University to shut down ‘WestFest’

Daina Amorosano

Due to concerns about student safety, liability issues and a covenant with the township, the University has decided it can no longer turn a blind eye to the unsanctioned events on West Campus that have gone on during NovaFest weekends in recent years, according to Vice President for Student Life Rev. John Stack, O.S.A.

“When student government had reps come forward to start NovaFest about 13 years ago, we had some concerns about it, but we decided to go ahead and give it a try,” he said. “It was really an outdoor concert on Sheehan Beach with student bands and entertainment. For a short time, there was a lot of cooperation, and the event went as students said it would.”

But as the event evolved, it became bigger and more out of control, according to Stack.

“Unfortunately, what I observed was droves of students walking from Main and South [to West Campus],” Director of Public Safety David Tedjeske said.

 The outdoor drinking event on West Campus that some people thought was NovaFest was never NovaFest, according to Stack.

“We’re looking forward to students cooperating and understanding that this event can’t be held –– we can’t condone a large gathering of underage people, many of whom get drunk,” he said. “When we think about all the days of the year we don’t have a problem, it’s tempting to look the other way.”

Legal and liability issues come into play, though, according to Stack.The law in Pennsylvania has changed such that furnishing alcohol to a minor no longer means simply giving it to them, according to Stack.

“If we can predict [when there will be underage drinking], we’re publicly breaking the law,” he said. “And if someone leaves and gets in an accident, the school’s liability insurance can’t protect anyone.”

The problem with the unsanctioned events on West is more than a liability issue, though, according to Ken Valosky, vice president for administration and finance.

“We understand that students want to have a good time, but when we’re faced with year after year of underage drinking, it’s not only a matter of what’s legal,” he said. “Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our students, which is what has motivated us. From a safety perspective, we’re obligated to address that situation.”

Administrators ruled out the possibility of hosting an “over 21” event on West Campus due to a covenant with the township that the University entered when it began to build there.

“Especially if we’re looking to develop Father Peter’s mission for the University, we need to honor that covenant and be respectful neighbors,” Valosky said.

The decision, then, to crack down on the underage drinking that goes on en masse on West Campus during the traditional NovaFest weekend is absolutely understandable, according to Student Body President Dan Gelwicks, who was chosen as one of the leaders of this year’s NovaFest committee.

“The students were a big part of the discussion,” Tedjeske said. 

But while the decision to eliminate the unsanctioned event on West was the first thing decided as a committee, some pushed for another event that would include the entire community, according to Gelwicks. Planning for an alternative outdoor event that would take place on Sheehan Beach, with alcohol served to 21-year-olds with wristbands, was cut short when the committee suddenly dissolved in the wake of a decision to pool resources to bring a bigger act for the spring concert. 

“It was a student-driven decision to have The Fray and not have an outdoor event,” Tedjeske said.

However, this decision was made without the input of the committee, according to Gelwicks.

“We decided to pool our resources to go for the opportunity to get The Fray,” Director of Student Development Tom Mogan said. “After consulting with CAT, we made the decision to support the concert and the band –– in terms of name and putting the money behind it.”

Not all student leaders were happy with the end result, according to Mogan.

“I’m pleased to have a big name [The Fray] come to campus,” SGA Treasurer Will Thompson said. “But I would have liked the other event to come to fruition.”

That other event was meant to alleviate the problems associated with an unsanctioned event that involves underage drinking, while providing an outdoor, capstone event for students. Public Safety will communicate with students about the end of unsanctioned West Campus events and notify Radnor Police beforehand, as well as have extra staff on hand, according to Tedjeske.

“Hopefully it will be a lot for nothing,” he said. “We’ve got the best kids in terms of quality and character of person. Students will get the word and cooperate.”