A semi-coherent tirade about the uselessness of the ASSU and everyone associated with it.

Posted by at 12:44AM

I don’t wear a bike helmet. I have lots of undergrad friends. I have social skills. But I’m still a real Stanford grad student, and the evidence is that I just don’t understand why you crazy undergrads give a flying fuck about the ASSU.

And that having of undergraduate friends means I get a continuous barrage of facebook requests to join the “event” that is voting for someone for whom I’m ineligible to vote for some position I don’t care about. (Last year, I summarily defriended one idiot for sending me a facebook IM about the ASSU.) I’ve already been tagged as a picture in one facebook campaign ad. I even got an email from a GSC candidate (at least I was eligible to vote for that one, though it didn’t stop me from bluntly ordering him to keep his stupid campaign out of my inbox). And I actually saw a rally last night. A rally. At old union. A RALLY. For an ASSU election. This annoys me, but I understand that the undergrads have it far worse, because of house chatlists.

To the candidates, as well as those pushing ballot measures and the like, I want to know: why? And bear in mind, I actually support one candidate for ASSU executive, for the first time ever, because I personally know this candidate and know that same is a good person. (Not naming — not endorsing here.) But I still want to know: why on earth are you doing this?

Be honest here. I think the usual answer to this question is dishonest. At best, it represents self-deception, and for many it may represent deception of others. The usual answer is about some cause — this year, it seems to be about diversity. It’s often also about various sorts of university/ASSU reform.

Why do I say that’s dishonest? Because you should all know that if you really wanted to pursue those goals, there would be a million better ways to do so than via the ASSU. The ASSU has no power. There’s very little that the ASSU can actually do to influence university or public policy that determined students can’t do better themselves. Pretty much all the ASSU does is channel money to student groups. Which is great. Fine and dandy. But then why all these elections about all this other stuff?

Here’s an example. There’s this big stink right now going on about ROTC. But wait a second. How does the ASSU get involved? Well, apparently it’s all about having an “advisory referendum” about ROTC’s return.

Seriously? There’s been all kinds of delirious controversy, fights in the ASSU’s “constitutional council” (who cares?), bitchy op-eds in the daily (who cares?), impassioned pleas by other TUSB bloggers, over whether or not the ASSU should hold an advisory referendum??!! Are you people on crack? Anyone who really cares about the issue of transgender representation in the military should be out organizing people to put pressure on political leaders about the policy, or directly on the stanford administration about the presence of ROTC. Not trying to resist some stupid “advisory referendum” that will contribute nothing to actually achieving any political or social end.

It’s laziness. Rather than actually working to achieve the noble causes in which you believe, you fight moronic symbolic battles in a meaningless election for a meaningless entity. It’s also a desire for attention and credit: you’d rather be the politician who gets to claim credit for some achievement rather than the people on the ground actually doing the work to make it happen.

The same sort of question applies to those who want to hold offices because you think you can support things like diversity (stated, always, in the vague and abstract), or other public-spirited causes. Is that really the best way you can spend your time? Or is it just the easiest? Consider this: Stanford has a pretty progressive student body, as do most elite schools. If you personally don’t get elected, the chances are that someone else who supports diversity or whatever will get elected instead. So why are you, personally, running? Do you genuinely think you’ll do a better job of achieving progress in some diversity-related area than the alternative candidates, even though — remember this — the ASSU actually has no power? Or are you just too lazy to find some effective way to achieve your (noble) goals?

Here are some Stanford students with public-spirited commitments who are not lazy: a group is working on bringing a stanford-run homeless shelter into existence. Note that this group isn’t, as far as I can tell, wasting its time in stupid meaningless ASSU fights. Instead, they’re actually trying to achieve something that would actually achieve some concrete good in the world.

So for those of you running for the ASSU for what you like to think, or say, are public-spirited motives, I ask you this: is the time you’re spending on your ASSU campaign, or the time you spend doing ASSU work, going to do more good for the world than the same amount of time spent creating a homeless shelter? If the answer is “no,” and I think it has to be, then it’s about time you reexamine the relationship between the values you claim and the behavior you exhibit.

