Newly Released Lustrum Budget Creates Controversy

By Lilli Kuechle 

— The detailed budget for the first AUCSA Lustrum, a party celebrating the Student Association’s fifth anniversary, was released at the February 24th General Assembly (GA). It sparked criticism of the Lustrum Team’s spending, as well as the spending habits of AUCSA in general. The total budget for the event is €15,530, with a projected net loss of €7,280. The €8,250 of expected revenue is comprised of ticket sales, bus tickets and acquisitions. The ticket price for AUC students wishing to attend the event as stated in the current budget released on March 8th is €12.50.

The Lustrum budget was discussed for around forty minutes during the February GA, but it was a Facebook post by third-year social sciences student Isabel Frey that brought the issue to a head. The post called Lustrum “exclusive and elitist,” and questioned why nearly €16,000 is being spent on a party when “students sometimes can’t even afford their books.” The subsequent comment thread led to the creation of Boycott Lustrum, a Facebook group for those who support amending the current Lustrum budget.

aucsa_201516_budgetThird-year social sciences student and Student Council member Tanushree Kaushal is a member of Boycott Lustrum and said that the group is calling for a change in venue and a maximum budget of €3,000 for the event, as well as making the event free for all students, among other things. The group held a meeting attended by 23 students on March 2nd to discuss their concerns not just about Lustrum but about the AUCSA and AUC budgets as well.

In the wake of recent scrutiny, on February 26th AUCSA emailed the full budget spreadsheet, as well as letters of explanation from AUCSA and the Lustrum Team, to all members of the student body. They also plan to hold an open meeting to discuss the budget on Wednesday, March 9th, and are encouraging all students to attend. The letter from the Lustrum board included an apology for “any opacity [that] has emerged with regard to the upcoming AUCSA Lustrum.” The six-member Lustrum Team was selected from ten candidates by the AUCSA board in August 2015. Candidates were evaluated based on “experience and motivation”, according to current AUCSA Chair Floris Cobben.

AUCSA Treasurer Stefanie Berendsen was eager to correct misinformation about exactly how the money will be spent, most notably concerning the buses (budgeted for €1,265 gross, with €1,000 in expected income). “We’re not actually planning on having a bus transfer [students] from the dorms to the venue. It’s in Amsterdam Noord, and you need a ferry to get there. The last ferry leaves at 3:00 but we have the location until 4:00, and it’s going to be too many people for one ferry if everyone takes the last ferry of the night,” Berendsen said. She also explained that only those planning on taking the bus will pay for it, and the revised budget now lists the buses as optional.

lustrum_budget_february_16711_21Lustrum Team member Steffan Oberman said that the team is dedicated to making the event as inexpensive as possible for all student but was vague on the details. “I don’t want to get too deep into specifics because we do want to keep some things as a surprise, but the things that aren’t necessities we decided to take out due to the discussion going on.”

The Lustrum location reveal borrel on February 23rd was particularly controversial. The event, held at AUCafé, included free Prosecco and cost €196,14, according to the revised budget. Third-year student Jan-Willem Bruggeman attended the event and came to see the location of Lustrum revealed in a video (budgeted at an additional €200). While Bruggeman appreciated that the Lustrum Team “wanted to really create some pre-hype about the Lustrum because it should be a big event […] to get people stoked about it, because it’s AUCSA’s first [Lustrum],” others were less enthusiastic. A second-year humanities student who wished to remain anonymous and attended the Boycott Lustrum meeting, as well as both GA’s, said that the Lustrum Team wasn’t transparent enough with how they were spending money, and called the reveal borrel and video “excessive”.

lustrum_budget_march_15530_77The same student believes that the Lustrum board should be working harder to find external sponsors and said the event should be free for all students. “I don’t think that a fancy venue is something that all AUC students can enjoy. It costs a lot of money, right now the tickets are €15, and of course they’re trying to reduce that, but it’s strange that it’s a party for AUC students but it has a cost for students,” they said.

Solace, AUCSA’s party committee, also charges students for entry to their events despite also receiving AUCSA funds. Unlike the Lustrum, however, Solace only charges €5 for pre-sale tickets and €10 at the door. Solace is also one of two AUCSA committees in the Top 10 spender list (see below) that turns a profit.

Both AUCSA treasurer Berendsen and AUCSA chair Cobben expressed frustration over hearing about criticism but being unable to respond due to it coming through unofficial channels such as Facebook. According to them, no students have contacted AUCSA officially to criticize the Lustrum budget. “We’d expected to have some individuals being [saying] like, ‘well, I have a problem with this’ and send us an email or something where we can explain why that’s the case,” said Cobben.

Berendsen added “I’m more than happy to explain [the AUCSA budget] all over again. It’s really hard [to understand]. Honestly, I’m so happy to explain everything, I’m more than happy to walk you through the whole €173,000 budget if you want me to.”

Within the overall budget of AUCSA as released after the February GA, Lustrum is a significant expenditure: its gross budget makes up 9% of AUCSA’s budget overall, and its net loss (€7,280) is 4% of AUCSA’s entire spending. Lustrum’s loss is also projected as the largest in the AUCSA budget, followed by DormFest at €6,000. Lustrum is the most expensive single event in the 2015-16 academic year.

A poll conducted by The Herring in the Excellent and Diverse People of AUC Facebook group that 83 AUC students responded to found that 66% are planning on attending the Lustrum, but 44% of respondents believe the ticket price should be €5 or less. When asked about their thoughts on the budget, some students said they would be okay with the budget if tickets were free, but others pointed to “unnecessary expenses such as a photographer,” or said,  “the money could be spent on more important things.”

Supporters of the current Lustrum plan, including Berendsen, Cobben, and Bruggeman, point out that the budget was approved at the October GA, and again in February. Cobben conceded that “the GA is poorly attended,” a sentiment echoed by Kaushal. This has raised questions among many students about whether the structure of the GA should be changed to better represent the views of students.

Frey objected to the lack of anonymity of the GA’s, saying “If I go there as one person it’s not going to do anything. I’m going to raise a point, I’m probably going to be socially shunned for it, I’ll be called a party pooper or whatever, and that’s it.”

Alternate venues proposed by Boycott Lustrum include AUCafé, alternative culture center OT301 and the AUC building, among others. Oberman explained that when looking for a venue, the Lustrum team “had a theme and atmosphere we wanted to create and we didn’t feel that OT301 would give us that.” Similarly, the AUC building was considered and eventually rejected because the team wanted to do something different than the AUC Lustrum hosted in the academic building last year.

According to Paco Mens, a member of the AUCafé board, hosting Lustrum at AUCafé “isn’t possible” due to its small size. Mens estimated the capacity of the space as fewer than 200 people.

Members of Boycott Lustrum had several ideas as to where the money could be better spent; suggestions ranged from the creation of a welfare fund for students with financial emergencies to AUCSA buying a set of books for every class that students can borrow if they cannot afford to buy their own.

Lustrum celebrations are traditional in the Netherlands, and Utrecht University College Student Association (UCSA) chair Tine Meerdink said that their 2013 Lustrum celebration was a daylong festival that included food, drinks, musical performances, and bouncy castles. While she didn’t give specific figures, she estimated the celebration costed “thousands of euros.”

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