More Barney than Bacchus, last year’s Springfest brought unprecedented crowds to the MAC quadrangle to celebrate the coming of spring. Traditionally, the Undergraduate Council had been solely in charge of planning and funding this event for undergraduates. But last year, the event found a new sponsor in the office of University President Lawrence H. Summers.
In collaboration with the council, the President’s Office greatly expanded the scope of Springfest to include face-painting, fake jousting and carnival rides—including the renowned moon-walking dome. This new partnership also changed the focus of the event to include all members of the Harvard community and their families. The wonderful shrieks of kids—undergraduate and under-undergraduate alike—mixed together in what was described by many as the best Springfest in recent memory.
But as the planning gets underway for this year’s Springfest, the council finds itself in its own joust with the President’s Office over control for the event. Last year’s collaboration between the council and the administration showcased the ability of both to put on a good show for the University community. Both groups deserve commendation for the final production. The administration should not, however, assume that its generosity in funding the event exempts it from listening to students.
The success of Springfest depends not just on the funding, but also on the insight, creativity and manpower of the council, which knows better than the President’s Office what students would enjoy. The presence of a big-name band, for instance, is one important aspect of Springfest that the administration does not seem to appreciate. The administration and the council should work together to find a band with widespread appeal and vocabulary appropriate for Springfest’s new family atmosphere. Last year, the Concert Commission suggested Outkast and Jurassic 5, but budget concerns and an administrative veto prevented the groups from performing at Springfest. Hopefully, this year, Summers’ financial support for Springfest will free up the council’s treasury to lure a big-name band to Harvard for a separate performance for college-aged ears only.
This is just one of the many areas where the council’s expertise can complement the administration’s money. It would be a mistake for the University administration to turn Springfest into nothing more than a community relations photo-op. There are plenty of other events where the University can craft a flattering image of itself. Springfest—and the planning behind it—is an opportunity for Summers to show how he can connect with the undergraduate community, not by grabbing center stage, but by cooperating with the council.