to do it; it's trivial to organize a vote about the additional $10k; it's trivial to structure the website so people can suggest other things the money might be used for (speakers, panels, events, maybe even infrastructure the school desperately needs); it's trivial to include those suggestions as alternatives on the infamous spring concert ballot.
And yet it's never done.

We live in an age uniquely suited for direct democracy and the AAS seems to be utterly unaware of it. Even in the most convoluted website design imaginable, consulting student opinions is a matter of making a few edits to the website.

Amherst '14 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:44

You, Mr. Jacobson, are obviously reading way more into this article than necessary.

I thought this was a great article, and presented the facts in a clear, and concise manner. That's all that's really needed, I think.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:03

I strongly agree with what you said. The logic used in this article to arrive at the conclusion that students would support spending $75,000 for a well-known artist does not make sense to me. We were never polled on this question in light of recent news about Spring Concert, and I feel uncomfortable knowing that such a costly concert might happen without having first asked the student body as a whole. As you said, the amount of just under $10,000 does seem a bit too convenient; it also does not make sense to me that the AAS is allowed to allocate additional funds to an event's budget on which we, the students, have already voted. (I do not know if there is something in the school constitution about allocating multiple funds towards the same event, so if anyone does, I would be interested in hearing about that.)

Jeffery Amherst... (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:11

Here's an idea: since we seem to be so confused about what the student body wants (allegedly due to unclear surveys), why don't we send out another survey? This time, let's give the option for a) no Spring Concert, b) cheap Spring Concert, c) expensive Spring Concert.

Seriously though, if so many people voted to cut funding, it's hard to believe that we really want a Spring Concert. I have not yet talked to a single person who wants Spring Concert... I'd like to meet the "94%" of the student body who wants it.

Robert Suits '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:15

Even if the clause "well-known artists" was in the survey, it's such an utterly meaningless phrase that it might as well not even be there. My definition for "well-known" might differ radically from the next person's, and I'm willing to bet that 94% of the student body isn't likely to vote "yes" for any given artist. "Multiple Grammy nominations?" I'd like to hear the music of the artist Christopher Tin perform, and he's a Grammy winner, but I doubt a majority of the Amherst student body knows who he is. The fact is that, barring booking someone of the level of Adele, Lady Gaga, or Taylor Swift, you can't just call them "well-known" and be done with it.

So essentially, you're taking a phrase utterly devoid of content and using it to justify private negotiations to the tune of $65-75,000, and then dressing it up as a popular mandate because 94% of people voted for some ideal of a "well-known" artist visiting.

We live in the age of electronics and the Internet. It's ludicrously trivial to organize a new vote between the likeliest candidates who you might be able to get, or to hold a referendum on someone who's tentatively agreed to do it; it's trivial to organize a vote about the additional $10k; it's trivial to structure the website so people can suggest other things the money might be used for (speakers, panels, events, maybe even infrastructure the school desperately needs); it's trivial to include those suggestions as alternatives on the infamous spring concert ballot.

And yet it's never done.

We live in an age uniquely suited for direct democracy and the AAS seems to be utterly unaware of it. Even in the most convoluted website design imaginable, consulting student opinions is a matter of making a few edits to the website.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:28

At least Alec's thinking...

Concerned Senator (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:38

"The "strategic" (according to Mr. Lin) sum of $9,950 was clearly designed to avoid a referendum, suggesting either laziness or a desire to avoid confronting what the AAS must have known was a negative opinion of such an addition."

It suggests that the issue was time-sensitive, and according to our constitution a school-wide referendum cannot be had until 5 days after it is announced.

"it's trivial to structure the website so people can suggest other things the money might be used for (speakers, panels, events, maybe even infrastructure the school desperately needs)"

A valid point, but bear in mind that the poll was designed by Program Board and also time-sensitive. By the time it was presented to the Senate it was already late in the 1st semester. It is near-impossible for a body of 32 individuals to agree upon and craft the substantive matter of a survey; that is work better left to a small group, and that's why the AAS entrusts it to the Program Board. If you have issues with the content of the poll, please direct them at the Program Board, not the AAS or President Borsellino.

Not that there aren't problems with the way the AAS runs business or the way the executive branch functions. There certainly might be. But there ARE avenues for you to voice your opinion. Come to a Senate meeting and speak on it, as two students did earlier in the year (the topic was diversity). Post something to the Suggestion Box on the AAS website. Talk to Senators at the "AAS Listens" night.

Or run for Senator yourself, or nominate/support someone who WILL change things! In the latest election, the two candidates for the Class of 2012 ran uncontested, and only two candidates for the Class of 2013 ran for three spots, allowing someone with ONLY FOUR VOTES to win the third spot! What kind of apathy is this?! Posters advertising the election were up in every upperclass dorm on campus!

Benjamin Lin '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 17:20

Time sensitivity is certainly a potential issue. However, these details are all only just being revealed to us. Again, my point is partially that transparency is not the same as engagement, and this would have been better to know about ahead of time. You are complaining about apathy, and yes, I am too! This is an issue the Senate must address. Clearly what is being done now is not sufficient.

Finally, you say there are avenues for opinion. Technically, again true. I voiced my opinion in an email. And what did I find? That it was quoted and printed in the paper and that I was publically criticized. Doesn't sound like that great an avenue to me.

Not Verified '12 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 16:47

The previous 4 writers have spent roughly 5,000 words on the importance of the clause "well-known artists." Jesus. It's a beautiful day. Go outside. Read a book. Watch Startrek. Anything.

I appreciated the original complaint in the student by Ben Lin----and I do think there is an argument that the results should have been released, no matter what the PR spin Romen wanted to put on it--- but this debate is silly. The Senate meets for several hours every week to decided issues like whether or not to allocate another $9,999, and while they don't get it right all of the time, I have full faith that they are doing what they think is best.

Now get back to Startrek.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 21:08

5,000 words... so 2 dollars for every word?

I'm not sure why $10k is *not* a big deal.

Amherst '11 (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 17:23

Well said Alec. Especially the basic logic at the end concerning allocation of funds greater than $10,000. I have another thought though. I know in trying to book an artist for a concert, there are a lot of secret things that go on, but it appears the AAS and/or Program Board is assuming that the well-known artist they are trying to get will be wanted by a majority of the student body, simply based on the assumption that this artist is similar enough to those voted for in a previous survey. It all seems like the typical mess that happens when trying to book a spring concert every year, which is why the funds would be better spent elsewhere. Also, winning a grammy doesn't necessarily make a good performance for a college concert.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/13/2012 - 18:24

the spring concert has always been a waste of money, and will never stop being a waste of money. it's an excuse for the program board to bring artists to town that they want to see, so that they can hang out with them backstage while amherst picks up the tab. amherst probably has enough money to do that and still truck along pleasantly and successfully, so whatever. but stop acting like the spring concert is some massive unanimous celebration of amherst's collective musical desires.

--anonymous '10

An Alumnus '10 (not verified) says:
Tue, 02/14/2012 - 22:35

You are all (except for Anon) missing the real issue of the spring concert: 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.

Radrick Davis (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/15/2012 - 16:19

Romen, if I give you feedback, will you then trash and misrepresent my feedback in an article in The Student like you did to Ben Lin??

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