Viking Days neglects students

Last weekend, Viking Days gave new meaning to the rouser lyrics, “Fight on for our alma mater, Augustana blue and gold.”

This year, students fought on through homecoming week, balancing celebrations and the stress of midterms. Meanwhile, administration and the development office fought on to wine and dine alumni, leaving students to fend for themselves.

The alumni experience is no doubt very important to the college, particularly when they bring their checkbooks along for the weekend. However, Viking Days should provide an opportunity for students to celebrate as well.

The most obvious instance of catering to alumni at the expense of students was the bastardization of Viking Varieties. For the 60th anniversary, Varieties staged a showboating assortment of student and alumni acts at the Washington Pavilion, including performances of all three choirs and the orchestra.

For the 25 percent of the Augustana student body that participates in choir or orchestra, the “invitation” to perform meant a mandatory time commitment of no fewer than 10 hours on top of our already hectic schedules between homecoming and midterms.

Additionally, the show was scripted. Instead of going to Varieties to see friends from down the hall in their band or the international student who does stand-up, the audience sat through alumni re-living their wonder years while stumbling through poorly written jokes.

For the nearly two-hour long Varieties show, the choirs, orchestra and other talented students paraded around on stage like show ponies getting the audience more and more excited until president Rob Oliver came on stage to make his grand announcement: the college has raised $18 million working toward a $20 million goal needed to build the new Sven Froiland Science Center.

Great. But why are we celebrating money raised for the science center with an event showcasing fine arts? Couldn’t president Oliver at least have thrown the humanities a bone by suggesting alumni also offer support to the music and theater departments that worked tirelessly to entertain them?

Oliver’s announcement is just the tip of the iceberg. While the choirs were waiting to enter for the finale, we saw bartenders dressed in lab coats, desserts in test tubes and buttons reading, “Sven and Ole support the Science Center Project and so do I!” It didn’t take long to realize that our singing wasn’t the grand finale; it was the warm-up before we discover that money is the real reason for the season.

By the end of the night, I felt like one of the Von Trapp kids, only allowed to come to the party if I sang and danced and behaved myself. I stood there behind a proud Captain Oliver thinking about all of the fun events missed or made less enjoyable with the stress of rehearsal always looming overhead.

The most frustrating part of the whole ordeal was that all along the way students were largely ignored. Those who did fork out $15 for a student ticket to attend Varieties struggled to find a seat between all of the reserved sections for the “friends of the college.” The price of the ticket alone was enough to keep most students from attending the event, which, based on the monetary goals of the event, may have been a strategy to keep the poor students at home and leave room for the donors.

To add insult to injury, a portion of the money used to put on Varieties came from an Augustana Student Association (ASA) allocation of the student activities fund. Student money was used to fund what became a primarily alumni event.

The ultimate success of this years’ Varieties performance came at the cost of alienating students. Those in choir and orchestra were left too tired to “fight on” anymore, and many even skipped the homecoming football game to have a few hours to sleep.

The students that actually did attend the event were forced to watch from the periphery, and the majority of the student body was left back on campus to entertain themselves. During one of the most high-risk party weekends of the year, according to Augustana Residence Life, students who didn’t attend Varieties had no alternate event (unless you count the football party).

Based on how current students are treated, it’s no wonder Augustana administration has to work so hard to get alumni to “sing out thy praises” for their alma mater.

9 responses to “Viking Days neglects students

  1. A much needed perspective, Megan. As an alum, I felt just cheated as the students. My giving will increase much more in the future but it turns out 2 million is a bit much for me as a young alum. But if young alumni are being pressured and tricked into attending giving events (that they once participated in and remember to be light hearted and fun), they will soon disappear entirely.

  2. Megan, parts of this are spot on, some are not. I agree that the announcement was out of place, and a bit deflating to many of the performers. The Varieties show should be about Varieties, period. However, you noted that Viking Days neglects students, but then you say that 25% of the student body was involved. I don’t think that we were “paraded around on stage like show ponies.” In fact, this is quite offensive to the students that put in countless hours in preparation for the show. I think this Varieties performance was the best in years, top-notch even. Also, a part of “Homecoming” is for those who have left Augie to come home. But you are right, the big announcement had no place at the Varieties event.

    • Hi Kade –

      I am an alumni that disagrees with your assessment of this years varieties performance. Not to be disrespectful to any of the performers, but this was probably my least favorite variety show I have ever attended in the last eight years (I realize that’s not many). The Varieties performance lacked exactly what it stands for each year; that is Variety. I thought it was really an honorable deed to try to get as many performing ensembles together as possible, but I don’t feel that varieties was the right setting for this. Varieties for me had been not about featuring our performance ensembles that perform at numerous events throughout the year, it’s about embracing the unique talents that Augustana students possess and giving those students an outlet to perform those unique talents that would otherwise go unseen.

      I am also surprised that no one has mentioned the fact that because varieties was moved to downtown and alumni acts were involved, having one performance greatly limited the number of people that attended the show causing many who would have liked to see the performance, ticketless the evening of varieties.

      Megan – I really appreciate that you posted this and always appreciate conversation around topics like these. Know that students were not the only ones left feeling a little disheartened about Varieties and that a number of alumni (I am guessing Young Alumni that don’t currently have as deep of pockets) too express the same feelings you have.

  3. I didn’t go to Varieties, but know seven or eight alumni who did. “Worst Varieties ever” was a quote being thrown around by everyone. They were legitimately upset about the extreme catering to much older alums resulting in a much tamer (boring) experience for everyone else. If Augie tries to pull that stunt again they’ll completely alienate the (much poorer) student/young alum crowd from a strong Varieties tradition. From what I heard of the experience, “bastardization” seems like an appropriate term for the 2013 rendition of Viking Varieties.

  4. Good article. Unfortunately I feel Augie doesn’t have a choice right now. They are trying to move in a forward direction but are lacking financially. Thus, they need to fund raise, fund raise, fund raise. The hope is the new science center that we have been using as a recruiting tool since my sister was recruited (class of 2007) will bring in more students. And I cannot blame the school for making that strong push this year.

    But what Augie does forget at times however is that college is about students. I could sense the lack of “life” on campus on Friday night which for me was very sad. I hardly saw anybody walking around that night and I know my earlier years were quite the opposite.

  5. Your institution hired a career banker who dipped his toes in full-time academia to be its president. You don’t make a move like that because you’re trying to improve campus climate or cater to tradition. You do that as an institution because you want someone who is connected in the community and can make it rain.

    Why *wouldn’t* the guy hijack a student tradition and turn it into a fundraising opportunity? Short of making the announcement at the football game, what better place to do it than a traditional event that’s well attended and provides a captive audience? And if the feel and history of your event have to be sacrificed at the altar so Oliver can get the last $2 million for a building, well, so be it.

    A shiny new football stadium, new tennis facilities, now a new science building. Gotta raise the money somehow. This stuff doesn’t pay for itself.

    So whether it’s this, or the band, orchestra, and choir tours of seemingly random Midwestern communities, just know that it’s not about you. It’s about raising money, maintaining visibility, and recruiting students. It always has been. It always will be.

  6. As an alumni who participated in Varieties, I feel conflicted. It was the first Varieties performance I have ever attended, and I am glad I got to be a part of it because I believe Augustana is bigger than just its campus and students – it’s a community of supporters, teachers, alumni, students, volunteers, donors, faculty/staff, and others coming together to meet the greater needs of the community, city, and civilization.
    I was very offended by the fundraising efforts at the end, which completely disregarded all of the efforts of the performing arts department. I wish the evening could have been a celebration of the talents demonstrated that night, but instead it turned into yet another way to ask for more money. I love Augie, and I wish that volunteering my time to it was valued as much as donors are.

  7. I’m an alumi of Augustana and I feel as though the Varieties is a giant conspiracy to fund money for Rob Oliver’s massive motorcycle collection. Where are the motorcycles, Rob?! You wild road hog, you!

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