A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME
In subtext 176, we reported that the Students’ Union had come under fire from students for what was perceived as a lacklustre Graduation Ball lineup and venue. With the event looking increasingly like a loss-making exercise, LUSU has now cancelled the event.
This is unprecedented. Grad Ball has been in existence since the 1970s, predating college extravs, so why has it died a sudden, grizzly death?
Until a few years ago, the University subsidised some of Grad Ball’s costs, and this allowed the SU to keep ticket prices down without compromising the quality of the acts and venue. The SU block grant has also been reduced recently. The University is more than happy to pump seventy grand into extra coaching for an away-Roses, when a fraction of that could be gifted to LUSU to get a popular act. Why should the university have to fund the school disco? Because a good Grad Ball = good publicity for Lancaster. Shallow, ‘ooh look at the big acts we can get’ publicity, but publicity nonetheless (it’s also the right thing to do, of course). Alas, this disaster is likely to translate into bad publicity for Lancaster. A Top Ten University that doesn’t even have an end of year ball? Outrageous!
When it comes to Grad Ball, the SU is in an invidious position – it has to strike a balance between finding an act that is JUST famous enough with providing a reasonable ticket price (not that Lancaster’s Grad Ball ticket prices are that out of tune with our ‘comparator’ universities). Also, it is easy for students to vote in some online poll demanding, oh we don’t know, P.J. Proby (Is he the In Thing? – Ed.), or for a candidate for a LUSU officer post to promise P.J. Proby, but anyone experienced in Ents booking knows that nothing is that simple. When it transpires that P.J. Proby is busy doing his hair on the day of Grad Ball, the disappointing lineup is invariably blamed on ‘LUSU laziness.’ Accountability is also a major issue. Since LUSU completely rejected transparency to the strongest degree possible, they have severely lacked a ‘sounding board’ to work out what students want from their school disco.
In 2015, the SU drastically inflated the membership price of BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) teams, in most cases by over TEN TIMES the previous price, to make up for a 22% drain on expenditure (subtext 137).
In 2017, the SU underwent a drastic restructure, making some staff members redundant, and re-deploying others to roles within University House, which took over responsibility for LUSU’s enterprise, volunteering, and international opportunities, as well as its IT provision (subtext 156). Not long before then, the SU was forced to close down one of its on-campus shops.
That LUSU has made these drastic financial cuts, yet STILL cannot afford to absorb some of the costs associated with Grad Ball, is a major issue, and causes the subtext collective considerable concern for LUSU’s future.
SHEER BRASS BALLS
The cancellation of Grad Ball caught the attention of candidates in the recent local by-elections, some of whom offered to step in and sort it all out.
Conservative candidates Callum Furner and Guy Watts took to social media pledging, if elected, ‘to work with the Students Union […] to truly send off the Class of 2018 in magical style.’ When asked how, there came the somewhat broad response of ‘anything that’s needed’. Alas, these promises did little to aide the success of the Tories, who were roundly defeated.
Labour candidates Amara Betts-Patel and Oliver Robinson took a more placatory approach, expressing their desire for a ‘better relationship’ with the Students’ Union – a noble olive branch. Meanwhile, one of our sitting Labour councillors took to the ‘Overheard at Lancaster’ Facebook page to mock the ‘low effort SU’. So much for the better relationship.
What influence the city council actually has over the SU’s ents function is anyone’s guess.