Student Center Reeks of Privatization

If you were unfortunate enough to pass across Student Center in recent weeks, you’ve probably seen some drastic changes in the operations of the center: walk-in reservations are no longer allowed.

Instead, you have to schedule meetings with one of the planners through a new online system, attend the meeting and then book your event. In theory, this new system is supposed to push for events to be planned ahead of time, help the planners be more prepared and equipped with more time and options to offer student organizations in order for bettering the events, as well as allow Student Center to manage more than 600 student organizations and all of their needs.

However, this is far from what we are seeing today. The online process is endless and indeed, unnecessary. In order to go through this process, the person filling out the online form must go through a 30 step process and be well-equipped with information about every aspect of their event. While this information would be previously provided by the event specialists, this responsibility is now placed on the students. This newfound procedure pressures students to plan for all aspects of their event. With such detailed requirements for booking an event, this process particularly discourages many new organizations from being able to host their events and essentially stops any organizations who do not necessarily have strong infrastructure from being able to use the space.

Even if the organizations follow through with the online process and request an appointment, there are still more problems. Organizations then have to wait at least two weeks after requesting an appointment, to just see an event specialist who will then tell the organization whether or not there is a space available for them to host their event. Many student organizations, who do not have a structured annual event, will usually plan on their event about two to three weeks ahead of their event. With this policy, organizations are strained to plan their events between three to five weeks in advance.

As a note, our quarter system has 10 weeks, which means any organization that wants to have an event in the beginning of a quarter, must have planned for it way in advance in the quarter prior to that. Again, for many new organizations, it is impossible to have such advanced planning for any event.

Through this appointment process, every appointment will be set for one hour, regardless of how large, or how small, of an event it is. This puts a huge pressure on the event specialists who now have the same amount of time for planning a single event, as they do for planning a whole week of events.

Furthermore, this decreases the number of meetings that each specialist can give. In the older system, each specialist on average had about 20 meetings per day. On the new system, every specialist can only have eight meetings a day per eight hour work-day. This is, perhaps, one of the main contributors to such slow processing times for events; more pressure for the event planners and more discomfort and dissatisfaction from students.

What is even more ironic in this situation is that Student Center claims lack of funding. This is indeed a very valid concern. In 2017, Student Center will be losing money following the expiration of one of the referendums.

Nonetheless, this should not be means for privatization of the Student Center. The Student Center plans on increasing use of space by non-student organizations, which will generate more revenue for the center, but will limit the usage of space by student organizations. Currently, somewhere around 10 percent of the student center usage is by non-student organizations.Furthermore, the expiration of the referendum will only start to affect the Center starting 2017, while the center has been using this argument to justify the recent poor performance of its management.

Whether or not Student Center is really undergoing financial difficulties currently has become a debatable notion: while the Center lets go of experienced event planning staff, claiming that the decision was due to lack of budget, the center somehow manages to get the money to hire a new marketing position this year. Additionally, the Center recently announced the creation of a new films crew on their staff, while no other place on campus currently has its own films crew.

Through these questionable and somewhat contradicting decisions, many questions are raised about the validity of the Student Center’s claims: if the Student Center does not have money, where did they get the funding to undergo an entire lighting update project that is currently happening in all of the building? Where did the Student Center get the funding for the ultra-massive upgrade for the Crystal Cove Auditorium? Where did the Center get the money for the system upgrade that happened last year, which cost the Center tens of thousands of dollars last year?

These issues all point to the current management of the Student Center. The Student Center management has failed to address the students’ concerns, or those on the Student Center Board. Decisions about Student Center have been happening without the consent of the Student Center Board, which is the governing board of the Student Center. Student Center Board, which includes representatives of the student workers at Student Center, ASUCI, AGS and other At-Large representatives, as well as Student Center management, has been largely undermined in the decision making process.

In most of the recent decisions made about the major changes in the Student Center, the Board are only notified of finalized decisions that have already been made by the Director of the Student Center and the management of the Center.

In fact, the decision about the new appointment process was made one week prior to the convention of the Student Center Board for this academic year.

As these discussions arise, it is important for all students to be aware of what is going on in the Student Center and hold the Center accountable to the students and our decisions. Student Center must make the right decision and put students’ interest ahead of profit.

Student Center Board Guidelines can be found here: Student Center Board Guidelines (1996)

Parshan Khosravi is a third-year political science major. He can be reached at khosravp@uci.edu