Childish Gambino performs on the South Oval April 10 as part of the Big Free Concert presented by OUAB.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

The Big Free Concert might have been free for students to attend, but the Ohio Union Activities Board had a significant budget to pay for Childish Gambino and his supporting acts. The OUAB budget was just shy of the $2.1 million mark for last year, but exceeded that in 2014.

OUAB was allocated about $2.1 million for fiscal year 2013 (July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013) while this year, the organization has a budget of $2.15 million.

The organization is funded through the $37.50 student activity fee paid by each student each semester, and 53.2 percent of the total amount amassed through the fee was allotted to OUAB each year. The fee is only charged to students at Ohio State’s Columbus campus and is paid by undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

According to its 2013 report to the Ohio Union Council and Council on Student Affairs, about 96 percent of OUAB’s 2013 budget — roughly $1.9 million — went toward programming or the costs associated with bringing talent to campus and putting on events. This portion also includes costs for marketing those events, said OUAB president MacGregor Obergfell in an email in March. OUAB hosted 282 events with around 89,000 total attendants for the FY 2013.

The final 4 percent of the budget was allotted for operational and professional developmental expenses. Operational expenses pay for daily necessities such as office supplies. Professional development funds pay for development opportunities that Obergfell said “allow (OUAB) to expand (its) knowledge, ideas and development through experiences like attending professional conferences, such as National Association of Campus Activities in Nashville.”

2013’s fiscal year brought in acts such as “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Bill Hader and primatologist and activist Jane Goodall. This year, OUAB has used its funds to host performances from the likes of comedians Joel McHale and Adam DeVine. The 2014 budget also accounted for OUAB’s Big Free Concert April 10, which rapper Childish Gambino, whose real name is Donald Glover, headlined.

The amount spent thus far in OUAB’s 2014 fiscal year, which began July 1, 2013, and will end June 30, cannot be revealed, Obergfell said. However, he said the full budget has been allocated for the remainder of the semester and for the summer.

“Since we have many events currently taking place and many expenses clearing daily and waiting to be cleared, it is difficult to give an exact amount we have spent this year,” Obergfell said. As of the end of Fall Semester 2013, OUAB hosted about 140 events with about 55,000 attendants. Obergfell declined to provide an estimate of how much OUAB has spent so far in the FY 2014.

While OUAB has nine committees specializing in planning different types of events, such as music or lectures, a set amount is not given to each committee to spend for the year.

“Each committee operates within the annual full allocation, but does not receive a set amount each year. The amount of money that is eventually allocated to each event varies based on the expenses associated with each event. Thus the amount that each committee receives each year varies,” Obergfell said.

OUAB does not release payment information for the artists and performers it brings to OSU because of competition with other venues in Columbus. Releasing this information, Obergfell said, would put OUAB at a “competitive disadvantage in the future.”

In comparison to another programming organization in the Big Ten, the Wisconsin Union of University of Wisconsin-Madison was allocated about $705,000 for FY 2014 from the union’s operational revenue, said Gary Filipp, vice president for program administration at the Wisconsin Union. Though the Wisconsin Union’s programming budget has the opportunity to expand based on gifts and outside funds, this is only a $20,000 increase in allocation from the previous year. Students pay semesterly fees that go toward their union building’s facilities, but no portion of that fee pays for programming.

Total enrollment for Wisconsin University-Madison was 43,275 for fall 2013, while OSU’s Columbus campus enrollment was 57,466.

Richard Vedder, economics professor at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, said the budget of an organization like OUAB raises questions as to how the student activity fee might be spent, and whether or not it is worth it for some students who already face the financial problems in paying for college.

“(Some) students are, in effect, paying for concerts that they are not the slightest bit interested in. Is it fair to students? It’s a non-academic activity, it has very little to do with the curriculum, with learning, with creating and disseminating knowledge,” Vedder said. “Why shouldn’t a student who is having a tough time going through college save the 40 bucks? You could make that argument. I think on a whole, we tend to charge too much for these kind of fees … Why should the general student population be burdened?”

Third-year in animal sciences Hannah Slykerman might be able to relate to Vedder’s argument.

“Honestly, I have never really participated in the activities that (OUAB) pays for. So to me, I don’t necessarily think that it has affected me in a positive way for my experience. So to me, it does seem like sort of a waste,” Slykerman said. “When tuition keeps going up and that sort of thing … I couldn’t see giving them any more money than they already get. It just seems like that’s a large number for them to be getting for activities and things. I’m not 100 percent supportive of them getting that much money.”

But the concerts seem like worthwhile expenses to Alexa McGuire, a third-year in neuroscience, though she said it is surprising how much money goes into them.

“I think concerts are a good use of (OUAB’s) money,” McGuire said. “They seem to get a decently popular group every time, and that’s awesome … is it worth $2.1 million? Probably not.”