Editor’s Note: This op-ed was written by a student unaffiliated with The Herring, and edited by staff. Editor-in-Chief Tamar Bot, whose Facebook comment is quoted, was not involved in editing this article. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect The Herring’s.
By Nick Handfield-Jones —
1. What is Going On?
Ever since the AUCSA’s February Budget GA on February 24th, much has been said about the Lustrum party. What is it? What is it for? Who is it for? But the largest source of controversy has been its budget, and the enormous amount of money being spent on it.
It seems excessive that a school with two existing party committees would need a third, but the Lustrum has been presented as a party unlike any other. A party to celebrate five years of AUCSA. A high quality party. Still, the €8961.21 projected to go down the drain for this has caused outrage among many AUC students, who are calling it elitist, overblown, and unnecessary. At the GA itself, many people (myself included) questioned the AUCSA and Lustrum teams about the amount of money going into this thing, and afterwards, arguments erupted on Facebook.
I’m a big fan of AUCSA and I’ve been heavily involved in committees since the beginning. I’m currently the Editor-in-Chief of Scriptus, and have been on the board for over two years. I’m also the Head Editor for the Sciences for InPrint and the PR Manager for Feminist Committee. In addition, I’ve been to every single budget GA since I got here. I have nothing against AUCSA in general, and I think it does great things for the AUC students. But I want to add my voice to the detractors of Lustrum. I want to give my take on why I think the budget needs to be reduced. But I also want to explain that it is not necessarily the Lustrum that has got many so upset: it is really the overspending and misspending of money at AUC in general. There are so many problems at the school that could be solved with a little spending, but instead we are using that money on a birthday party.
Much has happened since the budget GA in February, which you can catch up on in Tuesday’s Herring article. But here’s a summary of what’s happened. In response to over- and misspending of the Lustrum budget that was presented at the budget GA, many people have begun to criticize it. AUCSA and Lustrum, in response, have agreed to meet, and have also altered the budget.
While it is an improvement (net loss of €7280.77 instead of nearly €9000), there is still a lot of money going into things that are luxurious, but unnecessary. Big name DJs. A €500 photobooth. A red carpet. It seems that the aim of the Lustrum is that it is a fancy party, not necessarily a good one.
2. Common Rebuttals
And here is where the real criticism of the Lustrum comes in. We may be angry about this budget in particular, but this budget is not what this debate is about. The simple fact is that the money our school spends is often used for meaningless things, and could be used for things that matter. Extravagance is put before need. Yes, it’s nice to pamper ourselves from time to time, but it should be in moderation. Otherwise, it becomes elitist and morally incorrect. But before I get into that, I want to go over a few rebuttals to some of the arguments in favour of the Lustrum to illustrate what I mean.
These are not direct quotations.
a) “Lustrum is important because it is catering to a wide amount of people”
The Lustrum team expects an attendance of 500 people. So what? Many committees have high attendances, and they get nowhere near the same amount of money. Scriptus, for instance, has a monthly readership of 300 people, and we only get a third of what lustrum is getting. But more to the point, popularity should never be the signifier of what is morally correct. Just because a majority of the people support something does not make that the right thing to do. I hope that if more people think about the money being spent at AUC, that more voices will rise up so that the morally right choice becomes the one most people prefer.
b) “The function of AUCSA is to improve the contact between AUC students”
One of AUCSA’s top functions, as stated in statue 2.1 of the AUCSA manual, is to improve relations between AUC students. I love that idea. That is one of the main reasons I participate in AUCSA committees: the people. I go to PlayUC to enjoy strategic games and video games with other people. I go to debating so I can discuss topical issues with other people. There is an inherent purpose to most committees, in which people can talk, and socialize, and improve relations, and improve the world. But, I question how much a party can really do that.
With the alcohol and loud music, parties end up being superficial events: even if I am improving my relations with other students, it is in a superficial and altered sense. It is not really me and it is not really them. Many people do not enjoy parties for these reasons. Still, if this is how you want to improve your relations with other AUC students, be my guest. But if you are defending the Lustrum on the basis of statute 2.1, then I think you should come up with better ways to improve AUC contacts than a party.
c) “If you wanted to protest it, then you should have voted against it at the budget GA. It’s a democratic process after all.”
I agree to an extent. It is important to express your democratic voice. That’s why I’ve gone to every single budget GA since I got here. But, even if I didn’t, I still have the right to express my points. Why? Because right from the start, there have been problems with how democratic the Lustrum budget has been. First of all, at the first budget GA back in October, when the Lustrum was proposed to students, it was stated that approximately €9000 would be needed, but not what it would be used for. We had no idea where the money would go, and did not have the information to make an informed decision. This is a problem for democracy, as democracy implies that one is making a decisions based on facts, with an understanding of what’s happening. Without this, the term democracy has no place. Secondly, the announcement borrel occurred the day after the budget GA. Again, we were expected to make an informed vote without knowing the theme or location of the Lustrum (or if the borrel was actually necessary). So on these particular points, this process has been problematic.