(Economics majors: the operative phrase here is “opportunity cost.”)

But this, of course, assumes that you actually have basically public-spirited motives. And that’s a pretty hefty assumption. At this rally into which I inadvertently stumbled, I heard Kelsei Wharton (at least, I think it was Wharton, I’ve never met the guy in person) going on about how “we is stronger than I,” and all kinds of similar populist drivel. But this is the same Kelsei Wharton who resisted a cut to his executive salary on the grounds that “We need to get some money in our pocket just in case something comes up.” Previous ASSU executives have looted the expense account. It goes on and on.

I can’t help but wonder how much of the motivation for all of this ASSU activity is a genuine desire to contribute to some good cause, and how much is for the almost $80,000 in salaries that the ASSU pays out, and how much is just simple resume-padding.

And then I can’t help but wonder why anyone bothers to vote for this thing at all (except, again, for student group funds). Hell, why am I even bothering to write this long blog post about this totally irrelevant nonsense?

Oh, yeah, because I’m annoyed by the spam. Right.

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12 Responses to “A semi-coherent tirade about the uselessness of the ASSU and everyone associated with it.”

  1. Joe says:

    ASSU is good training for a political career.

  2. Daniel S. says:

    Concept for next year’s ASSU election:

    Abolish the ASSU.

    Paul for benevolent dictator.

  3. Sj says:

    I miss the Warm Weather Party.

    (For young ‘uns: it was an exec slate that ran several years ago on a platform that amounted to “The ASSU is a joke, so we’ll treat it as such.”)

  4. Rebecca says:

    I second the nomination of Paul for benevolent dictator!

  5. Dave says:

    I am so glad that someone else in the world agrees with me.

  6. Marloes says:

    Hi Paulie G! You know what’s even more ridiculous than the fact that ASSU folks get paid exorbitant salaries for padding their resumes? The fact that they get paid to spam you! I mean it’s great and all that people of all different financial backgrounds can run for office in this little Utopian bubble. BUT, I really think that money could be better used to feed hundreds of families in the DRC or to build a homeless shelter than what it’s currently being used for (obnoxious t-shirts, pizza parties, buying votes).

  7. Angelina Cardona says:

    Paul – the homeless shelter group you referred to is receiving an ASSU Executive Action grant this year to further their research on the possibility of bringing a homeless shelter to/near campus.

    If you want to talk about the ASSU, ask us directly. My email is acardona@stanford.edu and my phone number is 6504508797.

    Angelina Cardona
    ASSU President

  8. Paul G says:

    Angelina,

    I’m glad to hear that the ASSU is funding this genuinely valuable project.

    And I’m also glad you’re here. I’d rather hold this discussion in public than over private e-mail/phone. Can I address a question directly to you? I’m sure you’ve been a good ASSU president (at least, I’ve never heard anything bad about how you’ve been doing the job). But:

    1. How much of your time, both campaigning and doing the job, do you think has been spent on genuinely valuable things like supporting the homeless shelter group, versus less valuable things?

    and

    2. Do you think that if someone else happened to have been ASSU president, the genuinely valuable things wouldn’t have happened? That is, if someone who were, perhaps, less committed or able than you occupied the office, would it have been likely that they would have told the homeless shelter people to go screw?

    Both of those questions go to the overall point of my post, which is that ASSU time, energy, and money is wasted even for those with good intentions.

  9. Robin Thomas says:

    Holy crap. Paul, this is brilliant. Thank you for saving me the trouble of having to write all this out for myself. I’m all for the shadow ASSU (although kids really are so CUTE when they use parliamentary procedure…Aww, who tinks they wook all big and pwofessional? You do! Yeees, you do! Aww! ).

    Today, for executive slate, I voted for:
    1. Herz-Coggeshall, Family for Excellence
    2. Senator Palpatine

  10. Lego says:

    They get paid!!!!!????? Seriously???? Student government is always a volunteer position. This is truly outrageous.

  11. Brad says:

    Paul– interesting stance. Some valid points. Some misinformed points.

