Last Saturday night, droves of beer-soaked refugees fled T.I. after crusty beer stalactites formed on the taproom ceiling. Though members tried valiantly to remedy the issue by assailing the walls and ceiling with the collective oomph of their rippling biceps, the damage was already done. And so across Prospect Avenue did we huddled masses vamoose, only to wait way too long in front of Ivy for a pass. I, myself, was in the midst of a 30 minute wait. Also, I had to pee. Returning to T.I. was not an option; I only brought 1 tube of travel-sized Crest with me. Cottage had more safeguards than a World Trade Organization meeting, and calling a Colonial officer at 12:30 am for the sole purpose of using their bathroom sounds like I badly need a toilet seat on which to snort lines. So into the depths of Quad I descended. For those of you who have not graced the club’s bathrooms with your presence, use them the next time you’re out. Quad’s bathrooms are spacious oases and clean to boot, presumably because so few people regularly visit the club. I only saw about 50 people in the club on my bathroom safari to HAVANA NIGHTS @ QUAD.
In recent years, low turnout has been the norm for Quad; the club is known for 3 things: Lawnparties, cooperating with the Alcohol Initiative, and having the fewest members of any club on the street. Quad has so few members that – in the spring of 2011 – every other club reported an incoming sophomore class larger than all of Quad. Quad’s last big sign-in class was in 2004, when it welcomed 130 members to its ranks. In following years, sign-in numbers dropped to 85 and 70. Since 2006, the club has refused to release specific sign-in numbers, though approximately 45 sophomores signed-in at Quad each year from 2007 to 2011. If we lived in a perfect world, in which attrition did not have to exist, Quad would have a fairly solid 90 members each year. Reality is far harsher. It’s estimated that only 60 students called Quad home at the beginning of this academic year, suggesting that a shockingly high 33% of its sign-ins leave for other dining options.
Quad’s financial records, in the form of IRS Form 990s, show that this general dearth of members has caused the club’s finances to implode. The beleaguered club’s program-service revenue, a indicator for membership size, has decreased dramatically. In the 2005 fiscal year, PQC’s program-service revenue sat at a cool $1,066,955: a figure on par with those of the other clubs. This year, the club brought in a startlingly low $519,242: less than half of its revenue just 6 years before. Quad’s net assets peaked in 2006, when it had nearly $1.4 million in reserve. Since then, the club has drawn as much as $190,000 per year from its coffers. Though the bleeding was stymied by a massive reduction in expenses and dramatically increased alumni support, Quad still lost nearly $500,000 in only 5 years and is left with only $891,840.
Quad’s membership problems are systemic and beset all sign-in clubs to some degree. Whereas bicker clubs are typically associated with larger, more permanent groups like sports teams and greek organizations, sign-ins are like Mitt Romney and have perpetual identity crises. Sign-in clubs count in their ranks students who signed into the club in the 2nd round of sign-ins (i.e. sign-in clubs are sometimes not a first choice.) As such, sign-in clubs’ members tend to be less involved in their clubs than their bicker club counterparts. This helps explain why sign-ins tend to be less financially stable and have less defined identities. Membership fluctuations can be attributed to this as well. With less invested members comes a greater turnover of the club between different groups and, thusly, cyclical membership fluctuations.
Though the cyclical nature of the sign-in system could solve Quad’s problems, the club is not waiting for nature to run its course. Rather, it has mounted an aggressive plan to solve attrition and attract new members. Quad’s solution to the former is to encourage sophomore members to invest in the club by becoming officers, as half of PQC’s massive 28 person officer corps are sophomores. In comparison, the much larger Colonial and Charter clubs only have 17 officers; Terrace has 6. “Literary Quadrangle” also puts effort into advertising. When the club hosts an event, posters are plastered on every signpost and wall on campus, Facebook events scream into existence, and THE EVENT’S NAME IS ALWAYS WRITTEN LIKE THIS BECAUSE CAPITAL LETTERS MAKE EVERYTHING WAY MORE HIP AND COOL AND NOT LIKE A SQUARE DON’T MAKE THAT JOKE ABOUT US AGAIN I SWEAR TO GOD @ QUAD. The club also reaches out to upperclassmen members of residential colleges (i.e. students who do not typically buy into the club system) by offering the most shared meal plans on the street. The club also accommodates financially disadvantaged students, a group tied directly to attrition. Quad also offers a scholarship for senior members who would not ordinarily be able to pay for membership.
Most importantly, Quad’s membership dues for the 2012 – 2013 academic year will be reduced from $8000 to $5680: the price of a residential college meal plan. The graduate board did not commit to keeping the rate beyond next year. Though the move increased the number of sign-ins at Quad by 40%, the estimated 70 sign-ins were still fewer than every other club’s sophomore class. The response was so lackluster that Quad’s Graduate Board chairman Dinesh Maneyapanda said, “The initial response to our lowered rates seems somewhat lower than we were hoping.” It’s easy to see why he was vocally disappointed. Assuming that the club’s current membership is split evenly between juniors and seniors and this plan cuts attrition in half, the club will only have around 92 total members next year – just enough to match the current program-service revenue. Though program-service revenue will remain constant, expenses will increase because of the increase in members. In short, Quad may lose even more money next year.
Given the class of 2014‘s tepid response to Quad’s lowered membership rates and the graduate board’s reluctance to continue the plan, it’s difficult to see the class of 2015 flocking to the club. If Quad’s sign-in numbers remain constant for next year, its membership will probably be around the same size as Cloister’s, if not smaller. Quad, however, will have 30% fewer earnings per person and will continue to eat into its assets. In order for Quad to reverse the negative trend or even break even under this plan, it must have an irregularly large member base or reduce its variable expenses by sacrificing the quality or quantity of the services it provides.
Though the more affordable pricing plan expands the potential member base of “the street,” Quad’s price drop is irresponsible and financially unsustainable in the short term. There is a reason why the club system is more expensive than a residential college meal plan: eating clubs are ghettos of opulence, 11 separate whittlings of our collective being, and so much more than just meals. Dues help pay for alcohol, music, formals, maintenance, employee salaries, utilities, and food. This is a short term, emergency plan with wildly unattainable objectives of attracting enough members to somehow change the student body’s perception of the club. Thus far, this hasn’t happened. At some point in the next few years, Quad must raise its rates back to their former levels or die. But by doing so, Quad will not only alienate the crowd it worked to associated itself with, but will also lose members who can no longer afford the club. I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.