The Darwinism of Kwantlen Clubs

In light of a $90,000 reduction in clubs and events funding, student life at KPU will have to evolve

Danielle George / The Runner

For better or worse, a change is coming to the way student life is conducted at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Prompted by major funding cuts to the Kwantlen Student Association’s clubs and events budget, those who promote on-campus culture will have to adapt to the new climate in order to grow.

The reduction in funding, totalling just over $90,000 according to the draft 2016 KSA budget, comes as a result of declining enrollment over the course of the previous year. Because the KSA receives almost all of their funding from fees levied off of the students, a drop in enrollment means less money for the student association’s budget. As Waheed Taiwo, the KSA vice-president of finance and operations, explains, they are currently sitting at about 63 per cent of their estimated revenue for the year, and aren’t expecting to reach their total by the end of 2015.

“Personally, I’d be very surprised if we got up to 90 per cent,” says Taiwo. He claims that the university has seen more students attend Kwantlen on a part-time basis, taking less courses and ultimately paying less in KSA fees. Accordingly, the KSA has reduced expenditures on most of their worksheets, including intramurals and lobbying..

The clubs and events budget, however, was hit particularly hard, and will see nearly a third of its funding reduced in 2016, down to $205,200. The decision comes after the KSA has already used nearly all of its clubs and events reserve funding to boost this year’s revenue.

“Around May or June I started to get worried we might not get the full amount we estimated for the year,” says Taiwo of the use of the clubs and events reserves. “So on one hand we have a reduction in enrolment, and on the other hand we don’t have as much money in reserve to support it. And we can’t spend money that we don’t have. That’s why we had to cauterize expenses based on the expected expenditures.”

Taiwo points to a rising level of engagement with student life as the reason why the clubs and events budget is in need of such a substantial reduction. The KSA currently recognizes 32 clubs, eight of which were organized this year, and two more are expecting to incorporate by the end of the fall semester. In previous years, when there were far fewer student groups drawing funding, the KSA was able to approve nearly every event proposal that came across their desks, and still have money in reserve for next year.

“That was a different culture than we are having now,” explains Taiwo. “The only way we are able to ensure that all of the clubs have equal opportunity at the resources we have for them is to make sure that whatever we are approving right now, we are going to get as much value from as possible. That is why we are not going to be able to approve everything.”

Taiwo goes on to say that, despite the need to “ration” their funding by spending less money on clubs and events, the mindset of the KSA is still to support Kwantlen students to their fullest extent.

The New Climate of Club Funding

In order to prevent the cuts from marginalizing student life, the KSA has begun taking proactive efforts to ensure students are still able to hold events. Primarily this means finding ways to reduce the cost of the events when the planning tools are submitted, but it also means looking into alternate sources of funding. Manpreet Bassi, the KSA’s vice-president of student life, is confident that students will be able to take on the responsibility of raising their own funds.

“They can look into charging membership fees,” suggests Bassi. “That’s totally up to them. Some clubs are not willing to do that, some clubs are. For their events, they could charge admission fees—a dollar or two dollars, whatever would help offset the expenses.”

Other areas that Bassi suggests students explore include sponsorships and financial assistances offered through the university itself, such as the Coca-Cola Fund and the Student Educational Enhancement Fund. She also cites faculty members as another possible resource.

“So there’s a lot of different avenues and a lot of different things we’ve told the clubs. A lot of them are starting to act on it, and they’re understanding that we don’t have endless amounts of money,” says Bassi. “[They] get that in the long run this is going to make them more sustainable as well, because if they can do their own fundraising, they won’t have to rely on us for all their funds.”

There are those, however, who are less optimistic about what the reduction in funding means for campus culture, even amongst the ranks of the KSA. Simon Massey, representative for the faculty of arts, is doubtful that the cuts will be anything but a burden on clubs, though still acknowledges the limitations of the society’s budget.

“There was always going to be one day when [cutting clubs and events funding] was going to be a necessity,” says Massey, who ran, in part, on a platform of promoting student life at Kwantlen. Massey believes it’s “prudent” to ask clubs to co-fund larger ventures, but finds issue with some of the stricter regulations being considered, calling the new approach to event financing “austerity mode.”

“For the most part I feel like fundraising is going to come down to selling tickets or holding bake sales, or getting donations from the members, or even charging membership fees for the clubs, which are all things I wouldn’t want to see required,” says Massey.

In addition to being a KSA council member, Massey hosts the monthly poetry slam in the Grassroots, Slamapalooza, which draws its funding from the same budget line item as Kwantlen clubs. This money allows him to award prizes for the top-scoring poets in the competition, and to pay for professional performance poets to feature at each of the slams. Slamapalooza has been running for three years now and has had a history of successful, relatively well-attended events.

“My philosophy for holding events is that they’re here to benefit students, and I don’t feel we achieve that goal if we were to, say, charge cover for the events, or sell tickets,” says Massey. “I really want the events I hold to be community-building, and I don’t want to have a cost associated with keeping people out.”

Massey says he has yet to submit his funding request for Slamapalooza’s 2016 season, and admits to feeling “as worried as anyone else seeking funding,” in light of the cuts. He believes that fundraising for the slam would impede his ability to hold monthly events, and if forced will consider dropping the prize money out of his funding request because he considers paying the professional performers any less than he currently does “would be doing them an injustice.”

“[Slamapalooza is] going to have an amazing year coming up,” he says. “If it’s funded.”

Survival of the Fittest

Bassi says that, unfortunately, the KSA executive team has had to deny some funding requests already, though she claims to always follow up with students through email, to let them know what else is out there.

