Alec Weisman's

The Decay of SunGod

In Higher Education, Investigative Reporting on May 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm

A Tale of Privilege, Patronage, and Prejudice

Alec Weisman, California Review Editor-in-Chief Emeritus ‘08-‘11

The Sun God Festival is the highlight of most UCSD students’ college careers. It is a time to let loose, have fun, and de-stress from the rigors of the quarter system. Yet it is also a time for the UCSD Associated Students (AS) to take credit for an event that has been progressively declining since at least 2008. The Sun God Festival is also the time of the year that reveals the intricacies of student government and shows the full extent of the perks that they receive.

After 2007, the Sun God Festival went from a campus wide de-stress celebration to a caged and heavily policed event isolated at RIMAC. Prior to the caging, the UCSD AS spent $200,000 on the Sun God festival. After the restrictions, the AS spent $550,000 on the event. Students now pay around $15 in student fees for the Sun God festival even as they receive a smaller return on their investment, with the money being used less efficiently. Some exceptionally poor decisions by the AS have included their erection of a fence around the dance tent and their inane purchase of a giant inflatable Sun God that cost $5,000-$6,000.

In addition, Daniel Watts, a former candidate for AS President in 2005, discovered that AS had a private Sun God guest list for former AS members as recently as 2011. According to a public records request, this guest list composed several former AS members, celebrities, University affiliates, and sponsors.

According to Oliver Zhang, the AS Associate Vice President of Concerts & Events (ASCE) responsible for the 2012 Sun God Festival, a guest list is industry standard and is “consistent for all ASCE shows throughout the year.” Although the Sun God guest list has included more than 500 people since 2007, Zhang explained that the 2011-2012 AS worked “to keep the guest list as modest as possible” in order to “make our events as accessible to students as possible.”

This is not the only privilege that AS has given itself. The UCSD AS pays themselves more than $100,800 in stipends for AS cabinet members and office staff. These stipends have more than doubled since 2006-2007, when AS Cabinet and AS Office stipends were only $47,250.

During the 2011 AS Presidential Elections, the candidates were asked if they would be willing to reduce the $10,000 stipend of the AS President. In response, (the now outgoing) AS President Alyssa Wing said “there are councilmembers who absolutely need that stipend . . . we need to ensure that all councilmembers have a conversation about that and it’s not coming as a decision as the AS President.” Since her election in 2011, nothing has been done to lower the financial burden of AS student fees on undergraduates. Rather, Wing championed raising student fees by almost $500 per year in order to move UCSD to Division 1 (D1) athletics in March. However, her efforts were futile, as the D1 referendum failed in a special election with the largest turnout in UCSD history. It remains to be seen what newly elected AS President Meggie Le and her administration will do next year.

Yet unfortunately this is not the only example of AS giving itself special privileges. ASCE is solely responsible for choosing the Sun God Festival lineup and is notorious for selecting acts that are unknown to the majority of UCSD students. This is driven by the desire of the ASCE to focus on a “diverse range of acts” rather than mainstream performers and to finance “performance art” such as a giant inflatable Sun God and a light-up jellyfish.

In addition, the 2011 Sun God festival was the first time that the UCSD Associated Students decided to make the festival carbon neutral. These carbon offsets were purchased by the AS council exclusively from a company called CarbonGuard. Rishi Ghosh, a former AVP Enterprise Operations for the UCSD Associated Students in 2009-2010, owns CarbonGuard.

But Ghosh’s activism has not just been limited to carbon offsets. He also writes for the online leftist publication ClickRally, which also happens to use CarbonGuard to offset their carbon footprint. While at UCSD, Ghosh was an active proponent of anti-Israel divestment resolutions and he was a founding officer of the Student Sustainability Collective (SSC). The SSC has a history of running their members as candidates for AS elections through the extremist Students First! Slate. This slate gained notoriety last year after it attempted to disqualify its opponents during the 2011 AS elections.

Wing lacked knowledge of how CarbonGuard was selected to be the Associated Students carbon credit vendor in 2011, although she added last fall that “I currently have no plans to continue working with carbon guard or any company at this time.  The decision of whether or not Sun God will continue to work with Carbon Guard is a question to be answered in conjunction with the Festival Coordinators.” When pressed for comment last month, Zhang said ASCE had not yet signed an agreement with CarbonGuard for the 2012 Sun God Festival. However, he admitted AS was in the “process of inquiring about the services and pricing associated with pursuing a carbon neutral festival again this year [and evaluating the] options to determine what best fits with our festival vision and budget.”

These kickbacks that the Associated Students provides to their friends affect other aspects of the Sun God Festival. Since the 2011 Sun God, the AS Concerts & Events Booths committee has decided to politicize the student organization booth selection process. Although over 41 student organizations submitted applications to have a booth at Sun God festival in 2011, for the first time the ASCE decided not to engage in a lottery or select student organizations on a first come first serve basis.

