Lax Council Can’t Afford This Experiment

    Ben Holm/Guardian

    A.S. COUNCIL — How long do we have to wait for some accountability? The A.S. Council’s lack of oversight for its own endeavors is astounding, and there’s apparently nothing that can shake this sleeping giant. Even as the council faces an epic budget meltdown that has its programming office scrambling to fund the Sun God Festival — easily the most important event of the year — councilmembers continue to table discussion of an impending referendum. But that’s the routine. Year after year we see councilmembers spend hours fighting over Robert’s Rules and hypothetical technicalities, ask the prominent campus administrators who visit them — like Chancellor Marye Anne Fox or Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue — silly what’s-your-favorite-ice-cream-type questions, screw up much-loved concerts like FallFest and Sun God and throw money around carelessly to whoever whines the loudest. Unfortunately for the over 22,000 undergraduates these councilmembers are purported to represent, none of this lazy power tripping makes for effective governing.

    When it comes to the Grove Caffe — an A.S. enterprise that is now over $100,000 in debt — the story is sadly the same. Rather than address the cafe’s woes, council after council ignored the failing enterprise, allowing it to slip into a $24,000 hole. Former partial-owner Ron Carlson saw the writing on the wall and split, leaving the council, and therefore the students, fully responsible for the Grove’s debt. The 2006-07 council finally took notice, and initially discussed cutting its losses and shutting the glorified coffee cart down. But disgruntled employees came clamoring, and true to form the council decided against all logic to hire an outside manager, Cleveland Thomas, to help save the dying Grove.

    (Forget for a moment that a large argument voiced in favor of the Grove was that it supposedly provided business experience to its student managers, and that with an outside manager employees are developing the same skills they could in any food service position: cleaning, making coffee and working a register.)

    For a moment, all seemed well with the world. Grove enthusiasts — all 10 of them — got to keep their beloved cafe, Thomas was basically given free reign over the enterprise and the council of procrastinators pushed the issue to the back of its collective conscious for at least another year.

    Oops. Now it’s fall 2008, the Grove’s debt — the initial $24,000 of which took years to accumulate — has quadrupled to over $100,000 in less than a year since Thomas’ arrival, none of the Grove’s loudest employee supporters even work there anymore and councilmembers are still twiddling their thumbs over in Price Center Ballroom.

    Now the council — led by Naasir Lakhani, the A.S. vice president of finance and resources who, apparently totally confused about the point of his job and of a council enterprise, has repeatedly proclaimed that it’s not important for the Grove to turn a profit — is getting ready to gift this costly mess to next year’s student government sloths. According to Lakhani, the council is using this as an evaluation year because last year’s construction hampered sales. He hopes that with improved advertising and a revamped menu the Grove will start pulling out of the red.

    But wasn’t last year supposed to be an evaluation? That’s what councilmembers said at the time. And while it’s true construction definitely hurt business for all the shops in the area — like the Bike Shop, Food Co-op, General Store Co-op and Groundwork Books — none of them lost anywhere near the more than $80,000 that the Grove did. Last year marked the finish of a Student Center renovation project that started back when the Grove was barely dipping into the red, long before Thomas was ever hired. To attribute such massive financial failure to the construction inconveniences the Grove faced is a joke.

    And while adding new menu features might create excitement over at the dining commons, the Grove needs to do one thing and do it right. There are countless other coffee/salad/sandwich/bagel carts on campus selling the exact same snacks, only cheaper and with better service. Thomas’ tenure has illustrated that throwing more money at a problem won’t fix it. If the Grove wants to stay competitive Lakhani and Thomas need to get their acts together and use some common sense: don’t spend money week after week on a huge inventory of fast-expiring salads that repeatedly go unpurchased, cut down your summer hours to save money when students aren’t on campus and put some effort into customer service. The Grove of UCSD Past’s one weak selling point was its back-to-basics, coffee-beneath-the-trees vibe. Thomas was quick to destroy that, in failing to retain old passionate staffers, who brought business to the cafe through a genuine enthusiasm and the kind of word of mouth you can’t pay for. And the careless council sat by and let it happen. Now students are stuck footing a bill four times larger than it needed to be, for a cafe now infinitely less popular.

    The purpose of an A.S. enterprise is to bring the council a source of funding, while simultaneously training undergrad employees and providing the student body with a useful service. That’s how student government enterprises work at our northern sisters UCLA and UC Berkeley. While it’s a simple concept, it’s one our own A.S. councilmembers can’t seem it wrap their heads around. Imagine an efficient A.S. Council. One that actually generated its own funding, governed thoughtfully, functioned proactively and didn’t depend on students as a constant bailout for its own lack of incompetence.

    It’s doubtful the Grove can ever recover from the debt Thomas dug it into last year. It’s certain the enterprise cannot recover from a debt two times its size. There were a hundred failures that led the Grove to the point we find it today, but now is the time for councilmembers to stop postponing action in hopes that someone else will deal with the problem tomorrow. We can’t wait another year.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal