ASUN is reconsidering the manner in which it puts on student conferences after concerns have been raised as to how much these events are costing compared to the relatively few students that are attending the events. Photo courtesy of Ronan Farrow.

ASUN is reconsidering the manner in which it puts on student conferences after concerns have been raised as to how much these events are costing compared to the relatively few students that are attending the events. Photo courtesy of Ronan Farrow.

By Kenny Bissett

Alex Bybee, the director of Legislative Affairs for the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, is spearheading an effort to restructure the series of five conferences that ASUN sponsors annually. Bybee and other members of ASUN government are discussing plans to potentially decrease the number of conferences in the future in order to put on conferences that are more cost-effective and attract more students.

“Part of the issue stems from lack of student interest,” Bybee said. “We do a lot on our end to market the conferences and perhaps it’s a branding, a messaging failure on our end … it seems that the biggest point of weakness for the conference series is not being able to garner that student interest and attendance.”

Bybee was inspired to reanalyze the structure of conferences after suffering low student turnout and an admittedly high per student cost to sponsor the civic engagement and service learning conference that he coordinated. Ronan Farrow, the keynote speaker of the conference, charged ASUN $18,250 to speak, amounting to upwards of $200 for each student that attended.

“I guess the biggest concern is when you look at how much we’re spending,” said liberal arts senator Ashley Tarchione. “The amount that we are spending per student on a lot of these events … it’s not intentional … it’s just really disappointing to see such a low turnout, and it’s not something they can predict.”

One of the goals of restructuring the conferences that ASUN hosts is to make conferences more cost-effective. One way to do this, according to Bybee and others involved in the discussion, is to decrease the number of conferences from five smaller events to one large, annual conference.

“In my opinion … there is a negative net-benefit per student by these conferences,” said ASUN Vice President Elliot Malin. “We’re spending a lot of money and we’re getting very small turnout … we really need to rethink and restructure the way we’re doing these (conferences) because right now we’re not getting the turnout we need to make these cost-effective.”

According to Bybee, the central focus of the latest conference was “to foster a culture of service within our student body.” Although only approximately 40 to 50 students stayed for the  community service portion of the conference, Bybee said that the success of a conference should not be judged based on the per-student expenditures.

“I was really impressed with the turnout that we got,” Bybee said. “Or rather, the commitment that we got from the students that did attend and their buy-in into the conference.”

According to ASUN President Ziad Rashdan, the association plans to use this year’s conferences as a learning experience for planning successful events in the future. Conferences for the 2013/2014 academic year have already been scheduled and organized and therefore, no restructuring efforts will take effect in the near future.

Bybee’s efforts to establish a subcommittee to analyze the reconstruction process are to provide a “strategic vision and some recommendations that have been made by the subcommittee for the conference restructuring” to the executive branch of ASUN in the 2014/2015 academic year.

“We have the potential, it’s just a matter of changing the campus culture,” Rashdan said. “Do I think we need to look at the exact money spent? Absolutely. But I still believe in the conference series that we put on. I was 100 percent in support of what Director Bybee did, and I think his conference went well and represented the institution well.”

According to Bybee and others in ASUN, UNR students are not necessarily focused on serving their community or devoting an entire eight-hour day to a conference, which they seek to change.

“Community service and civic engagement … creates an overall more balanced person,” said Lexi Jacobson, the current chair of the committee on civic engagement. “College just isn’t about growing academically, it’s growing as a human being. I feel like community service and civic engagement definitely aids in that.”