But from a more general perspective, I would say that there is a bigger problem with the way democracy is practiced at AUC. As Tamar Bot points out in her comment on a Facebook post protesting the Lustrum, the budget GA process is problematic in and of itself:
“Many people who attend Budget GA’s are there because they are in a committee. I think it’s more than reasonable to argue that this creates a conflict of interest. If your own committee just motioned for let’s say 500 Euros, and it got through, then of course, you don’t want to be the jerk who publicly puts their hand up for not allowing another committee or team to get extra money.”
d) “Lustrum is a celebration of committees, all the great work AUC students have done, and a look to the future.”
This rebuttal is a common one, and one that I’ve seen presented several times, but it is at the crux of the problem the Lustrum presents. Is the Lustrum something we really need?
The description on the event page for the Lustrum reads: “What now rests, is our sincerest call upon you to come to your association’s very first event in honor of 5 amazing years of hard work, moments of growth, and fantastic achievements. Be it you’re a member currently, or in the past, this day is all about your coming of age together with the other (ex)AUCSA members!”
It’s an honourable proposal, but I bring up the following problems the Lustrum has in its inherent purpose.
1. I think that many people join AUCSA committees not out of the thought of some reward, but because of a calling of sorts. I joined InPrint, for instance, because I love editing. It’s a passion. I don’t need a reward for it; I just like it. I would hope that that’s the case for other AUCSA committee members too. Rewarding ourselves for the work we did actually undermines the work we have done because it makes it seem as though we joined committees simply for a reward.
2. If we have to honour committees, why not do something with the committees? What happened to the committee-fests? Those were real celebrations because it got all the committees together. Dormfest has this down with their multi-committee participation. Lustrum does not cater to committees at all.
3. The Bigger Picture
I want to stress that these opinions are not personal. I do not know the members of the AUCSA or the Lustrum team that well, and I have nothing against them. This problem goes beyond the personal. This is a problem AUC will have to address as a whole. It is time to decide what we as a school stand for. Do we want to truly abide by our slogan, or do we want it to remain a façade for the elitism and neoliberalism our school really is?
The uproar against the Lustrum comes from a frustration that has been there from the beginning. As Joris Alberdingk Thijm says in a comment on a Facebook post:
“There is a ridiculous sense of entitlement when it comes to money; I can remember a former member of the board saying “always remember where the money comes from”, implying that it comes from the AUCSA board and that having money from them allocated to your committee should be seen as a favor from them. In reality, the money comes from students and/or their parents, some of whom are struggling to get by.”
We are all guilty in this. None of us are saviours. But I have a problem when emphasis is put on a party instead of the people.
So how do we solve this problem? In terms of the Lustrum, some steps are being made. AUCSA organized a meeting yesterday to discuss these issues more in-depth. A positive first step, I’ll agree. Still, unless there is a significant reduction in the cost of the Lustrum party, many students have agreed to purposefully not attend as an act of peaceful protest: a Boycott Lustrum party, if you will. It will have the same purpose, to celebrate AUCSA committees and the work they’ve done, but it will cost us a fraction of money to host. Best part: tickets will be €0. We feel like a party can be organized by the people for the people, without the need for fancy videos or big budget bracelets.
On the bigger scale though, our school needs to come together and really talk about what we value in our money. I think we need a huge paradigm change in what we value, and what we want to fight for. I don’t know how exactly how to get there, but it is what needs to happen.
When I first opened the proposed budget of the Lustrum party, my jaw dropped to the floor. It’s a huge problem. It’s just so much money. But upon reflection, you find such cases of extravagant overspending in so many other things at AUC. What the Lustrum symbolizes and means about us is the real debate here.
It’s the fact that we’d rather spend money on an annual Dies Natalis to celebrate ourselves instead of buying textbooks for the guest students. It’s the fact that we’d rather spend money on maintaining a contract with DUWO, a company that sucks out AUC’s money to keep rooms empty, than on developing an actual recycling program. It’s that we’d rather have an evil, multibillion-dollar corporation like Shell provide money for scholarships than provide the money ourselves.
These are the real issues. Not the nitty gritty particulars of the lustrum budget, but the real problems. And it is time to take action, because the Lustrum was a problem five years ago, and it’s still a problem now.
Correction: It has come to the attention of the Herring that the updated Lustrum budget does not include “€500 wristbands and tickets” and has a projected attendance of 500, rather than 400, guests. The article has been edited to reflect this and we apologize for any confusion.
While this piece was being edited, the Lustrum team organized an open meeting during which the budget was discussed and where many of the issues pointed out in this article were addressed. The information discussed during this meeting was not taken into consideration in the writing of this piece, but will be reported in a separate piece next week.