When students started streaming out of Woolsey Hall during comedian Horatio Sanz’s Fall Show act last year, no one — and especially not YCC officers — was happy.
More than just laughs were riding on the Fall Show for the Yale College Council. With the student body expecting more because of the newly implemented student activities fee, the failure of Sanz’s act carried, well, weighty implications. If nothing else, the failure increased pressure on the Yale Student Activities Committee to put on a show that would recreate the student enthusiasm generated by Jimmy Fallon’s 2002 appearance or the 2001 Counting Crows concert.
But there was a blank space in last weekend’s calendar that once belonged to the Fall Show, leaving a “Mr. Yale” pageant to tide students over until February, when comedian Lewis Black will headline the opening act of the Winter Arts Festival. Has the largess of the student activities fee given the YCC the clout of its Ivy-League counterparts? And can Black’s cachet outweigh the scheduling conflicts that bumped the show back until second semester and return the Fall Show to its Jimmy Fallon-Counting Crows glory days?
The Fall Show’s former life
When the Counting Crows came to campus to celebrate Yale’s tricentennial, they were only the latest incarnation of an evolving concept: a large-scale campus event during the fall semester. What began in the 1990s as the Fall Fest, a picnic-like gathering featuring student bands gained momentum as the University looked for ways to celebrate its 300th birthday and proved willing to foot the bill.
But the Fall Show/Fest was an afterthought to the Spring Fling for YCC planners, and it often fell victim to daunting logistical challenges. In the days before the Student Activities Fee, YCC officers had to scurry from source to source gathering small sums of money to amass enough to fund a major — read expensive — event.
“We had wanted to [have a fall concert] but it wasn’t something that we had funding for,” said Kimberly Taylor ’99, who served as YCC president during the 1997-98 school year. “The good point of the old system is that you had to be very, very organized well in advance in order to articulate a need for the funds. The main drawback was it prevented the YCC from thinking on a much larger scale.”
Andrew Allison ’04 was YCC president when Jimmy Fallon came to campus in 2002. Though the show sold out at $15 a ticket, the YCC needed funding from the Council of Masters, the Yale College Dean’s Office and President Richard Levin to break even, Allison said.
Campus life without the fun czar
To prevent their undergraduate organizations from scrounging for funding, Harvard has made student life an administrative priority. Harvard’s social scene apparently needed so much work that, in addition to appointing a new administrator as the campus “fun czar,” Harvard College Dean Benedict Gross found $200,000 within his budget to liven up student life. This year, Harvard’s 20-student College Events Board and fun czar John Thomas Drake collaborated to put on a festival complete with moon bounces and bumper cars.
“While the CEB does the bulk of the planning and work for these events, coordinating some of the elements of these activities (in this case, the bumper cars) wouldn’t have been possible without a dedicated full-time employee,” Drake said in an e-mail. “It lets us do bigger and better things.”
Without guaranteed funding or full-time administrative support, Allison said the show was not expected to be a yearly occurrence like the Spring Fling, despite the success of the Counting Crows and Jimmy Fallon acts. While scheduling for Fallon’s visit went off without a hitch, Allison acknowledged that it can be difficult to book venues on a campus as busy as Yale’s, a fact that this year’s YCC knows all too well, as they were unable to coordinate Black’s visit with an opening in the Woolsey Hall schedule this semester.
In order to allocate the time and energy such complex scheduling demands, Brown’s Undergraduate Council of Students operates as an umbrella organization. Tristan Freeman, a Brown senior and UCS vice-president, said that unlike the YCC, the UCS gives funds to autonomous groups responsible for planning large events such as Brown’s Spring Weekend, which features two concerts and has played host to The Shins, Jurassic 5 and Ben Folds in recent years. One group, for example, is responsible for booking the entertainer, another for setting up and planning the event. This structure, he said, makes the UCS uniquely effective and accountable to students.
“It’s not UCS that’s running this, it’s all of the different groups,” Freeman said. “Originally, UCS took care of all of these things. But we think a more effective model is to distribute these powers so that it can be more accountable to students.”