    “Anyone who really cares about the issue of transgender representation in the military should be out organizing people to put pressure on political leaders about the policy, or directly on the stanford administration about the presence of ROTC.” Agreed– I think people making this argument will fail to continue the trans movement fight after this on things that are more needed.

    Spam: too much? yes. Campaigning excessive? quite possibly and probably. Is it completely irrelevant? no.

    The argument that it doesn’t matter is ill-informed. I think for graduate life it might be different– what with it being tons of small communities (separated by schools and area of study) as opposed to one large one as the undergraduate population would likely consider itself. I think that the student groups and the activities put on throughout the year are a huge part of undergraduate life and it takes up a huge portion of my social life. Without them, I would probably not have chosen Stanford over other schools. While yeah there might be simpler ways to do it, but the fact of the matter is that the ASSU is full of student representatives will have a huge role in how/what groups get funding. A lot of it is also initiatives of these student leaders that bring about better (or sometimes worse) change to better serve the (undergrad anyway) community. This includes funding grants, being involved with the community, being able to officially support particular fights and struggles of students as a representative of Stanford (Such as the transgender support bill that’s in the works)… among many other countless initiatives.

    The rally you saw was more than just something about the election, it was about the coming together as a community of varied groups– it’s a time where we all (SOCC) work together (one of the few times of the year…) and do something that, we feel is fulfilling to ourselves and our communities and among friends– and if we have to use elections as an excuse to do that, than so be it. I thoroughly enjoyed going to the rally and seeing my friends speak.

    You say that anyone can do their job, and if one “diversity supporter” doesn’t get the job, then another will… but what about the case where say… the Stanford Conservative Society (not to point fingers… but their general stance is quite often opposite of what student groups hold) somehow pulls through with a majority. They decide to make access to student funding more difficult, and go back to that one fateful year in the…60′s? where they decided that all student groups would be self funded and receive no university assistance. The campus lost a lot of what makes it so great. Student groups died… and to us student groups are important. That’s why the elections are important. We have a vested interest. You may not have that same interest, but that’s why only about 25% of the student population rolls out to vote. Because to that 25%, it’s important.

  12. Angelina Cardona says:

    Hey Paul,

    I’ll answer your questions but I want to point a few things out. I get paid $8500 for the year, this is less than I got paid last year to be a freshmen Resident Assistant. I also put in about 4 times more work as ASSU President. On average I spend 40 hours per week doing ASSU work, the majority of which is used at administrator meetings where often times I represent the entire student body, including you.

    For the record, and most importantly, my salary and operating budget does not touch a dime of student money. They come from our ASSU endowment payout and SSE (stanford student enterprises), which is the business arm of the ASSU, that runs a set of businesses so that we can be financially independent from the administration and student money.

    Student money (special fees and the general fee) go directly to student groups and organizations, including voluntary student groups like Students for a Sustainable Stanford, and student organizations like Dance Marathon, The Stanford Flipside, etc.

    I’m also on financial aid and would not have been able to do this position if it did not offer a comparable salary to other jobs on campus.

    Now your questions:

    1. How much of your time, both campaigning and doing the job, do you think has been spent on genuinely valuable things like supporting the homeless shelter group, versus less valuable things?
    I would hope all of my time is spent doing “valuable things.” If you want to know more about the specific projects and advocacy points we’ve been pushing through, let me know what you care about and I’ll let you know what we’ve been doing in that area.

    2. Do you think that if someone else happened to have been ASSU president, the genuinely valuable things wouldn’t have happened? That is, if someone who were, perhaps, less committed or able than you occupied the office, would it have been likely that they would have told the homeless shelter people to go screw?
    There is no way for me to know the full answer to this. I do know that the ASSU Exec Action grants are new to our administration (AKA we came up with them) so if it wouldn’t have been us in office then perhaps the money for this project would not have been available. Additionally, the Chief of Staff we hired is the one who attended the homeless shelter’s group meeting and encouraged them to apply to the program. Therefore, I could also say that we hadn’t picked such an awesome COS then perhaps we would have never been connected to the homeless shelter initiative. Of course this is all speculation, but just some things to think about.

    Angelina

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