UC President Matthew J. Glazer '06 flicks back his hair, inhales his coffee, and gets down to planning Springfest 2005.
UC President Matthew J. Glazer '06 flicks back his hair, inhales his coffee, and gets down to planning Springfest 2005.

How to Save Springfest

Around this time last year, students at Brown University hadn’t touched school work for an entire week. Yalies spent a
By Aria S.K. Laskin

Around this time last year, students at Brown University hadn’t touched school work for an entire week. Yalies spent a day eating free barbecue and drinking beer. The UPenn daily newspaper observed “high levels of noise,” “masses of inebriated people on the streets,” and “plentiful parties.”

"Last year, there were about 16 large-scale parties that were significantly hazardous enough to be closed,” Chief of University of Pennsylvania Police Tom Rambo told the paper, triumphant. “This year, there were only eight.”

Harvard students, meanwhile, ate snow cones alongside six-year old children holding hot dogs. There was no alcohol. There were no professional bands. In place of all that? Carnival rides—“Bouncy Boxing” was a favorite—and little kids. The next day, after three hours of delay and vamping by the Harvard Spoken Word Society, Busta Rhymes gave a fashionably late performance to a tired, cranky crowd.

So, what is it? Why can’t we have fun? It wasn’t for lack of trying. An ambitious group of Undergraduate Council members had tried to throw a three-hour, post-kiddie pool “Alternative Springfest” in the Quincy Courtyard. It would have featured food, music, and 15 kegs. Despite their efforts, the plan never materialized.

“We’ll come back strong next year though,” a UC representative told The Crimson. “Don’t you worry.”

During the UC campaign this fall, candidates trumpeted social life as a priority. Specific plans were vague, but Springfest weekend would be a chance to deliver on their promises.

Since his election, UC President Matthew J. Glazer ’06 and his team have been working hard to pick up where last year’s Council left off.

Campus Life Committee (CLC) Chair Lauren P.S. Epstein ’07 is leading the way with a vision to match her intense, more than 30-hour-a-week commitment. “Harvard students, hanging out with each other on a beautiful spring evening, on campus, with food, beer and music? It doesn’t sound like Harvard,” she says. “But we’re trying to change that.”

The after-party, first off, will actually happen. Organizers have secured over $5,000 worth of beer, to be sold at $1 a draft. Instead of the Quincy Courtyard, the party will continue right where it started, on the MAC quad.

Finally, instead of a washed-up rapper, the UC logged late hours this year to try to get Snoop Dogg to perform. Snoop’s management had already said yes. The contract was ready to be signed. It looked like Springfest was shaping up—until three weeks ago, when the Boston Police Department reminded Glazer and company of a budget line item they hadn’t foreseen. To get the proper security, they’d need an additional $15,000.

Out of money, the UC had nowhere to turn. The Office of University President Lawrence H. Summers had already refused to provide any funding for the concert, even though the year before they’d given $25,000 to bring Busta Rhymes to Lavietes Pavillion. The money never materialized, Snoop was let down gently, and Springfest was back to square one.

This weekend, with no major musicians slated to perform, some students will inevitably complain. The Crimson’s editorial board has already published an argument outlining how the UC might have done a better job planning the event. But it is not for lack of trying, or even for lack of a party spirit, that Harvard’s Springfest doesn’t measure up. The one thing Harvard seems to lack is administrative support for an undergraduate Springfest. We know how to have fun. They just won’t let us.


In the spring of 1994, UC President Carey W. Gabay ’04 was not in a good place. Under fire for not doing enough to promote campus life, Gabay had pushed a $10 termbill hike through the Council—only to be blocked by another UC rep who rallied the undergraduate body against him. Facing searing scrutiny, Gabay rescinded the bill and settled for the small budget he had before.

Later, a concert he had spent months planning fell through, depleting a large portion of the UC’s resources in the process. Gabay tried to put the debacle behind him the best way he knew how.

“We had had a series of failures with putting on large, campus-wide events,” he says. “We needed something bigger, something grander—some unifying event.”

The event, a UC representative told the Crimson, would be “one day when everyone at Harvard from gov jocks to pre-meds puts aside their work, leaves their rooms, and comes to the Yard where we all started off.”

For a while, it looked like they could do it. However, reality settled in when he realized that there was not enough money left in the pot. According to the Crimson, the botched concert had cost the Council over $20,000, leaving a meager $16,600 to spend on the entire event. The obvious step was to approach the administration for financial support. Unfortunately, the help never came.