But last year’s Yale Student Activities Committee chair Jackie Carter ’07 said the YCC’s model has its advantages.
“When planning an event, it is important to have the responsibility concentrated on only a few (or even one) head individuals; otherwise, no one knows everything that is going on, and it becomes extremely difficult to move forward,” Carter said in an e-mail. “Having a limited number of people planning the event is crucial.”
It’s not the Spring Fling
Mike Lehmann ’08, this year’s YSAC chair, hopes that despite the delay, Lewis Black is the answer to YCC’s prayers. Finding a performer to exorcise Sanz’s girthy specter from students’ memories was Lehmann’s and YSAC’s top priority, even if it meant postponing the actual show until the winter.
“Lewis Black is unquestionably better than Horatio Sanz,” Lehmann said. “The wait is well worth it.”
Student opinions of the YCC’s performance regarding Fall Show planning have varied. While Ed Helms, the 2005 Fall Show’s opening act, was popular with students, Sanz’s performance was generally regarded as a flop. But many students acknowledged that the Fall Show is secondary to Spring Fling and said they don’t think it is nearly as important.
“I don’t think the Fall Show is something people think about a lot,” Maureen Lloyd ’08 said. “During Spring Fling everyone is like, ‘Oh my god, who do you think they’re going to get?’ The Fall Show isn’t as big a deal.”
Lloyd said the YCC has good intentions but does not necessarily have a complete handle on their job.
“I feel like [the YCC] is a bunch of people trying to do their best to make student life better,” Lloyd said. “They don’t necessarily have the best grasp of what will make Yale students happy, but they are open to suggestions.”
Other students, while expressing skepticism about the proposed “Mr. Yale” pageant, said they do not mind that the show was postponed as long as it is good.
“Presuming that the show in February is great, I don’t see a problem with it not being in the fall,” Megan Evans ’10 said.
The fight for the fee
Fall Shows have been met with varying degrees of enthusiasm over the years. Students during the late ’90s complained that what was then the Fall Fest — a far cry from today’s circuit of big-name comedians — was too low-key. While Darrell Hammond’s show, which came a year after Fallon’s, was $10,000 cheaper than Fallon’s, it was also not nearly as popular. And in 2004, the YCC very publicly announced that a fall show would not take place due to a lack of funds.
This played into the hands of YCC officers trying to build the ca
se for instituting a student activities fee. In early 2005, the council voted overwhelmingly in favor of an activities fee proposal and presented it to the administration. The proposed optional $50 fee would go straight to the YCC, which would use the money for concerts and disburse it amongst undergraduate groups.
This was the second movement in a decade to reinstitute the fee, which had existed in Yale’s past but was abolished in the early 1980s. A similar effort proposing a $30 fee was rejected by students and administrators in 1997. This time, students were successful.
In its inaugural year, the YCC’s student activities fee raised $164,000; this year, YCC collected $209,950. Approximately 4,200 students opted to pay the fee.
‘We aren’t Madison Square Garden’
Before Yale adopted a student activities fee, the YCC worked at a distinct disadvantage when compared to its Ivy League peers, many of which dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to student groups and planners of school-wide events. All the other Ivies have had significantly higher activities funding for years, though the oversight of the money takes different forms.
For instance, Princeton’s Undergraduate Student Government collaborates with the eating clubs — social and dining clubs that cater to Princeton’s upperclassmen — to host large concerts. USG vice-president Rob Biederman, a junior, said the USG gives the clubs money and the clubs do must of the work. During the school year, Princeton hosts bands like Rihanna, Rooney, Jurassic 5, Maroon 5, Ben Folds and Guster at its eating clubs for “lawn parties.”
In addition to the $600,000 collected through its student activities fee, Brown’s undergraduate funding committee has a $500,000 discretionary fund at its disposal, Freeman said, giving the organization over a million dollars to work with.
But no matter how it is funded or organized, no student government can satisfy all of a student body’s desires for on-campus entertainment, Beiderman said. There are limits to what a college government can do.
“We can’t get Britney Spears,” Biederman said. “No matter how large your endowment is or how prestigious your university is, we aren’t Madison Square Garden.”