After spending 50K per year on going to school, college students are notoriously poor. And when you take multiple college students and put them together, you get a student group–which, to no surprise, struggles equally to get any sort of funding.
For many years, there has been one loophole in the funding system–ASSU Special Fees, which allows groups to get funding directly from the student body. Essentially, in the past, student groups who wanted to increase their budget by more than the ASSU can give them need get 10% of the student body to sign saying they should be on the ballot, and then get a majority of the student body to approve their request.
This seems fairly stringent, but there is one problem–Stanford students are too nice. Every spring, student groups advertise heavily and even go door-to-door (or other) asking for signatures (which they invariably get); then, on the ballot itself, nobody has time to go line-by-line through the budget of every single student group on the ballot. So people assume the best, and, every year, every group (or almost every group) gets approved for their fee increases. See last year’s results here.
There is more, though–some groups requesting fees not only ask for things that the rest of the student body should probably not be paying for and allows some groups to make the student body pay for the same exact expenses that other groups (also made up of poor college students) are paying for themselves.
This is not to say that all groups receiving Special Fees do not deserve it. Of course, this is all opinion–the Review, for example, always has its say on things. Special Fees does also go to support programs like Pacific Free Clinic, offering free medical care to those who cannot afford it.
And, finally, any Stanford student can get a refund on Special Fees (refund.stanford.edu; login required), which removes the per-student contribution from the group and gives it back to the particular student asking for a refund. Not surprisingly, using the refund tool carries with it a stigma of being stingy and not helping out fellow students–which goes against every Stanford student’s ideal of being nice to everybody.
With all of this in mind, it is clear that Special Fees needs an overhaul; ASSU senator Alex Katz ’12 proposed a new bill, passed last night. The article is not very specific on the changes, only that it would make it harder for groups to obtain funding and try to combat the problem of every Stanford student saying ‘yes.’ Katz says:
The fact that no one says ‘no’ is also a part of the problem.
If the group needs and deserves the funds of Special Fees (as voted on by an informed student body), then it is crucial that the group receive special fees through the student body. But if the group should not get this funding, it is also important that the student government, in the interests of both incentives and economic constraints, not award money to any group that just asks.
Of course, after the new proposal passed, there were other problems. From the Daily article:
Although the vote had technically passed, widespread confusion and dispute erupted when several senators realized that they had misunderstood the voting process.
Even if there is change in the Special Fees process, at least student government isn’t about to abandon its old habits. Some things never change.