“What we have ended up doing is going back to them and saying, ‘Look, we just don’t have the resources anymore, is there anything you can do? Can you reach out to anyone else, can the students put forward some of the money?’” says Bassi.

One such club that has seen their funding request rejected is the Kwantlen Creative Writing Guild. President Winston Le says when he learned about the denial of funds he initially believed he had filled out the planning tool incorrectly. After Bassi informed him that the KSA was looking for clubs to start fundraising their own events, he claims to have been caught “totally unaware” by the development, largely due to his club’s history of successful funding requests.

The event Le was applying for was a semester-end reading, and like Slamapalooza he was seeking funds to pay a professional writer to take part in the event. “We did one last [spring], basically the same kind of planning tool, and the KSA approved it right away,” says Le. In Bassi’s follow-up email, detailing alternate sources of funding to help sponsor the reading, she suggested the Student Educational Enhancement Fund, though Le says that specific funding could not be applied to his event, and that the deadline for requests had already passed by the time he received Bassi’s email.

The Writing Guild’s previous reading cost the student association $800 when it was approved in the spring, and by Le’s estimate it attracted around 50 attendees. The event’s success was in part attributed to the fact that it was held at the Newton Cultural Centre, which required the lion’s share of their funds to book. Now, due to the reduction in funding, Le is doubtful his club will have the means to book that space again this coming spring.

Not every club, however, is struggling to adapt to the new, conservative environment of clubs and events spending. As Bassi says, some student groups are understanding of the financial realities, and are already working diligently within their means.

The Kwantlen Gaming Guild has long been seen as a paradigm of student activity. It boasts by far the largest membership of any club on the KSA’s roster and is known for holding well attended, and financially responsible, on-campus events. President Tashi Barungtsang, a marketing student and the KSA’s Surrey campus representative, takes pride in the Guild’s ability to spend the least amount of student funds while still giving students “the most out of every single dollar.”

“That’s the most important aspect of the club,” says Barungtsang. “The leaders feel they owe the members a better experience, versus if they were to join another club.” In addition to its finely structured hierarchy and weekly meeting schedule, Barungtsang believes the Guild’s success lies in its highly dedicated executive team, which works hard to foster an atmosphere where students are free to “meet new people, make friends, and have a better social life than they’re having at KPU.”

“if [they’re having one] at all,” he notes.

At the end of October, just as the reduction in funding was beginning to take effect, the Kwantlen Gaming Guild hosted the “Return of the Gaming Dead,” their second annual Halloween-themed event. At the event were photo booths, gaming consoles, projectors, costume contests, and, according to Barungtsang, approximately 275 KPU students—all for the remarkably low price of $500 in student funds. At less than $2 per attendee, this is perhaps the most inspiringly frugal achievement in the history of Kwantlen clubs.

“We’re changing the mindset of our executive committee to focus more on a financially sustainable model for our events,” says Barungtsang. “Although, we’ve already taken drastic measures in reducing our event costs over the entire year, we’ve now needed to reduce our costs by even more.”

According to the Guild’s Vice President, Tanvir Singh, the executives of the KGG have a rigorous method for making sure they are as responsible as possible with the funding they receive. Starting with a “wishlist” that includes everything they and their club members could want to have at an event, they proceed to remove the more lofty or expensive ideas, whittling their list down until it is as cost effective as possible. In this way they’ve been able to cut spending on events down by half, or more, while still drawing Kwantlen students in by the hundreds.

“It’s irresponsible as a club to be using student money to throw on any type of event as we please. We try to be, as much as we can, responsible with the fees and with the funding that the KSA gives us,” says Barungtsang.

Singh believes his club will largely remain unaffected by the cuts, but still hopes to set a fiscal example for other student groups at Kwantlen. “I wouldn’t approve of other clubs just willy-nilly grabbing new things, like shiny new controllers and stuff, so we’re going to act the same way,” he says. “We want to lead the way for other clubs to use as little money as possible.”

When they are not presiding over the Gaming Guild, both Barungtsang and Singh sit on the KSA’s standing committee for student life. Singh was even recently appointed chairperson of the committee, a position from which Singh hopes to “consult” students looking to hold future events on how to be financially responsible.

Taller Trees, Longer Necks

“We are a community that’s all pulling out from the same bucket,” says Singh. “And if a couple of us take more out of the bucket, there’s not going to be enough left for the rest of us.”

One method of keeping the bucket from being completely drained that has been discussed amongst both the student life committee and the KSA executive team has been the implementation of an “invisible bank account.” Under this model, clubs—who are not allowed to hold actual, external bank accounts—could fundraise for the events the wish to hold and “bank” that money with the student association. The KSA, in seeing that that club has taken the initiative to reduce costs to the student body, would then feel justified in allocating funding for their event.

“This is hard to say as a club leader, but I feel like we, as a community, need to start to fundraise,” says Singh. “Even as individuals. As a community of club leaders, we should have a community where we expect to fundraise at least a little bit.”

This increased reliance on fundraising and outside sources for club finances comes as a stark contrast to the previous liberal culture of event spending on the part of the KSA, but Bassi remains optimistic that the budget cuts will ultimately prove to be a boon for student life. “I’m hoping that with the reduction in funding, students are going to step up more and actually have more student life on campus,” she says, “Because when they’re out there they’re going to engage, and so students are going to be more engaged.”

Some clubs, like the Gaming Guild, will likely continue to thrive despite, or in part because of, a culture of scarce funds. But others may struggle to hold events or retain their membership over the coming year.

“I think they just need to adapt to the changes,” says Barungstang. “This is Darwinism. If you don’t adapt you’re going to get left behind. This is the situation that we’re in. We can’t change it, we can’t sit there and complain about. That’s not going to get us anywhere.”