Because of magnitude, SPB owes students transparency

Transparency among student groups is a tricky subject. Most students neither need to know, nor would they care, about the inner workings of almost any regular group on campus.

But Social Programming Board isn’t any regular group; rather, outside Student Union itself, SPB is the most visible and financially powerful student organization at Washington University—an unofficial title it receives along with its control over WILD, the most visible and expensive student event each semester.

While SPB typically runs a tight ship for its flagship event, the group still operates with a level of opacity characteristic of less-funded and less-connected student groups.

SPB, however, is a financial behemoth. At $596,310.66 this year, the group responsible for concerts, shows and weekly happy hours received a little over one-fifth of the total general budget—or about $50,000 more than all Category I student groups combined. Because Student Union’s money comes from its constituency via the Student Activities Fee, which amounts to 1 percent of tuition, we each are essentially paying around $90 to SPB this year, whether we like it or not.

SPB’s president and other executive board members are promoted from within, not voted on by the outside student body—as is the right of any student group. But the combination of internal elections and secrecy procedures surrounding its operations means that students are perhaps left without a real say in how their $90 get spent.

We say “perhaps,” because it’s unclear how much the semester-wise artist surveys actually inform SPB’s booking decisions, and one simple suggestion to achieve the goal of transparency is for the group to publish its survey results for both spring and fall WILDs as well as the comedy and Gargoyle shows.

It’s understandable that the group wouldn’t want to advertise these results if it couldn’t get the students’ first choice, but it also seems silly and somewhat unfair to keep students, who are both paying and voting for an event, from seeing how—or if—their votes end up mattering.

On a different note, Student Union has pushed hard to increase the transparency of its operations over the last few years, particularly with regard to money. The new Student Union Vice President of Finance Kenneth Sng has been leading those efforts.

On SU’s website, SPB is listed first among all parts of the Executive branch—above the class and school councils, among others—and the last two SU presidents had first ascended the ranks of the Programming Board.

And if SPB has become a de facto SU executive grooming ground, it would help to make the former more transparent so that voters can know more about candidates’ records come election time.

Short of somehow booking Beyonce on the cheap, SPB isn’t going to appease every student on campus, most of whom will attend WILD anyway, because how many people really go for the music? That’s not what publishing survey results would be about.

It’s because of SPB’s ever-more-intimate relationship with SU exec and because of the sheer amount of money involved, that it would behoove the group to be more open with the rest of the student body.

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