According to Michelle Adea, the Associated Students Concerts & Events intern at the time, “we screened the applications to narrow down the number of organization that we felt would appeal to students at the festival.” She explained that each table cost about $300, and that they were “given $5000 by AS for student organization booths.” This allowed them to permit a mere 16 student organizations to have a booth at the festival. Traditionally, tables can typically be used for free by student organizations through the Center for Student Involvement. Yet for the Sun God Festival, the UCSD Associated Students says each table costs them $300 for an event that the AS administers. Zhang explained the $300 cost “includes the cost of the tent, table, chairs, lights and electrical power.”

When asked if her administration would continue this trend of politicizing the Sun God festival, Wing sidestepped the question. Rather than answering directly, Wing refused to take a position on the issue, punting the decision back to the Festival Coordinators. Unfortunately, Zhang has decided to continue the process of allowing ASCE to make a  “curatorial decision” based on a “number of factors” to select the “best mixture of activities for festival attendees.”

Until UCSD students start to play a more active role in auditing the amoral, arrogant, and authoritarian nature of the Associated Students, the quality of the Sun God Festival will continue to decline. As the AS will not reform its authority over the Sun God Festival voluntarily, greater student oversight will be an essential component in the fight to reverse the tragic decay of this defining event in the UCSD experience.

***Note: This article was written as an alumni’s take on the Sun God Festival’s downturn and will be printed in the Spring Edition of the California Review.

  1. This article, while well written, demonstrates an extremely poor understanding of the situation. Additionally, ASCE is not a closed organization that inducts members by vote. Early in the school year, they had fliers posted all around campus calling upon students to join and participate in the planning of Sun God. Rather than accept the fact that ASCE is actually comprised of some of the most active members of the student body, this article attempts to hijack the sense of misplaced dissatisfaction in order to send a general shot as AS as a whole.

    • Please elaborate on ‘poor understanding of the situation,’ which situation are you referring to? And, yes I will admit that A.S did advertise for anyone to attend their event planning for Sungod, however that term is vague when applied to what goes on during these meetings. There is little to no input from students outside of ASCE, simply because there are those on the committee that will talk above all else and not give a chance for others to speak, nor do these meetings ever arrive to a conclusion and are at times left to those that are elec. AS uses a blanket in attempts to cover for their bad image by saying they are incorporating student voice when clearly they are not. Had ASCE truly wished to incorporate student voice across campus, the group should have formed a list of ‘potential’ candidates for sungod, and have the students vote on it (through a global campus-wide survey), I do not understand where this ‘attempts at hijacking the sense of misplaced dissatisfaction’ is coming from, but Mr. Weisman is only shedding light on A.S.’s true form, a corrupt student body that UCSD and it’s students do not deserve to have, we truly deserve better.

  2. Some of the sources you provide to support your arguments really don’t work. The money being used less efficiently for AS store article has no basis for your condescending tone.

    The bit about stipends is ridiculous as well. The amount of hours ASCE workers put in are astronomical. The staff ends up getting cents an hour and the volunteers are doing all the work for free.

    Decay is a strong word for a festival that is widely known throughout the music industry as the best college festival in America.

  3. As a regular UCSD student, I’ll have to say, this year’s line up does make it seem like SunGod is going downhill. I wouldn’t care how AS spent the money as long as I liked the line up.

  4. “This is not the only privilege that AS has given itself. The UCSD AS pays themselves more than $100,800 in stipends for AS cabinet members and office staff. These stipends have more than doubled since 2006-2007, when AS Cabinet and AS Office stipends were only $47,250.”

    You don’t take into account that AS pays for a full-time staff position (non student, non stipend) so your numbers are waaaayyy off there. Basically, that error makes your whole argument fall apart.

    There was never a fence around the dance tent

    And there most definitely is not a 500 person guest list.

    • Cody I regret to inform you there was a fence around the dance tent, sorry you didn’t get to experience that mess. It was the 2010 Sungod and the stage tent was caged, baring entrance, during Z-Trip’s set. I saw the mess first hand.

      Also the stipend totals are accurate if you bothered looking at the documentation. The total was $115,493 for 2011-2012 and is nicely broken down by role, office, and staff.

      While I understand that these students put in a lot of time and effort, they ran for these positions with the intent to “uphold and value student voice”, I have never seen anyone run with the information of “oh yeah, I’m going to get paid to be your President as well”. It makes sense to pay non-student staff but I’m not sure I completely agree with the council and various office stipends. But arguing these opinions is not the point of this and therefore I will step away from that discussion.

      I applaud this article, not for the bashing of AS or Sungod (couldn’t care one way or the other there) but for its fact and data based analysis. Many students today don’t bother looking up this kind of information either because they don’t know it exists or because they don’t know where to find it. Educating the masses of the facts is the first step to making this world (or even just UCSD) a better run place.

  5. To those who think that Sun God quality is declining, tell that to the hundreds of students who can’t get guest tickets because this event sold out within a week of going on sale.
    While I personally am not a huge fan of the artist selection, I do realize that this year’s line-up is significantly more popular than last year’s to most students, and yes, big name artists cost money. So while this event does cost a significant amount, they put a lot of effort this year into setting up a festival that is more age appropriate and far more popular than last year, and some would say is the most popular festival in a long while. Sure, some individuals will not be satisfied, but most will be. Quit your whining.
    Note: Kendrick has far more universal praise from students than both Wiz and Drake, who are a lot more debatable as to their quality.

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