Executive members voice strengths, flaws with club system

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

With around half of all undergraduates at Western involved in a club on campus, it comes as no surprise the University Community Centre atrium is bustling again for Clubs Week II.

The clubs system includes approximately 18,000 members and appeals to every niche, be it cultural, political, spiritual, philanthropic or social. Yet even with its reputation as offering the “best student experience,” Western still has some kinks to work out of its system of almost 230 clubs.

University Students’ Council VP-student events Rich Caccamo oversees the entire club system with a team of specific individuals charged with ensuring clubs adhere to USC policies. The primary body dealing with club governance is the Clubs Policy Committee.

One club-related issue Caccamo regularly encounters is insurance. Clubs, he said, are divided into high, medium and low risk categories and assessments by the USC determine the premium paid by each club.

The USC also oversees the planning of any off-campus events and requires information on transportation, numbers of people attending and the location of the event.

Caccamo emphasized the importance of insurance and well planned club events. “We have to be cautious, we have to be safe ... without insurance, clubs wouldn’t exist " the USC wouldn’t exist,” he said.

However, some clubs find the bureaucracy of Western’s club system frustrating. UWO Debate Team President Dan Van Kessel complained the USC required 21 days advanced notice of an event the group had and requested specific details, including student numbers and vehicle assignment.

Western Sikh Students’ Association VP-finance Sundeep Yashpal has also felt annoyed in the past by the USC’s regulations.

“When running an event, you have to go through so many hurdles ... there really can’t be any spontaneity, which forces some clubs to hold events outside the USC.”

Yashpal pointed out how some groups might label actual club events as non-club related in order to avoid a logistical mess.

Caccamo defended the USC’s cautious attitude and noted many clubs simply do not realize the value of insurance.

“Even at a simple team meeting, anything could happen,” Caccamo noted.

Other clubs see the USC club policies as flexible and fair.

“[The USC] has plenty of liability and they give students a lot of freedom,” noted Carly Ekstein, vice-president of the Style Society.

Clubs charge a small fee for a membership from which a portion pays insurance. The rest funds initiatives and events, which often require booking venues on campus.

Many clubs also feel booking fees are a significant drain on their budgets.

“Our club has to be careful with event planning to avoid [booking] costs because we are a non-profit student group with minimal available funds,” Leah Meidinger, president of STAND Western, said.

“Through talking with other clubs on campus, it appears that the cost of renting gym space or large meeting rooms is more than many clubs can afford.”

Lindsay Traves, president of Hockey Night at Western, said such costs take a huge portion of money raised through membership fees.

“If you wish to give out swag or plan events that cost money, you have to upcharge members,” Traves said, adding her club has recently had to double its membership fee to $10.

In terms of space available for clubs’ use, offices and lockers are in high demand but hard to obtain.

“Every club is entitled to a locker,” Caccamo said. “But not every club gets one.”

Caccamo said office space is currently limited, with only four available for club use. Every two years, the clubs that are assigned to offices are reviewed based on criteria like membership, the club’s need for space and their ability to hold office hours.

“There is nowhere for clubs to store their stuff year-round,” Traves said. “As a club, we have tons of signs, banners, swag, jerseys … which are not safely stored in our student houses.”

Caccamo was quick to admit the lack of club space and assured the USC " recognizing clubs’ desire for both meeting and storage space " has pushed for more offices, storage facilities and programmable space to be created in the upcoming UCC renovations.

Regardless of complaints, applications for new clubs continue to mount. This semester alone, Caccamo said the USC received over 40 new club proposals.

However, not every proposal makes it to the ratification stage. Issues like overlapping causes or lack of student interest can prevent a club from being accepted.

The CPC assesses club proposals based on criteria such as uniqueness and student interest. Caccamo said over a quarter of the proposals this semester were approved.

Overall, executives from different clubs, both new and old, had mixed feelings on their dealings with the USC.

“We were just ratified last December and so getting used to the digital paperwork that accompanies any event can be time consuming,” Julia Beltrano, Visual Art Supporters’ Association co-ordinator, said. “But the USC staff ... have been very helpful.”

“In general, USC clubs are treated fairly,” Meidinger added. “Specifically, however, it is problematic that there are so few days where the [UCC] atrium is free for clubs to use.”

In the coming weeks, The Gazette will continue examining the clubs structure on campus, exploring the nature of clubs and examining what constitutes a club today.

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