When Greenville’s City Council decided to build Falls Park, they initially faced strong opposition. Most residents of the city had never seen the falls, which were hidden by an ugly motor vehicle bridge. Many were averse to the idea of knocking down a “perfectly good bridge” and did not want to spend money on a project they did not realize would benefit everyone.
In retrospect, those critics were wrong. Greenville didn’t go bankrupt. The park has provided a beautiful recreational space for residents and visitors, spurred economic development, and defined Greenville’s identity as a city. When people think of Greenville, they think of Falls Park. The City Council had a long-term vision, and they invested their time, money and energy accordingly. After a year of COVID-19 disruption, what would it mean for student organizations at Furman to embrace this kind of strategic spending?
Most non-Greek student organizations have clearly defined missions, regardless of where the money in their coffers comes from. Some, like the Furman University Outdoors Club (FUOC), are independent, while others are subsidiaries of larger umbrella organizations like Club Sports, Religious Council (RC) and the Student Diversity Council (SDC). Having an obvious goal makes budgeting decisions straightforward. The club basketball team, for instance, exists to promote club basketball, and their budget reflects that: their expenditures are almost exclusively devoted to team travel and competition.
By contrast, the Furman University Student Activities Board (FUSAB) — one of the oldest, largest and most influential organizations on campus — has a much broader mission. According to their SyncDin page, they are dedicated to providing “entertainment for the student body according to campus interests” and “opportunities for students to have experiences that they may not otherwise have.” The breadth of this mission is not inherently bad, but it does present additional challenges as FUSAB plans, budgets and executes its events.
FUSAB has had decades of practice at fulfilling its mission of providing entertainment for the student body and making positive contributions to student life. Toast and Jams does a wonderful job each year of elevating hidden musical talents in our midst. The annual HAVOC competition is not only entertaining but also energizes students of all stripes to participate in charitable giving. And despite the outcome of the game, gathering students in Timmons Arena last month to watch the men’s basketball team take on Wofford in Spartanburg was a textbook good FUSAB idea. According to FUSAB President Sam Gary, 230 students — nearly 10% of the on-campus student population — attended that event. Not all entertainment will appeal to all students, but these are broadly popular examples of FUSAB making our campus better.
This year, FUSAB’s budget shrank due to lower student enrollment. They received $140,000 from the Student Government Association (SGA) last semester and about $120,000 this semester. Aside from the weekly Wednesdays on the Mall, their most prominent events this semester have been Datamatch, Tag, the basketball watch party and Among Us — each of which had a budget of $2000 or less, Gary said.
FUSAB’s response to less-than-ideal circumstances has been creative and even frugal, but it is hard to discern a coherent strategy underlying their spending. As COVID-19 has hampered their ability to offer interactive in-person events, the organization has increasingly turned to auctioning items off in raffles and handing them out at random. Needless to say, while giveaways like these boost event attendance and provide a nifty solution to a budget surplus, they are also economically inefficient. In the fall, I walked up to a FUSAB tent outside the Trone Student Center and received Keurig pods for a coffee maker I don’t have and a jumprope that, despite my best intentions, I have yet to take out of its package. This semester, the high-dollar Datamatch prizes even included a TV. One of the prizes at the basketball watch party was a Nike backpack containing a sweatshirt and a bluetooth speaker.
While there’s nothing wrong with those things, it is unclear how they fit into FUSAB’s larger mission, particularly given that their budget comes out of students’ pockets in the form of fees paid to SGA. The students who showed up to the watch party would have been there even if it had just been the game and a box dinner. They were there for an experience, not a chance to win. At the end of the day, students crave memorable, communal experiences that allow them to grow and connect with others. As the pandemic draws to a close, all student organizations — whether they deal with entertainment, sports, academics, faith, or something else entirely — should spend strategically with that end in mind.