The Coffeehouse Problem

For those of you who are club leaders, you are probably well aware that this semester the Finance Board decided that they would not be paying for Coffeehouse fees at Chums. For those unaware, now you know.

To host a coffeehouse at Chums, an independent student run business, clubs and outside groups are required to pay Chums $50 to use the space. In this last semester, FBoard was willing to pay this price so that clubs could hold these events that promote their club and their activities. This semester FBoard is demanding that clubs find an alternative source of funding. One option is to collect money at the door; though Chums prohibits clubs from charging money for entry, clubs are allowed to ask for ‘suggested donations.’ In my previous experience with this method, the money collected via donations is far less than the money needed to pay the $50 fee.

Ultimately this means that FBoard is asking club leaders to pay for coffehouses out of pocket. I can see two immeadiate negative affects of this policy. We will see fewer coffeehouses, club leaders aren’t going to want to dish out $50 to pay for a cute event that doesn’t really do much for the club other than give some fun social time with music. But coffeehouses are a pretty important part of the Brandeis social life on weeknights; and without coffeehouses performance groups and student bands will have fewer opportunities to showcase their abilities to the student body.

A more dire consequence of the policy is a loss of revenue to Chums. According to Sarah Richardson from Student Activities, the majority of their operating money comes from these booking fees. Though outside groups not funded by the Student Union also book Chums, I’d presume a large number of the clubs using Chums are indeed charter clubs that would have used FBoard funds to pay for the coffeehouse.

I’ve discussed this matter with Max Wallach, the Treasurer, as well as with Sarah Richardson, who was unaware of the FBoard policy decision. I’d like for either FBoard to reverse its decision and to pay for the coffeehouses, or for Chums or Student Activities to shoulder the burden. Students should not have to pay $50 out of pocket for such an important part of the Brandeis social life.


7 thoughts on “The Coffeehouse Problem”

  1. Lev – you are correct that it was lower a few years ago (I think it was $30). In terms of the question of whether they were used for fundraisers, I cannot answer that with certainty. There were so many other problems with the financial system during my time that this was not top priority. Part of the problem with Chum’s is that it goes largely unused outside of the coffee houses. Perhaps instead of solely focusing on the booking fees the Union should work with Student Activities on a long-term plan for Chum’s that helps find ways to get people to use it more often. I think if it was used for more than just coffee houses they would not need the booking fee to cover their budget. (I am pretty sure Stein Nights at the Stein are free if they still exist)

  2. I think Adam is working on outdated information. Coffeehouse fees were significantly lower a few semesters ago. It is only recently that they reached $50; and ultimately it is extremely difficult for clubs to raise $50 at a coffeehouse.

    Furthermore, not all coffeehouses are fundraisers (especially considering the $50 fee), most are for promoting the club or another event. I don’t know of any club still using coffeehouses to actually raise money. Anyone collecting donations are mostly trying to offset the out of pocket cost.

  3. I usually don’t post on blogs or anything, but I figured I would add a little historical perspective to this.

    During the 05-06 school year I served as Ziv Quad Senator, and during 06-07 I served as Director of Executive Affairs. One of the major things I did during this time was help draft and implement the SAF Amendment.

    The major reason the F-Board never funded coffee houses in the past was that coffee houses were almost solely used for club fundraising. Club’s would ask for a donation, people would give it, and clubs would make money doing this (if you ‘ask’ for $5 per person and get 10 people you make back the cost). Most students were not even aware that the charge was optional. Because the Finance Board is supposed to be funding “student activities” and not fundraising, it would not fund the coffee house. However, the problem with this (and other fundraising type events the Finance Board did not fund) is that it created a double standard. Clubs like Adagio and Liquid Latex would get their events funded and still be able to charge admission. Same thing with dances clubs would put on. The view in those cases is that it was part of the club’s purpose to hold those events (on a side note – we once had a club come to the Senate and ask to add something like a coffee house to its purpose because they thought the F-Board would fund it in that case).

    The problem with funding any event that charged admission was that if you are paying SAF money already, then why should you have to pay for events at all? As a result, the Free Events Policy was created (it actually took a lot more discussion than that, but I don’t want to bore everyone with the details). I personally never liked the idea of the coffee house fee, but during my time at Brandeis most club leaders seemed willing to put down the money for the coffee house, since if they ran it correctly they would usually get it back. Was it the best system? Probably not. However, if the F-Board pays the fee for 50 coffee houses each year, that would be $2500 a year, that is the cost of one big event that could be thrown on campus (when I planned the school wide Super Bowl Party I spent that much on it). Also, since the SAF is supposed to go to towards club activities and not club fundraising, it tends to make sense that the F-Board would not fund it.

    If anyone would like any more information on some of the decision made back during my time on Union, please let me know.

  4. When I asked f-board chair Emily about this for DFA, I was told

    Last semester was the only time the finance board funded coffeehouses and this was because of the free-events policy. This semester, with the new policy, we went back to the old ways- we decided that it had to be a universal decision to either fund all coffeehouses or none. With less funding than last semester and considering that all clubs that have coffeehouses did not necessarily ask for the fee, we decided to universally decline coffeehouse funding. As you said, its a significant cost and multiplied several times over- we were able to allocate money further by saving on this cost.

    This seems a little weird to me, considering that the poll after the no-charge admission policy of last semester showed that most students preferred events that way. And as Lev wrote, Chums does not allow clubs to charge for admission though it charges them to use the facility. Since f-board is no longer fronting the cost, we’re stuck with a nasty catch-22 where the only real solution is to pay out of pocket and pray for adequate donations.

    At the same time, we don’t want all our money being used to pay for coffeehouse after coffeehouse. My proposal is to allow clubs this semester to use their already allocated finances to pay for coffeehouses by letting each redistribute money within its budget. Maybe chums could also lower the cost of a coffeehouse… regardless, something must be done.

  5. From my extensive interviewing of the treasurer and others last year for Justice editorials, I know that F-board has been trying to crack down on giving money to such things for a while. Last year, the mandate that clubs could not collect money for admission to events with f-board funding was partially an effort to push clubs to autonomy. It seems ultimately a dangerous policy to follow in my opinion,

  6. Did f-board give a reason for not funding it this year? It’s not like we’re particularly short on funds. Does anyone remember rollover?

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