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Since 1994, the Undergraduate Council’s annual Springfest has been a student affair—planned, funded and attended by students.
But this year’s festival on the Mac Quad will be a bit different.
University President Lawrence H. Summers announced at a Feb. 10 council meeting that the his office intends to co-sponsor the event this spring.
Summers’ announcement was universally applauded by council members, grateful for the additional funding they assumed Mass. Hall would provide.
But as the April 27 event draws near, it is still unclear what the council has gained by enlisting Summers to help out with the event.
Council President Sujean S. Lee ’03 says Summers’ office has not explicitly pledged to contribute a set amount of money to the event.
“Since we are working together on the project I think it’s understood that they will work with us financially. It’s sort of been suggested,” Lee says. “In the end this will be a joint event.”
University spokesperson Joe Wrinn refuses to discuss the finances of the event, saying it is too early in the planning process.
Yet despite the expectation of funding from Summers’ office, Lee says the council has budgeted $20,000 for the event—only half as much as was spent in 2000, when swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy headlined.
Summers says his sponsorship of this student event will replace his hosting of another—the annual first-year President’s Dance, traditionally held in Annenberg Hall.
“Don’t expect a President’s Dance,” Summers says. “Everybody does things their own way. I think I will over time, starting with the Springfest, try to have a suitable set of student events with which I am engaged.”
In addition, the president’s office has made it clear to the council that one condition of University sponsorship of Springfest is that the event be open to the entire Harvard community, including Faculty, staff and their families.
While council members say the more, the merrier, it is still unclear how the event will be made family-friendly and still meet students’ expectations for what is one of the College’s biggest social event of the year.
Lee says that after last year’s low-budget Springfest, which only featured student bands, the council wants to improve the event by having a strong headliner.
She says Pat McGee Band, a top pick in a survey taken last semester, and Jurassic 5 are being considered by the council as the main act.
“[Council] representatives have really stressed that the student body really appreciates the quality of the artists,” Lee says.
In their choice of bands, rides and other amusements, Lee says the council is taking under consideration that this year’s Springfest will be family-oriented.
“[There are] probably going to be rides for a younger crowd,” she says. “And in choosing a possible headliner we are trying to be open to bands that would appeal to as broad as audience as possible.”
Daniel R. Fish ’03, a member of the Harvard Concert Commission, says the introduction of a family element could potentially hurt Springfest.
“That could be bad,” he says, “just because the things that I would want in a Springfest are not family-oriented.”
But Fish says he approves of the president’s sponsorship if it brings better bands to the event.
And it seems that if the council seriously intends to pursue a popular band, it will need additional funding.
“A big name band costs $20,000 or more so it will be hard for me to imagine on $20,000 there could be [enough funds for] a big name band and all things for Springfest unless they charge for admission or something like that,” says Paul A. Gusmorino ’02, last year’s council president.
Lee says that Springfest will continue to be a free event.
Compared to other colleges’ spring festivals, Springfest is a fairly modest affair.
“You hear about how other schools have these great springfests, in particular Brown,” says Lisa C. Stella ’02. “In general, I think it’s sort of a nice thing right in the Mac Quad, but I wouldn’t go if it weren’t convenient and I weren’t passing by.”
Regardless of whether the council is able to snag a big-name band as a headliner, student bands will once again entertain the crowds for most of the day.
Five or six bands will be selected based on their demos, Lee says.
Council member James R. Griffin ’02 says Summers’ involvement may help the council expand Springfest into a bigger event—and perhaps move it to a larger area.
“Generally we’ve had a tough time doing that because the administration has been reluctant to move us out of the Mac Quad and move us to a larger space such as the Stadium or Harvard Yard,” Griffin says.
Lee says she will be meeting with House Masters next week to discuss expanding the event into House space, possibly the Winthrop courtyard.
No First-Year Dance
Wrinn says Summers is choosing to nix the President’s Dance in favor of co-sponsoring Springfest because the latter will allow him to interact with more undergraduates.
The semi-formal dance, in past years gave first-years the opportunity to meet then-University President Neil L. Rudenstine and his wife Angelica.
Some first-years say they regret not having another opportunity to socialize with their class.
“Freshman formal was really fun and I think that another chance to bring together the freshmen would be nice,” says Caroline C. Sedgwick ’05. “It would also be a good way for us to meet President Summers in a personal setting rather than a strictly academic one. It would be nice for him to give his time to us if he could.”
“It was awkward, but I liked it and it’s too bad they’re cancelling it,” says Scott F. Goldman ’04, who attended last year’s event.
Stella, who “wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of going and hanging out with the president and has wife” and did not attend the dance her first year, says the cancellation is not a big deal.
“If he’s committed to [Springfest] rather than the first-year dance I think it’s great,” she says.
From Sever Hall to Mass. Hall
Lee says co-sponsorship of Springfest was entirely Summers’ idea.
“The way that it came about was that President Summers was interested in organizing an event for the entire campus so he discussed the idea with several of the deans,” Lee says. “He learned about the annual Springfest project and it was along the lines of what he had envisioned.”
Representatives from Summers’ office contacted Lee who immediately agreed to have Summers involved in the festival.
Though Lee says the initial reaction from the council’s Executive Board was very positive, there was no vote on the matter.
“Since it was pretty much working along the lines of past Springfests, [voting] was never an issue,” she says.
In fact, most council members did not even know about the agreement until Summers announced it at the Feb. 10 council meeting, says Gusmorino.
Since then, council members have been meeting once a week with representatives of the Office of the President to hammer out the details of co-sponsorship.
“What we are hoping to do is work with our current budget and see what would be the most effective way to enhance different aspects of Springfest,” Lee says. “We are all going to agree together what aspects we want to pump up, and that’s when [Summers’ office] will step in.”
While Summers’ staff is helping coordinate meetings with Harvard University Police Department and Harvard University Dining Services, Lee says most of the planning will still be done by the council.
Jessica R. Stannard-Friel ’03, social chair of the council’s Campus Life Committee, says that after speaking on the phone Wednesday with Summers’ staff, the council plans to discuss a bill to allocate funds for Springfest at its March 17 meeting.
The bill will provide a more specific breakdown of Springfest expenditures, Stannard-Friel says.
This allocation, however, will be capped at the $20,000 the council has previously earmarked from its own treasury—leaving still unclear what role Summers will play in financing Springfest.
—David H. Gellis and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Nalina Sombuntham can be reached at email@example.com.
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