How much are you willing to pay for a good laugh? For The Stanford Flipside, seven grand is fair game.
In its latest issue, The Flipside announced that it has requested a Segway in its special fees budget for next year. The Segway appears as a $7,000 “Equipment Purchase” in The Flipside’s actual budget, viewable on the ASSU Elections website. The Flipside staff aren’t making any attempts at subtlety, either; the futuristic electric vehicle comprises just under half of the club’s $14,400 funding request.
The funny thing is, they’re only half-kidding. According to the club’s President, Jeremy Keeshin, “One of our goals with the Segway is to call attention to a lot of the line-items in other groups’ budgets that are easily overlooked. There are groups with $80,000 or $100,000 budgets that may include way more than $10,000 of unnecessary spending but are overlooked because of a large budget. We encourage you to look for the Segways in other people’s budgets.”
Keeshin has a point. KZSU, for instance, is requesting almost $30,000 for their salaries for their officers. The Stanford Daily continuously asks the student body to chip in for their printing costs, for which they last year received $89,500; The Daily claims that the money is meant to serve as a small subscription fee for campus-wide service. Meanwhile, Stanford students happen to be very generous when it comes to the budgets of student groups. They rejected just six special fees requests in 2010, and rejected none of the requests in 2009, in the trough of America’s lingering recession.
This does not mean The Flipside won’t run into some opposition. The ASSU Senate Appropriations Committee may not appreciate the joke, which means that the club will need 15% of the student body to approve their special fees request. (For general information on the special fees process, see the ASSU protocol and a more realistic version of their well-meaning flow chart.) For students, however, the joke might be worth the cash; each undergrad would fork out a mere $2.07 for The Flipside’s overall budget.
The prank could also succeed in pointing out some flaws in the special fees system. There is a big difference between budget items looking reasonable and being reasonable. How can one sincerely expect students to account for $4,000 worth of food over the course of a year within a reasonable margin of error? Student groups clearly need money for the events they put on; that I will not contest. However, setting aside money for a whole year without being able to predict all of the modifications that might happen along the way might not be the most efficient way to do it. In such cases of uncertainty, the natural tendency is to give one’s club a certain amount of breathing room in order to avoid being strapped for cash towards the fiscal year-end.
This reality is what The Flipside claims to address with its new budget request. According to Adam Adler, Managing Editor of The Flipside, “We want to point out the ridiculous nature of the special fees process in which groups with legitimate budgets are turned down by the Appropriations Committee and then have an incentive to artificially inflate their budgets using the special fees process. We also kind of want a Segway.”
Assuming their intentions are sincere, The Flipside’s staff could claim victory regardless of the outcome of their Segway endeavor. If they lose, they succeed in getting students to scrutinize at least some of the special fees budgets on this year’s ballot. If they win, they get the satisfaction of having snookered the entire student body into buying them a holiday present as ridiculous as the people who voted for it.