AAS Clashes With Administration Over Senior Bar Night
Issue   |   Wed, 09/21/2011 - 01:12

In what might be the most dramatic standoff in recent AAS history, the Senate and College administration continue to stand at odds over recent social policy decisions.

Last week, various senators — including yours truly — expressed frustration with the College’s decision to stop funding senior bar night. We felt that despite holding a town hall meeting on the issue, administrators had not clearly articulated the reasons for the policy change. At the meeting, Dean of Student Activities Hannah Fatemi and others had made vague mentions of “liability” and how they would “just rather fund things on campus,” but none of this convinced either Social Council representatives or the AAS that the decision was well-justified.

Alexander Hurst ’12 suggested at last week’s meeting that the AAS should just step in and cover the bill. Senior bar night was one of the few legitimate traditions at Amherst, and it was argued (successfully) that college funding allowed both people from different socioeconomic backgrounds and those who don’t drink to participate in the festivities without having to pay a cover charge. Note, again, that the College had never explicitly paid for alcohol, but only for the cover charge, a room and a DJ at bar night events.

More generally, we felt that administrators were misguided about social policy in the first place, and that they hadn’t been straightforward with the student body. Especially on the heels of new fire code standards that disallow parties in social quad basements, why would the College think this — before my graduation — would be a good time to discontinue bar night funding? And also, why would administrators try to defend the move under a veil of “liability” and evade more pointed questions on the issue?

Ultimately, we decided to send the senior class a brief survey about how they felt about the AAS funding senior bar night. The results were pretty telling: an overwhelming number of seniors who responded to the survey said they supported the move.

Going into last Monday’s meeting, we were ready to fund, in full, close to $1,000 for senior bar night. We felt that — put simply — administrators wanted fun to die at Amherst, and that we wouldn’t let that happen on our watch.

Before we could go about funding the measure, however, Dean of Students Allen Hart appeared at the beginning of the meeting and offered an alternative. He said that he wanted to form a new “task force” that would work to find solutions to social scene issues on campus. The task force would be comprised of both students and administrators and would meet twice a week to find real compromises and “have conversations” on these issues. He insisted also that the task force would have “higher aspirations” than to simply reinstate senior bar night.

But when senator Matt DeButts ’14 asked, very pointedly, whether the AAS could just go ahead and fund senior bar night, Dean Hart replied, after some time, “I don’t think you can.”

I could go on, for some time, about the legal implications of simply going around the administration anyway, but I don’t want to, and I don’t think you do either. The short story is that most of us felt that this was not a road we wanted to go down, even if it would be the most exciting thing to happen to the AAS since about 1893. With that in mind, we decided ultimately to accept Dean Hart’s proposal, and we elected two senators, Jess Sidhu ’14 and Matt Aizpuru ’12, to serve on the “task force.”

I wouldn’t be so quick to call this a lost battle. Everyone, from President Romen Borsellino ’12 down, seems committed to making sure this task force actually accomplishes what it seeks to do, and in a timely manner. We do have a few tricks up our sleeve if the administration does not show a willingness to do more than “have conversations.” I love to have conversations; I’m having one, right now, with you. The problem is, conversations don’t usually yield results.

About the tricks up our sleeve: did you know that the AAS funds everything from TYPO to condoms? I don’t think the administration would be thrilled if we discontinued that funding, perhaps even in a move as unannounced as the discontinued bar night funding.

Put simply, we are going to make sure that the task force lives up to its Reno 9-1-1 name, and doesn’t fall into the oblivion that is the other 931 committees on campus.