Presenter’s Office Is Underserving U Wipping Boy

Recently, the Associated Students of the University of Utah Presenter’s Office has become the on-campus organization that everyone loves to hate. Many of the recent ASUU presidential debates focused on the office’s funding, and some of the campaigning parties even threatened to get rid of it entirely. As if all that abuse during the elections wasn’t enough, ASUU Senate and General Assembly members are now considering a bill to put the Presenter’s Office on the chopping block.

Sponsored by Humanities Senator Sam Swenson and Architecture General Assembly member Aaron Titus, the bill would whack half of the Presenter’s Office’s guaranteed 39 percent of the ASUU budget and divide it up among the university’s student councils.

The Presenter’s Office budget is no small chunk of change?$468,000 next year, to be exact. But the office spends its money on worthwhile purposes, bringing in interesting and educational programming. Since ASUU is currently running an enormous budget surplus, the Senate and Assembly should just leave the Presenter’s Office alone.

Critics make several arguments about the Presenter’s Office, most of which are misinformed. First, critics say the Presenter’s Office doesn’t appeal to students. According to Spencer Snow, main stage programming coordinator, that isn’t true. Student volunteers make all of the programming decisions in the office. The students divide responsibilities among various boards, including concerts, festivals, comedy and film, and give each of those boards a chunk of the budget.

Snow insisted that anyone is welcome to join a Presenter’s Office board, especially if they feel they have something to add. “We’d love for more people to become involved,” Snow said.

This student-centered decision-making process translates into a wide variety of programming that goes well beyond the occasional big concert in Kingsbury Hall. Jenny Thomas, executive director of the Presenter’s Office, noted that the office puts on roughly 75 to 100 events a year. These include the free film series, coffee house performances, poetry readings, the 9/11 series, speakers and dance performances.

The office also collaborates with other on-campus organizations, including the Hinckley Institute of Politics, the Women’s Resource Center, the Dance Department and the College of Music. Even the student discount tickets at Pioneer Theater come from the Presenter’s Office.

The statistical record on attendance at events clearly indicates that average students like what’s going on. According to Thomas, data from ticket sales show that students attended Presenter’s Office events nearly 28,000 times last year?that’s a big chunk of the overall audience. So far this year, students have purchased 56 percent of tickets at performing arts events, 62 percent at concerts and nearly half at speaker events. Some students attended more than once, of course, but that’s still no small potatoes. Students are interested in Presenter’s Office programming, and they show up with the frequency to prove it.

Another criticism is that the Presenter’s Office doesn’t bring in the sort of big names that students really want to see. Remember the Probable Cause party platform? Presidential candidate Steven Rinehart said he planned on bringing in a huge act like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi or U2.

However, Rinehart and others simply don’t realize just how much it takes to get an act of that size. United Concerts and Clearchannel Entertainment?two behemoths of the business?have a virtual monopoly on big rock bands. Even if Bono and the gang from U2, for example, wanted to come to Salt Lake again, some giant corporate monster would gobble them up before the Presenter’s Office even got a chance.

“Do we try for those big acts? Of course,” said Thomas, “and sometimes we even succeed. But other times it’s just not feasible.”

Even if the Presenter’s Office could get Bon Jovi, most people with good musical taste would agree that Stefon Harris, who played Monday night at Kingsbury Hall and doesn’t always work through the corporate beasts, is a better act, anyway.

Jeremy Voros, head of the Free Film Series, which regularly shows films that students could never see anywhere else, argued that as a student organization, the Presenter’s Office has a unique responsibility. “One of the Presenter’s Office’s jobs is to be on the cutting edge of intellectual innovation,” he said.

Another criticism is that the Presenter’s Office’s funding could be better used elsewhere.

The proponents of the bill currently before the ASUU legislative bodies argue that handing student councils half of the Presenter’s Office’s budget would improve campus life. However, nobody really has any idea what the student councils would do with the money.

We could expect a lot more pizza parties, and perhaps even a few more barbecues, but certainly not the kind of educational and entertaining programming that comes out of the Presenter’s Office.

The bill also ignores the fact that the Presenter’s Office enlarges its budget substantially throughout the year. Even though the majority of Presenter’s Office events are free, the ticketed events raised $176,282 last year and solicitation for grants secured another $20,600. This means that the money given to the Presenter’s Office goes a lot further than money given to any of the student councils would. The student councils would just spend the money as they got it, but the Presenter’s Office stretches it out.

With a $250,000 surplus this year, and $200,000 more than usual coming in next year, ASUU has plenty of money to go around. If student legislators want to beef up student councils, they would be wiser to dip into that surplus rather than carve up the Presenter’s Office. The Presenter’s Office may be a great whipping boy, but it’s also a valuable organization that provides quality programming for students.

John Morley welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].