Council Split on Loft Funding

    The Loft’s Folk Series kicked off Nov. 2 with Frank Fairfield. A.S. funding for the new campus nightclub, which typically hosts several musical performances each week, is currently under debate. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian)

    With a historic activity-fee referendum now slated for the ballot early next quarter, questions surrounding future funding for the Loft — UCSD’s new nightclub — continue to divide A.S. councilmembers and rekindle decades-old grievances regarding student life on campus.

    At its meeting last week, the council approved a measure that would increase quarterly student fees by $19.82, but ultimately tabled further discussion of the Loft’s proposal to include an additional $2.65 for its arts and music programming. The addendum would supply the Loft with $133,000 annually, accounting for 25.9 percent of its total budget.

    The venue, now in its second month of operation, received an initial $3 million construction investment from Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson in spring 2006 after the Alumni Affairs Department backed out of a plan to turn the space into an alumni visitor center and meeting room.

    University Events Office Director and ArtPower! Artistic Director Martin Wollesen said subsidizing the project was a risk, but that it was proposed in response to years of data compiled in the 2005 Undergraduate Student Experience and Satisfaction Committee Report, which emphasized the need for a “greater physical, social and emotional community” and more “cultural competency” at UCSD. He said the university’s investment in the Loft indicates a serious effort to address these concerns.

    “I think students should feel really good that the administration really heard students and invested in creating a space and programming that has been responding to the concerns that students have had for years,” he said.

    Since its opening on Sept. 25, the Loft has hosted events roughly six nights per week with a schedule including food- and wine-tasting activities, open mics, a student storytelling series and live musical performances. Bands have ranged from indie rockers Rogue Wave to alternative rap icon Busdriver to jazz, swing, tango and Indian fusion group Rupa and the April Fishes.

    According to A.S. President Donna Bean, most councilmembers support the Loft’s programming and recognize its potential impacts on UCSD culture and community, but many feel that the request for student funding — first presented to the council Oct. 15 — lacks mechanisms for direct student oversight and suggests a business plan based only on financial speculation.

    “Yet again, administrators were not responsible and, yet again, they’re trying to get us to foot the bill,” she said. “The Loft is asking for an extension of the Price Center expansion activity fee that students are already paying.”

    Bean also drew parallels to the 2007 athletic-fee referendum, which outraged many students in alotting a percentage of the additional revenue to the construction of the RIMAC Annex — scheduled to house conference rooms, a convenience store and a cafe beginning in spring 2009.

    “Just like with athletics, we’re seeing people want to jump on the back of the referendum, and it’s going to hurt [its] legitimacy,” Bean said.

    Wollesen said it is true that Loft staff members entered this year with financial gaps to fill, but that if students are determined to change their campus, they must participate in the process by way of attendance, feedback and financial support.

    “Our job is to create a space that is reflective not only of what UCSD is, but what UCSD will become,” he said. “It makes sense that we, as a community space, share the responsibility as a community. It’s going to be a teeny amount of money to support upwards of 250 events a year that are basically free for students. That’s a pretty small investment.”

    But Associate Vice President of Finance and Resources Naasir Lakhani said the council’s preparation for the referendum is an act of necessity, not desire.

    “A.S. is in a financial crisis, and when we put something like the Loft in, it undermines the message of our referendum,” he said. “A.S.’s primary focus should be passing this referendum. Otherwise, we’re completely screwed. There’s nothing left.”

    Associate Vice President of Student Life Darryl Nousome added that the council must consider the moral implications of supporting an enterprise that is not completely student-run.

    “While I love the programming that’s going on, it’s unfair to ask students to pay for this,” he said. “It’s not a large amount, but in principle, it means a lot.”

    Wollesen said that although the Loft receives funding from multiple university departments, 15 of its 17 permanent staff members are students. In addition, he said A.S. Programming books the Loft’s weekend acts and all six colleges have student representation on the advisory committee for Student Registration Fee, the club’s largest sponsor.

    “At the end of the day, this is a student-based, artist-based programming space and venue,” Wollesen said. “We have had students fully engaged in every single aspect of the management, the programming, the artistic liaison and contracting, the design of the experience and the development of partnerships with student voices. It’s not as if all of a sudden, this year, students are engaged in the process.”

    A.S. Sixth College Senator John Cressey said student feedback regarding the Loft has been overwhelmingly positive, and he urged councilmembers not to write off the venue simply because it receives university funding.

    “Although this may violate some moral principles or historical principals, the bottom line is it is something that will benefit students, and looking out for students is my first priority as an elected A.S. official,” he said.

    At last week’s meeting, councilmembers more or less reached a consensus that if Loft funding is included in the referendum, the issue will appear in a separate column on the ballot.

    Cressey said he supports this compromise because it would grant students the final say. He added that despite the outcome, including the Loft on the ballot will give students one more reason to vote and boost the council’s chances of attaining the 20-percent turnout rate needed for the fee increases to take effect.

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