As another Sun God passes, I’m reminded of just how much the festival has changed during my time as an undergraduate. As a prospective student, I’ve heard from classes before me of the popularity of the festival and its unique way of bringing students together from all around campus and the state. In speaking with my peers, however, students today seem to lack enthusiasm for the event and shrug their shoulders at the festival’s red tape: the long lines, the fencing, the security guards milling about.
Yet, costs for the festival have steadily risen year after year. This issue is exacerbated when considering that the festival organization process remains almost completely removed from the student body; Associated Students Concerts and Events (ASCE) is entirely responsible for determining the talent, dining, and exhibits that appear at Sun God Festival. Although the campus circulates “entertainment surveys,” there is no indication that they have a tangible effect on decisions made surrounding the festival.
Looking through the Sun God budgets from 2013 to this year’s festival, it is clear that funds for Sun God have increased every year except for 2015 and 2016. The festival has cost the campus over $5 million in gross expenses since 2013, with an average of around $770,000 a year.
The budget is also strictly limited by its allocation to security, which was expanded in an effort to combat the increasing number of hospitalizations that occurred in previous years. In context, the University spent roughly 41% of its budget on security in this last festival, which outranked spending on production and nearly doubled spending on talent. This increase in spending, however, also coincided with a decision in 2014 to remove guest ticket sales; prior to 2014, guests from other UCs and from around the state could attend the festival, and it actually helped the budget. We would expect, after the budget was limited by the changes to guest ticketing, that UC San Diego administration would take a more fiscally responsible approach towards security budgets, but that is not the case. Students saw this tangibly last weekend in the form of armed officers on the roofs of RIMAC and invasive security pat downs.
Although the security measures were effective, effectiveness does not always mean cost efficient. By barring guests from purchasing passes to the festival, the budget lost an important source of revenue and loss was incurred by AS, which enjoyed an increase in the student activity fee passed through a referendum in 2016.
But in the years following, students remain nearly powerless to decide the fate of their student activity fees. ASCE does not solicit student opinions on talent in good faith and has failed to make an effort to assess how new security measures have affected the culture of the festival. Students should not have to go through a pat down and metal detectors on the campus they attend every day. Not allowing students to go in between dorms and meet up with their friends prior to immersing themselves in a crowd of thousands is overdone. The university should, at the very least, solicit student feedback as to how the security measures have affected the festival. This does not mean generic “entertainment” or “satisfaction” surveys blasted via email, but rather listening sessions and forums that allow officials, students, and student organizations to engage face to face.
While some may feel that the changes to the festival are worth the decline in the quality for the sense of safety they’ve produced, it could also be argued that eliminating guest tickets alone could have had similar effects, statistically, on the frequency of hospitalizations. It also holds well to argue that the introduction of metal detectors and greater drug and alcohol screening alone would have done the same. The truth is, we don’t know. But the budget’s audit seems to be gluttonous, even past first glance. Perhaps an internal study could help reveal these things and, in turn, allow for more fiscal responsibility. In the meantime, however, the university seems intent to dish out the cash and gasp later.
The fact of the matter is that the festival has fundamentally changed in structure in just a short five years. An agreement was reached in 2014 to preserve a great tradition, but that tradition has become increasingly watered down. Just about anything that costs the student body over $5 million in under 10 years deserves a second look. Combined with a concerted lack of transparency and changes in culture, it’s abundantly clear that change is necessary. Although it may be hard to set aside our longing for the great Sun God tradition and ask the hard questions, it must be done.
Arsham Askari is a Staff Writer for The Triton.
The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.