UC to Survey Attendance at Student Group Events

The Undergraduate Council’s Finance Committee will begin randomly attending student group events and measuring total attendance, as part of a study commissioned by a new committee policy.

Under the policy, called the “Club Collaboration Research Proposal,” UC representatives will attend anywhere from six to nine events organized by groups that received funding from the Finance Committee. Representatives will count the number of people at the event and compare it to the number of people the group said would attend on their grant application.

“We're doing a study to determine the discrepancy between projected attendance at student events and actual attendance,” Finance Committee Vice Chair of Grants Olu Oisaghie ’19 said when explaining the survey to the full Council on Sunday. “We mainly fund events on a per-capita basis, so we're trying to see if we're efficiently allocating our funding.”

The number of attendees that student groups project will attend their events influences the amount of funding the group receives from the UC. According to the Finance Committee’s policy guide for this academic year, grants for food, transportation, and instructor fees are provided on a per-student basis. However, the Finance Committee currently does not verify that the numbers reported by student organizations are accurate.

The initiative comes in response to analysis Finance Committee Chair William A. Greenlaw ’17 conducted last semester. Greenlaw calculated the total number of students projected to attend campus events on any given day for the past five years.

Greenlaw found on one day in 2012 all events together estimated an attendance of more than 25,000. Harvard’s current undergraduate enrollment is about 6,700.

“There are certain points during the year when the cumulative expected number of people who will participate in events exceeds the number of people at Harvard College,” Greenlaw said last spring.

During the first Finance Committee meeting of this academic year, Greenlaw posited two reasons why groups may be overstating event attendance: First, that student groups may intentionally represent attendance; and second, that too many similar student groups hold similar events, and consequently receive fewer attendees each.

Greenlaw and Oisaghie said they believe collaborative events between student groups are more likely to reach their projected attendance numbers than non-collaborative events.

“We're trying to tailor policy so that we can potentially encourage collaboration between clubs to increase event attendance and also get student groups working together,” Oisaghie said.

Already, student groups that collaborate with one another on events are exempt from cuts to funding the Finance Committee makes when they exceed their weekly budget. Greenlaw said that, depending on the results of the survey, the Finance Committee may institute an additional “collaboration bonus” to provide additional funding to student groups who collaborate on events.

Greenlaw emphasized that the research initiative is meant for statistical, rather than punitive, purposes. The policy states that “no student organization shall be penalized for the results of the data gathered [by] the survey.”

“I don’t want people to get the vibe that we’re the secret UC police,” Greenlaw said. “We’re not trying to catch you lying… we’re trying to do a study.”

—Staff writer Brian P. Yu can be reached at brian.yu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianyu28.

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