Illini Union Board: where the money goes

By Anne Gleason

Signs promoting lectures, cultural events, weekend entertainment and other activities cover walls and kiosks across campus throughout the year. While some students show interest, many pay no attention to these events even though they donate a small amount of money to fund them each semester.

“I usually forget about them,” said Brian Flanagan, senior in LAS.

With one of the most extensive marketing staffs of any student organization, the Illini Union Board – which is one organization in charge of putting on student programming – isn’t looking to improve promotion but instead is continuing to look for ways to make the events more attractive to students.

IUB president Kris Davis said he is particularly optimistic about additional money provided this year for lectures. For the first time, IUB will receive an additional $1.50 from the Student Service Fee, which each student pays every semester. That additional funding amounts to approximately $90,000 for lectures.

Davis said IUB will be able to bring in higher-profile lecturers this year. This semester’s roster includes Minnesota governor and former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura and Morgan Spurlock, creator of the Supersize Me documentary.

IUB also receives $0.75 from each student each semester for weekend programming, which IUB and the manager for the Courtyard Caf‚ are mandated to provide. The weekend programming fee has been in effect for several years.

Davis said the Union must provide an event Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each week. IUB usually organizes one or two events, while the Courtyard Caf‚ manager, Janet Krenn, organizes her own events on the remaining weekend nights.

The weekend programming money, taken from the Student Service Fee, supports concerts, the One Night Stand programs and other weekend events. One Night Stand programs include performances by comedians and hypnotists.

Davis said one purpose for the weekend programs is to provide alternative entertainment for students too young for or uninterested in the bar and party scene.

While a handful of these weekend events drew fewer than 100 students, Davis said the primary goal of IUB is to create programs that fit the interests of all students.

“It is hard to gauge exactly what the students are looking for,” Davis said. “We experiment with ways to get 300 different students each time, because if it’s the same 300 students every time, then that’s not good enough.”

Weekend events last year ranged from Maj Jong Night, which drew 45 students, to the Student Comedy Competition, totaling 175 students, to The Art of Kissing, which drew 280 students.

While Davis said IUB attempts to provide diverse events, even if it means some attendance numbers may lag, one program Davis hopes will draw large numbers this year is the Illinites program, which was created last year.

Of the four Illinites programs held last year, the program in December had the best attendance with 900 students. Davis wants that number to grow this year.

This year, IUB scheduled three Illinites events this semester – the first program was held last weekend.

The Illinites programs are similar to the beginning-of-the-year Late Nighter program, which provides interactive events and games at no cost to students. Different rooms in the Union offer different activities.

In an attempt to expand the program, IUB will be requesting a $2 fee increase this year to be used for Illinites, Davis said. His hopes are that the program may someday reach the success of Penn State’s big-budgeted late night program, which attracted more than 20,000 students throughout last year.

“To make it grow, there’s no way with the funding we have,” Davis said. “We’ve gotten past the stages of figuring out what works. Now we want to get to where students think of (Illinites) as a real option.”

When the IUB isn’t organizing the weekend events, the responsibility falls on Krenn. Courtyard Caf‚ weekend events, which are funded largely through the Illini Union, are intended to provide club-like entertainment.

“The idea is that a large percentage of students are under 21, and this allows the freedom to have the kind of shows at a club like Cowboy Monkey, which are inaccessible to them,” she said.

Krenn said she decides which bands to bring in largely on her own. Admission is usually $5 or less, but she said bigger name bands might cost more.

She estimated that recent shows have attracted between 75 and 100 people – capacity for the Courtyard Caf‚ is between 450 and 500.

Attracting students on the weekends continues to be a goal for both IUB and the Courtyard Caf‚. Some of the most popular events are the annual IUB performances like the spring musical or Culture Shock. Both events attracted more than 3,000 students last year. On the other hand, some lower-budget events had attendance numbers below 50.

Committees within IUB, which include arts, cultural and concert committees, plan and budget for events at the beginning of the year based on indicators such as cost, past attendance and diversity. Many programs return every year, but IUB also experiments with new programs and often times will work with registered student organizations to create events.

Davis said IUB would like to reach out to other students to get ideas for programs, but so far students who aren’t involved with IUB or an RSO don’t have a lot of input in what programs are provided each year.

Aside from planning events, part of a committee’s job includes deciding which events to charge admission for and which to provide for free. Last year, 38 percent of IUB programs were free to students.

Davis said the majority of IUB’s $410,000 budget is self-generated through ticket prices or sales. Programs with an admission price like the film series, Drag Show or spring musical and profits from the I-books and poster sales all provide IUB with funding to put on other programs.

While it’s advertised that money from sales at the Illini Union Bookstore support student programming, most of that support is indirect. Profits from the bookstore become part of the Union budget, which pays for professional staff support that the IUB uses for things like marketing, contract negotiations and support. The Union also provides a venue for many of the IUB programs.

Union director Ed Slazinik said there is some money that is used directly for programs, like the $15,000 to $20,000 used to put on the Late Nighter program at the beginning of the year.

Courtyard Caf‚ events, which Slazinik said are student-driven events, are also funded partly by the Union.

Like Davis and Krenn, Slazinik also said he would like to see programs grow in the future. Between IUB, Courtyard and student organization events, Slazinik said it would be ideal to pack the Union on some nights.

“Our goal would be to have eight or nine programs going on at the same time (in the Union),” he said.