“We tried to get the Dean’s Office and the administration involved, but they weren’t nearly as supportive as we thought they could be,” Gabay says.

Still, the UC managed to pull off a three-stage miracle, bringing the Wu-Tang Clan to the steps of Memorial Church, eight student bands to the Science Center, and free food, beer, and a host of carnival games to the Littauer Quad. It was a promising start, and the UC was optimistic about the future.

“We came up with the idea thinking that if we could have this one big campus event, it would perhaps one year become a grander thing,” Gabay says.

It didn’t.

Over the next eight years, Yardfest—which was renamed Springfest in 1995—floundered with lackluster bands and low attendance. The beer came and went until 1999, when it was gone for good due to financial concerns and, again, a lack of support from the administration, a co-organizer of the event told the Crimson in May of that year.

With little support from the College and no termbill hike, the UC needed a new source of income.

So when newly inducted University President Lawrence H. Summers approached UC President Sujean S. Lee ’03 with an offer to cosponsor the event, she was quick to snatch up his lifeline.

“We were thrilled,” she says. “They were willing to offer their money, their time, their staff—everything.”


Along with the new resources came a new vision for Springfest. Summers’ office proposed making the weekend a far larger event, intended not only for the undergraduates but also for faculty members and their families. According to last year’s UC Vice President and past Campus Life Committee Chair Michael R. Blickstead ’05, co-sponsoring Springfest was an opportunity for the President’s Office to demonstrate its support of undergraduates.

Lee saw the offer as a huge improvement, a testament to Summers’s commitment both to increasing student-faculty interaction and to improving undergraduate life.

“The President’s Office wanted to help the student body,” she says. “We were really touched by that.”

Other UC members were less optimistic. They saw the offer as a pragmatic solution to a financial problem. “What I remember was people saying that we would be crazy to turn down that much money. There wasn’t that much to lose,” says former UC President Matt W. Mahan ’05, who was a freshman on the Council at the time.

Springfest 2002 was considered a huge success—exponentially larger than it had been in recent years, with popular games like the Rocky Mountain Climb and Human Foosball replacing the low-budget Log Roll. The Verve Pipe and a collection of student bands serenaded the all-ages crowd.

Lee remembers the day fondly. “I thought that Springfest was the best one I went to while I was at school,” she says. “Because the event had so much more to offer, the experience I had with my friends was cooler. For me, it was still a very student-oriented event.”

The nature of the event, however, had shifted with the inclusion of faculty members and their kids. It was the same old rides, but now a host of bobbing pigtails were standing in line alongside the undergraduates.

Collaboration with the President’s Office concerned some UC members, who became particularly upset when Lee suggested the office would not fund a hip-hop artist for Springfest’s main concert. As it turned out, the administration simply wanted to make sure the performer would be appropriate for all ages. But rumors that the office opposed bringing a major performer—someone, say, along the lines of Snoop Dogg—were true.

“When the Office of the President initially approached us, our immediate reaction was to want them to give all of their money to getting a big-name band,” Lee says. “But that was just a wishful-thinking kind of mentality. When we sat down and discussed it, we realized their goal was about community, not a concert.”

Although the Verve Pipe did end up playing the event, the administration announced the following year that a professional band would not be allowed to perform at the upcoming Springfest. The UC could organize their own concert, but it would have to happen somewhere else, at another time. Since then, the University has not backed down on this policy.

By 2004, the UC was fed up. Springfest was enjoyable, sure, but the students wanted high-profile bands and a party atmosphere. Fearing reaction from the five-year-old set, the University was holding back on both counts.


Over the last several years, a string of strong leaders at the helm of the UC have energized the Council, transforming the organization into an increasingly aggressive advocate of student interests. Mahan entered the office with the intention of winning Springfest back.

“Matt [Mahan] and I told them that we needed money for a band or we would think of reassessing our relationship with Springfest,” Blickstead says. “That was our way of saying that we would break off with Springfest if they didn’t give us money for a band.”

The ultimatum worked. Although Busta Rhymes did not perform on the day of Springfest a la Wu Tang Clan 10 years prior, the President’s Office did agree to help, contributing an unprecedented $25,000 to the concert.

At the same time, the UC was trying to organize another event for the weekend—an after-party that would have all the things that students felt were missing from the official daytime celebration: professional bands, beer, and no little kids. Like Doggfest 2005, “Alternative Springfest” never happened. A series of unforeseen circumstances—and administrative opposition to the presence of liquor—sunk the event.

