Many of you may have seen my recent post on the campus’s meme page calling out the wasteful spending of the campus Korean American Student Association, or KASA. To recap: KASA was given more than $19,000 this school year, making it the second most-funded student group on campus.
Let’s not forget that there are other existing clubs with such egregiously wasteful budgets. KASA’s issues, however, are indicative of greater systemic issues within the funding system for student organizations. Its ludicrous budget, combined with its questionable practices and funds usage, is proof that there needs to be serious reform in how the ASUC handles budgeting for student organizations.
Firstly, KASA, although a cultural club by name, operates primarily to organize socials such as parties and concerts. This semester, the club invited Keith Ape to host a concert for it — a major artist who came with an equally major price tag.
Additionally, KASA has a reputation as a partying and drinking club. Many KASA members have stories to share about this — including my own experience at KASA events — where alcohol flowed freely and I was never once asked to pay. The only culturally relevant event it hosts is its annual culture show. But this event is typically held at Anna Head Alumnae Hall, which is inexpensive — it usually costs the club $850 for the night, but sometimes it’s even been free. The performers at this event are also always volunteers, incurring zero expense. But at the end of the day, the cost of putting on the performance is irrelevant, since KASA actually charges admission for the show. In other words, the bulk of the $19,300 budget that KASA is given each year goes toward entertainment for its own members.
The ASUC would claim that KASA deserves its budget because of the high attendance of the events mentioned above, but the basis of that claim relies on the assumption that these lavish events should be funded by the ASUC in the first place. If these events are so popular, the ASUC should create admissions fees for the events instead of preemptively charging the entire student body to pay for a single club’s self-indulgent activities.
Ironically, the club’s culture show — an event that actually enriches the campus — is one of the very few events that it happens to charge admission for, while it decides to fund countless wasteful acts of hedonism through its ASUC funding. Don’t get me wrong — I am all for clubs having fun. But they should be having fun on their own dime, not on mine or that of other students who want nothing to do with them.
While I believe that no social-oriented club should ever exceed the budget of a club seeking academic enrichment or the social good, I realize that this is a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, the criteria by which clubs are given funding for social events should be consistent. The Chinese, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese Student Associations combined get less than $15,000 of funding, which is more than $4,000 less than KASA alone. Additionally, KASA’s excessive budget for social events is especially harmful, given that many clubs that positively enrich the campus community do not receive similar privileges. For example, Computer Science Mentors, or CSM, is a club of similar size to KASA that provides tutoring for students in lower-division computer science classes. Yet it has only received a mere fraction of the amount of funding KASA gets each year. Why doesn’t CSM get funding to throw concerts with big-name artists? Additionally, the Berkeley Food Pantry provides sustenance for students who struggle with food insecurity — it’s a service critical to student welfare. And yet, according to its leadership, it struggles to find enough money to operate, let alone splurge big bucks on socials.
The other elephant in the room is that KASA may be abusing its excess of funds. For instance, using ASUC money to reimburse food or drink purchases is prohibited by the ASUC. However, it is common knowledge that KASA parties often feature free alcohol. These two factors together create a massive smoking gun, which has led many to suspect the club is misusing its funds. While it is possible that its alcohol expenses are fully covered by member dues, given the nature and the scale of its funding and events, I believe that this should warrant an investigation.
I am sure KASA is not the only social-oriented club that is grossly overfunded. This problem is a pervasive and systemic issue in the ASUC. But funds from the student body should not be spent on partying, especially when there are other clubs with significant operational funding needs. I also believe that clubs such as KASA have a moral obligation to understand their limited role in potentially contributing to the greater social good of campus. They should realize that by taking such an obscene sum each year, they are inherently depriving much worthier clubs of their own funding.
Personally, I recommend the following: First, the ASUC needs to revise its formula for determining club budgets. The formula should be structured in a way that gives precedence to clubs that work to help the entire student body and gives less to clubs that will spend the money on social events that don’t contribute to the campus’s social welfare. Second, there needs to be a thorough audit of KASA to quell the prevalent suspicion that they are misusing their funds to purchase alcohol — although splurging it on famous artists is also a gross misuse of students’ tuition money. Third, I implore the leadership of KASA and similar clubs to reflect on how their actions impact other campus organizations and, in the future, to approach their budget requests with less gluttony.
Jack Wang is a junior computer science major at UC Berkeley.