There’s no doubt that Stony Brook, with its 16,300 undergraduates, is a large school. It’s also unquestionable that Stony Brook’s students are a diverse group, with varied interests and outlooks on life. So we at the Press find it strange that the current Undergraduate Student Government (USG) budget for the 2011-2012 academic year does not seem to reflect this. Of the approximately 130 USG-funded clubs and organizations, roughly 70 percent received some type of cut, and the exceptions to this trend are startling.
The Student Activities Board (SAB) has received a 32 percent budget increase over last year’s final budget, giving them just over half a million dollars. It is obvious that this money is targeted at one specific purpose: allowing SAB to plan another concert not unlike last spring’s Bruno Mars show. The percent increase equates to $130,887, easily allowing for one more concert. Bruno Mars cost $140,000 plus additional fees, although we have argued in the past that this was inefficient spending for such an event. But of course, the Bruno Mars show was admittedly popular, attracting around 3,700 people.
But is that enough? One event planned by one organization cannot possibly appeal to every student on campus, and though 3,700 guests would translate to the equivalent of 22 percent of the undergraduate student body, not all of the attendees were Stony Brook students. But even if Bruno Mars was a total success, which is a difficult question we’ve explored before, it raises just as many issues as it tries to solve concerning event planning on our campus, which is still unarguably plagued by the stigma that nothing worthwhile ever happens here. For one night, soon to be two nights, there was something to do, but that’s not enough when each semester is sixteen weeks long. One could argue that this additional money will help SAB plan more small-scale events, like Christian Finnegan or Best Coast, but it’s quite clear that USG has its sights set on one-upping itself with bigger and better events any chance it can get. So we find it unlikely that our campus will see a noticeable increase of such events.
As for the nature of the increase, why tackle the problem by concentrating so much money into one place? If these funds had been spread out among the other clubs, Stony Brook would be able to get a variety of small guests and events that, while never attracting 3,700 students, would always interest some people. Case in point: last year, a new club called the Fine Arts Organization (FAO) planned two successful art shows, the MAMAs, which attracted a fairly large number of students from around campus with a budget of only $650. This year, the club has already faced a 26 percent budget cut to $475, severely hindering its potential to expand, or even perform at the same level as last year. USG will argue that FAO can simply apply for a revision, but again, that is a significant stress applied to the organization and its leadership. On another hand, why couldn’t USG keep the money aside to allow for more new clubs to develop and fill some obvious voids in our campus life environment?
It could be a bleak year for clubs and organizations, and it needs asking if a handful of “fun days” is worth this step backwards. Quite simply, throwing money at one organization is no way to run any college campus, let alone one like Stony Brook that thrives on its complex microcosms born from our immense diversity.
There’s a basic problem with slashing student organization budgets across the board to boost the already tremendous funding available to one central concert-planning group, a group that was already the scene of a controversial power grab. It’s a fundamentally undemocratic way to approach event planning and organizing. Of course student life is enriched by the large events with high-profile headliners that most colleges boast, and we at the Press have editorialized in the past, complaining about the lack of such events. But funneling so much money out of clubs and into the SAB not only stifles countless smaller events, but in a very material way it takes the power to participate in event programming away from other students.
SAB’s budget from two years ago, about $200,000, might not draw a headliner willing to catch a grenade for Stony Brook, but it ought to be enough to put on a number of excellent events, because frankly it’s an awful lot of money. USG Treasurer Thomas Kirnbauer, who described cutting the budgets of most clubs as keeping “the status quo,” said of raising SAB funding, “If you give them $1,000, that doesn’t help them.” For most small clubs and organizations, however, losing $1,000 can make a huge difference on their ability to program events. And for a new club looking to get started, $1,000 can be the difference between existing or not, as FAO exhibits perfectly. And it’s the wealth of small clubs on campus that provide the diversity of campus events ensuring that Stony Brook’s many and varied students find campus life rewarding.