This year, Mahan and Blickstead’s successors wanted to resurrect the idea, picking up where the old guard left off. Glazer joined forces with CLC chair Epstein, and Harvard Concert Commission (HCC) Chair Jack P. McCambridge ’06, working around the clock to make last year’s vision a reality.

McCambridge, a former chair of the CLC, has remained active in Springfest planning despite his unexpected defeat in the Winthrop House UC race this fall. He has been instrumental in planning every recent major entertainment event at Harvard, including Bob Dylan, Busta Rhymes, and Jim Breuer. He has also been a major force in Springfest planning over the past three years.

Epstein, who is currently serving her first term as CLC Chair, is relatively new to serious event planning. As a member of the CLC, she helped organize last month’s campus-wide dodgeball tournament. Springfest, naturally, has proven quite a bit more difficult.

She can expect plenty of support from Glazer, a UC veteran. As head of the Student Affairs Committee, Glazer worked intimately with the deans of the College, gaining plenty of experience in the art of negotiation.

With McCambridge in charge of finding a band, Glazer and Epstein focused their efforts on planning the after-party.

At a CLC meeting earlier this month, Epstein began to hammer out the details. The Snoop concert had just fallen through, and the UC had no replacement in sight or any idea how much money she was working with. But Epstein had other things on her mind—like a suitable name for the post-Springfest bash.

After a few failed suggestions, such as “Springfest: the Aftermath” and “Springfest: El Noche,” the committee seemed to agree on “Springfest: the Afterparty.” With that settled, the CLC moved on to discuss another pressing issue: lights. Without lighting for the second event, the raging afterparty would turn into an evening of stargazing. Different committee members offered their two cents, from the name of a company that does lighting to the name of their favorite brand of light bulb.


While Lauren Epstein struggles with such trivialities, student activity planners at other schools are dealing with enviably bigger questions—like whether their president’s $70,000 contribution would be enough to help pay for all their headlining acts, or whether the Shins and beat-boxer Rahzel were too different to bill on the same stage.

She cannot ask these kinds of questions because Epstein does not go to Yale, where the daily newspaper considered plans to be “lagging” when the headliner was not yet secured in February. Four days before Harvard’s Springfest, by contrast, a musical act had not yet been finalized, McCambridge wrote in an e-mail.

The problem: funding. This year, Yale’s Spring Fling will feature not only The Shins and Rahzel, but also O.A.R., performances by student bands, an outdoor barbecue, and booze. For the Yale College Council (YCC), the Bulldogs’ UC equivalent, the weekend comes with a price tag of $110,000—almost exactly the cost of Harvard’s day-time Springfest activities.

What’s the difference? According to Blickstead, the amount of money doesn’t compensate for the fact that our version of Spring Fling is more geared towards Snoopy than Snoop. At Yale, the president’s office hands over $95,000 to the students, who spend it—along with an extra $30,000 from the dean’s office—for the most part at their discretion.

At Harvard, the money is allocated elsewhere before Snoop’s hands can take it. The only event controlled independently by the UC is the after-party, but of the over $100,000 the President’s Office allocates to Springfest, only $5,000 goes to the after-party. The rest is locked away in hot dog expenses. And $5,000 is small change compared to the $30,000 price tag for the evening event, which draws most of its funding from the Dean’s Office at the College, the Student Activities Fund, and the UC’s termbill checks.

“[President Summers] could do two separate events,” Blickstead says. “While it is true he has to meet the needs of a number of constituencies, by combining the two he ends up meeting the needs of families and not students.”

According to John Longbrake, Summers’s interim spokesperson, that’s not at all the case. Longbrake says Springfest is no worse than the comparable events at other schools. “It really is focused on the undergrads, and it couldn’t be put together without the undergrads who are on the planning team,” he says.

At other schools, though, undergrads not only sit on planning teams. They are the planning teams.

At the University of Pennsylvania, that team is called the Social Planning and Events Committee (SPEC), and its student members have full flexibility with their funds. Every year, the SPEC receives a lump sum of half a million dollars from the University, says senior Thomas P. Kurland, SPEC’s concert director. Kurland says $300,000 of that is spent on the spring weekend—10 times the amount the UC was ready to set aside for the Snoop Dogg concert.

“It’s not that our campus life suffers because such and such a club gets better funding at UPenn than at Harvard,” Mahan says. “The difference is that UPenn’s administration has the will and spends the money to make their Springfest an incredible weekend for undergraduates.”

