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OUAB’s ‘wild’ $2.1M budget brings big talent to Ohio State

The Ohio Union Activities Board spent more than $1 million of its nearly $1.9 million budget on artist fees during the organization’s 2011 fiscal year. This year, the budget surpassed $2 million and the group is set to spend more on artist fees.

Acts the group brought to campus in OUAB-sponsored events during that time, which stretches from August 2010-June 2011, include rappers B.o.B and Lupe Fiasco, county artist Kellie Pickler, rock band Weezer, actors Ty Burell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet of TV’s “Modern Family,” comedian Michael Ian Black, “Juno” director Jason Reitman and R&B crooner John Legend.

OUAB is scheduled to host Taking Back Sunday as its Winter Concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Newport Music Hall. City Lights is set to open.

For the 2012 fiscal year, OUAB has been allocated a budget of almost $2.1 million, which is larger than the budgets allocated for activities boards at some other Big Ten schools, such as the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois. The group has spent about $1.3 million on its quarterly programming, including artist fees, among other things, with $300,000 set aside separately for “large events,” such as the Big Free Concert.

“Although we are not halfway through Winter Quarter, we anticipate that we have spent about half of our budget for the year at this point on Summer, Fall and Winter expenses, including graduate and professional student programming, marketing and administrative costs,” said OUAB adviser Katie Krajny in an email.

OUAB garnered a surplus of about $114,000 in 2011. Krajny said OUAB plans for a 0-5 percent surplus every year in case of emergency or an “unexpected event opportunity.” She said the 2011 surplus has been allocated to this year’s budget.

The group also spent $5,624.42 in 2011 on a trip to the national convention for the National Association for Campus Activities. It also spent more than $159,000 on space rental and more than $107,000 on equipment rental for things such as concerts and securing rights for film screenings.

Richard Vedder, a retired economics professor from Ohio University who studies higher education financing, described OUAB’s budget as a “wild, huge budget” and said it strikes him as “a little bit on the high side.” Vedder said such a budget begs the question: “Is college about learning or … is it about going to concerts?” But he said the budget is justified, if the market calls for it.

“Some kids want to go to concerts, so if the market supports it, it’s worth it,” Vedder said.

OUAB is fully funded by the Student Activity Fee. Students pay a $25 Student Activity Fee per quarter. That fee will rise to $37.50 when the university moves to semesters.

In an OSU Board of Trustees meeting Feb. 10, a revision was made in regard to competitive bidding, which states that the senior vice president for business and finance and university chief financial officer, Geoff Chatas, or someone on his behalf, is authorized to enter agreements without competitive bidding with entertainment acts.

Krajny said this essentially means OUAB negotiates with the artists while the president or senior vice president for business and finance signs off on it.

“Because OUAB is funded by the Student Activity Fee and a university entity, only the VP for Business & Finance or his designee is able to sign our contracts with artists,” Krajny said in an email.

OUAB maintains a larger budget than some of Ohio State’s Big Ten activity board counterparts.

The budget for the 2010-11 school year for a similar group at Wisconsin was $600,000, said Sarah Mathews, vice president of public relations for the Wisconsin Union Directorate.

All events sponsored by the group at Wisconsin are free to students, but student fees do not go toward bringing acts to campus.

For perspective, total enrollment at Wisconsin’s Madison campus, including graduate and professional students, is 42,595, as of Fall 2010. OSU, by contrast, has a total enrollment of 56,867 at the Columbus campus, as of Autumn Quarter 2011.

At Illinois, the Illini Union Board operates on a budget of $450,000 per year, said Robin Kaler, associate chancellor of public affairs.

About 50-60 percent of that is generated through income-generated activities, while the remainder comes through a student fee, which Kaler said is $3 per student per year.

Illinois has a total enrollment of 42,606 students, as of Fall 2011.

Though OUAB paid artists more than $1 million in 2011, it does not disclose how much it pays each artist individually, citing trade secrets.

OSU president E. Gordon Gee said in his quarterly meeting with The Lantern Feb. 6 that he’s OK with OUAB not disclosing that information.

He said Columbus is a more competitive market for talent booking than cities some other schools are in, such as Michigan State, which discloses how much it pays visiting artists, according to a June 3, 2010, story in The Lantern.

Gee said that for many years, OSU competed with venues such as Nationwide Arena for acts.

“In order to get the very best deal, sometimes you have to keep a secret and keep it secret,” Gee said in a meeting earlier this month. “Otherwise, if those promoters, if they’re going to say, ‘Because we love Ohio State, we’re going to give you a 30 percent cut,’ and then it becomes public, then the university, and particularly OUAB or whomever, has violated the agreement and they also will not get any other concerts because people will not trust their ability to be able to keep that secret.”

Vedder described the policy as “a bread and circus policy,” meaning it’s a policy designed to please people through distraction, and said it’s questionable in terms of Ohio public records laws.

Students have mixed reaction to how OUAB spends its money.

Jordan Horch, a second-year in social work, thinks OUAB is spending the money well.

“I think that they’re doing a great job with the money, like allocating it to the people that they bring in, because I’ve been to a couple speakers here over the past couple years and I love the experiences I get,” Horch said.

Harsh Phuloria, a third-year in biology, meanwhile, thinks the money could be better spent.

“I think they should allocate it differently,” Phuloria said. “They should help other student organizations and maybe give some to charity helping nonprofit organizations in the Columbus area.”

Rikita Shah contributed to this story.

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