Although the African-American Cultural Awareness Association (AACAA) and the Multicultural Lecture Series will bring former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume to the College on Feb. 16, his presence here could have amounted to a $22,000 mistake.
Although SFB later voted to approve a $17,400 bid, AACAA initially agreed to pay a $22,000 bid for Mfume before the organization had the money or asked the Student Finance Board (SFB) for it.
Since a bid is a promise that an organization can afford the price named in the bid, an organization is required to apply to SFB for funding before placing any bids on a performer.
AACAA’s contact person, Josh Baker, was primarily responsible for negotiations between AACAA and Mfume’s agent. He made the bid.
Craig Gross, SFB chairperson, said Baker felt the phone discussions he had with Mfume’s agent were only a tentative agreement and did not constitute a binding bid.
The agent, however, felt that the phone conversations meant Baker had made an actual bid, leading to the trouble with SFB.
In response, Baker denied that a bid was ever made and called the entire situation a misunderstanding.
Baker declined to comment.
To save the College’s reputation in its business dealings with agents, the board agreed by a 10-2 vote to approve the $17,400 bid, but not before Gross dodged questions from board members about the offer at SFB’s Dec. 13 meeting, saying that if Mfume had to “take $17,400 or not come, I think he’d take the $17,400.”
Gross discussed the possibility of offering Mfume $13,900 to $17,400 from SFB and $3,500 from the Multicultural Lecture Committee.
Tim Asher, SFB advisor, said that if the board approved the modified $17,400 bid, AACAA would send a new, revised offer to Mfume, essentially asking him if he’d take something lower than the bid he had already been agreed upon.
The reaction from the board was of both anger and surprise. “(Funding) this will reinforce irresponsible behavior,” Ravi Kaneriya, Student Government Association (SGA) representative, said.
“I’m really of the mind they need to bake some cookies and wash some cars,” Julia Pratt, director of communications, said.
“To me, they’re done. It’s blatant disregard for the campus community.”
But Gross warned that reneging on the offer without making another bid would damage the College’s reputation with the agency that represents Mfume.
“If we zero-fund, then ultimately the company will be expecting us to bid another performer with this event with them,” Gross told the board.
“It’s not a legal thing but an ethical thing,” Asher said.
The SFB manual and policies make it clear that all expenses must be approved by SFB before a bid is made, but AACAA did not follow that policy.
Why AACAA did not follow the policy, however, is unclear.
Brittnei Wilkins, AACAA treasurer and a freshman representative to SFB, said that she knew few details about the bidding process with en Fume and was not involved with it at all, except to sign paperwork.
However, according to SFB policy, an organization’s treasurer is responsible for making sure an organization’s expenses follow SFB guidelines.
Over winter break, Mfume accepted the $17,400 revised bid, but the entire process was a headache for SFB and an embarrassment for AACAA.
“Tim (Asher) and I need to make sure we keep this from happening again,” Gross told the board.
Asher said that organizations that are looking to book a speaker should make sure they have the costs calculated in advance and resist pressure from agents.
“The best thing you can tell an agent is you want information only,” Asher said.
“If the agent gets pushy, tell them you can’t spend money on your own. Then they’ll usually back off.”