So where is the famed $22 billion endowment going? The trouble is, administrators explain, while the University may be busting at the seams with money, only a small portion of that is allocated to the College every year.

“When people give money, they specify which school the gift will go to. They can specify even more specifically where their money will go—to faculty salaries, for example,” Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd explains. “A very small percent goes to the college, and within that much is restricted to specific requests.”

Under pressure from the student body, the Dean’s Office has demonstrated an increased commitment to undergraduate campus life over the course of the past year, establishing Pub Nights in Loker Commons and installing a Fun Czar within their ranks. This year’s Springfest after-party will be getting some help from the Dean’s Office, but the specific amount of the contribution was not determined as of press time, Glazer says.


At other schools, though, student organizers don’t just rely on the administration for support—they also look to their peers.

At Brown, for example, everybody from the Greek Council to the TV station helps out with special events, planning, and funding. As a result, the entire campus is mobilized and converted into one enormous party.

At Harvard, the UC is largely forced to work on their own. Although various groups are throwing events to coincide with Springfest, they have their eyes set on something else: pre-frosh weekend.

As a result, the events are largely geared toward selling the school to prospective students, not showing undergrads a good time. If the UC had the support of campus groups for the after-party, the evening soiree could be a far larger affair.

There is a limit, however, to how much Springfest could grow—and neither the UC nor the administration can do much about it.

“We don’t have many venues that are available,” McCambridge says, running through a list of available options. “Athletics has been good, but the main purpose of those athletic venues is for sports, and that gets first priority.”

Student events also take second priority at Sanders, which charges a hefty sum for use of its space. Even if Sanders were free, it would be a flawed venue. It only seats 1,166 people, and one need only remember the absurdity of Jim Breuer grunting and grabbing his belly between two Grecian statues to realize that Sanders’s lofty, academic air is not an ideal setting for a sweet college concert.

Harvard’s venue problem only becomes more embarrassing when compared with other schools. At their Spring Fling this year, Brown hosted Ben Folds and Howie Day at a venue with a capacity for 6,500—the size of Harvard’s entire undergraduate population. Although locations such as the MAC green and the Quad seem like reasonable venues for a spring concert, Boston’s moody skies make outside event planning a high liability. And Springfest has struck out before.

“We have a really shitty track record in terms of weather,” Glazer says. “And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about that.”

For instance, last year’s Busta Rhymes concert was moved from the MAC Quad across the river to the Lavietes Pavilion, where nearly 3,000 sweaty students packed into the 2,195-capacity space.

“Large out-of-door concerts are difficult, as you know, in our small urban campus. Until Harvard has a larger performance area, indoors or outdoors, truly large events will remain difficult,” Kidd wrote in an e-mail.

It’s not like Glazer and team aren’t aware of these obstacles. They just have no choice but to work around them. With the debut of this year’s after party, it looks like they will have to some degree succeeded.

Besides organizing the logistics of providing food, finding a band and preparing the MAC quad for the after party, the UC has spent endless hours procuring and securing over $5,000 worth of beer for the event, which will be sold at $1 a draft. The sale of liquor at the event—something that does not occur at the Spring Weekends of UPenn, Tufts, or Brown, largely because their frats provide liquor for free—constitutes a step towards reclaiming control of Springfest and campus life in general.

“Often what we need to do with this school is start with baby steps,” McCambridge says. “Potentially we could precipitate change.”

Mahan is less optimistic. Until the University is convinced it has something to gain from improving the Springfest experience for undergraduates, he says, baby steps will take us nowhere.

“The President’s Office doesn’t have to be accountable to students because they don’t need to draw people in—they have the Harvard name,” he says. To effect change, he cites his experience with Senior Gift Plus: “Create a petition, educate people, arouse some anger over the situation, get the press involved, and Harvard will realize it can no longer afford to marginalize undergraduates when it comes to events like Springfest.”

Longbrake says that the President’s Office is “very interested in supporting” undergraduate social life, but he did not say whether the office would increase funds to Springfest’s after-party in future years.

But if Mahan is right, the Office won’t address the need until students make it clear that a need exists. After all, Longbrake contends that Harvard’s Springfest is just as fun as Yale’s.

Hard as they may try, the UC alone can’t incite the kind of cultural change necessary to make Harvard’s Springfest look like Penn’s, Yale’s, or Brown’s. That would take more than just another $20,000 or a permanent liquor license. Maybe the President’s Office isn’t so wrong to emphasize community—they just have the wrong community in mind.

Deanna Dong contributed to the reporting of this article.