Student input difficult to collect for concerts

In last week’s issue of the Record, the editorial addressed the topic of the Student Activities Council’s (SAC’s) decision not to survey the student body before selecting Third World as the band to perform during Winter Carnival. The editorial concluded that this lack of student input was unacceptable, and called for SAC to gather considerable student input (presumably conduct a survey) before funding any band with a price “in excess of $10,000.”

As Chair of SAC, this is a topic I have thought over at length. I hope that by writing this article I can shed some light on the subject for those who have questioned the way in which SAC has conducted itself during the past year.

First and foremost, the Third World concert is a bit of an anomaly in that SAC was asked by the Dean’s Office to supply a band for Winter Carnival weekend. This request came to SAC only a few weeks before Winter Carnival, leaving prohibitively little time to solicit grand-scale student input before choosing a band. From past experience, a survey of the student body requires about a week to complete, including time spent creating the survey, delivering it to students, tabling in Baxter, and compiling the results. Good bands book dates quickly once they have decided to tour. We had to move immediately when we found that a band of Third World’s caliber was available. If we had conducted a survey, we would have probably lost the band as a possibility in addition to not having enough time to contract a sound company, order the necessary equipment from Buildings and Grounds, etc.

Fortunately, I had the information of last year’s survey as an indication that the band would be well received on campus. Incidentally, the Dean’s Office is funding $10,000 of the $15,000 required to bring Third World, leaving SAC with a total cost of $5,000. In a strict interpretation of the $10,000 funding rule set forth in the editorial, contracting this band would not even warrant a survey.

Timing is not the only factor contributing to our decision not to conduct a survey, however.

The editorial was correct in pointing out that no survey was taken before SAC brought Guster to campus last Fall (a $5,000 choice, again below the $10,000 guideline). The reality is that while in theory gathering large-scale student input seems like a great idea, in practice it causes more unrest than satisfaction in the student body and brings us less desirable bands in addition.

For instance, when SAC surveyed Williams students last Spring on their choice for a Spring Concert, SAC began by compiling a list of some possible choices (bands which were both available and reasonably priced). The student body then was asked to choose a favorite. SAC worked as quickly as they could to rank the choices on the basis of the votes and call back the winners.

Unfortunately, by the time they could call, the bands had been booked by other schools. Williams contracted Luscious Jackson, a band which received significantly fewer votes than students’ first choice, They Might Be Giants. Had SAC not taken precious time to conduct this survey, they would have most likely booked the latter band instead.

In addition to preventing students from seeing the band they wanted, the survey caused much distress in the student body.

Although SAC had clearly stated that the survey was meant to solicit general opinion, not necessarily determine which band would be booked, students were confused and upset by the fact that their first choice was not contracted. SAC received much criticism for bringing Luscious Jackson.

In short, booking a band is not as simple as choosing one and making a phone call. At SAC we are constantly in touch with a number of bands. Often a window of a couple days will appear in which we have to decide whether or not to book a band which has just decided to tour.

More times than not, it is a question of booking a great band today, based on the diverse opinions of our committee members, or surveying the campus and booking a mediocre band tomorrow. In a perfect world, we would have each student’s opinion on hand when considering a band, but until technology takes us to that point, we have to operate the best we can with imperfect information. In the meantime, SAC did hang some posters in Baxter a few months ago asking students to write down their concert suggestions. SAC thought this was a good way to solicit student input without giving students the unreasonable expectation that we could bring their choices in ranking order. We have been working from this list, which included Third World, all year. SAC also works hard to talk to wide variety of students about their opinions on various artists, and this year we are trying especially hard to bring artists which appeal to different groups of students. If you have any suggestions or opinions on events we have already sponsored, please contact myself or another SAC member. Your opinions are absolutely of the utmost importance to us. You have elected us to serve your interests as best we can, and that is what we intend to do.