A Few Words on Hubris

Posted by at 10:22AM

Hubris is defined as “extreme haughtiness, pride or arrogance.  Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.”  In ancient Athens, hubris was a legal term and “was also considered the greatest crime of ancient Greek society.”

I bring this antiquated verbiage to your attention because I fear that, to a certain extent, Stanford student government is falling victim to it.  In a recent email, “Stanford 2.0” (cringe) declared itself to be “The World’s Most Effective and Innovative Student Government.”  From a scientific perspective, this is fascinating to me.  On precisely what basis are these claims being made?  Which metrics prove us so far superior to the thousands of other student governments throughout the world that we can claim to rise above the rest?  How does one quantify innovativeness?  These claims are staggering, and I’m really curious to learn how they managed to survey the entire world over just one summer.  Efficiency, indeed!

But let’s step back a moment to reflect upon the substance being quantified: innovation.  What defines innovation within this context?  Our current cabinet prides itself on its ability to manipulate social media.  In the brave new world of “Stanford 2.0,” Stanford students are bombarded with a bewilderingly endless stream of tweets, hashtags, and websites from our dear leaders.  And don’t forget the whiteboards.  Oh, baby, gotta love those whiteboard flashmobs.  However, in the day-to-day life of a Stanford student, little seems to have changed.  Axess is still inefficient, chatlists are still spammy, and the ASSU still spends embarrassing amounts of time discussing balloon pillars.  Our current leadership might want to stop inhaling the Expo fumes for a bit and take a step back.

Inspection of the Evidence

"2.0": What was so wrong with Stanford before that we need a whole new version?

To provide a fair assessment of the executive at hand, I turned first to their own website.  While the itemized section titled “Platform: Building Stanford 2.0” provided a dazzling array of selections (though I might note that “FGLI” is both confusing and inappropriate-sounding), I was very surprised not to see a single mention of the humanities. Since 71% of all declared students are within the school of Humanities & Sciences, this seemed to me to be a significant oversight for an executive so proudly committed to a thorough representation of the whole student body.

But don’t get too down-hearted, humanities.  While “Tech / Engineering” got a list of 9 action items, the suggestion for increased community service amongst tech types merited a grand total of “set[ting] up more social good focused coding events.”  Never mind those crazy kids in Engineers for a Sustainable World, Engineers Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Stanford Wind and Energy Project, etc.  If it can’t be construed as “social entrepreneurship” (whatever that means), according to Stanford 2.0, it isn’t engineering.

I proceeded to the Stanford 2.0 section on the arts.  For which there was a whopping total of two initiatives, succinctly summarized as “make a website and create an arts organization for facilitating communication.”  Hm.  I Googled “Stanford arts” and the first hit led to Stanford Student Arts (studentarts.stanford.edu),  which provides a well-developed and populated website with extensive information on media, events, news, and making connections within the arts community.  It looks like it takes more than a flashy website to accomplish change.

Trawling the Stanford 2.0 website, I also noted the platform’s avowed priority on “connecting better with students.” This struck me as ironic.  During their campaign, I received several form emails from the 2.0 campaign addressing me as “Kristina,” a name I haven’t gone by since the second grade.  But perhaps my definition of a personal connection with student government differs from theirs.

So I gave Stanford 2.0 the benefit of the doubt.  I read through the recent ASSU email (which was cut off by my Gmail account for exceeding length limitations).  For a platform ostensibly promoting transparency and connection with the student body, a laundry list of 27 blueprints and “hundreds of initiatives and projects” (Michael Cruz, 8/27/11) hardly renders Stanford student government more navigable.  On the bright side, I am glad to see a czar devoted to “Undefined ’11-’12.”  I feel safer knowing that Stanford has a representative capable of handling crises as diverse as rogue unicorn attacks and house-elf uprisings.

Perusing their extensive “blueprints,” I was also tremendously excited to note that the “Stanford 2.0” approach to creating an effective Executive Committee involves “asdf” (see p. 4).  This, ladies and gentlemen, is innovation.

Commentary from the Peanut Gallery

Please don’t get me wrong.  I want Stanford student government to succeed.  I love this school with all my heart and soul, and I want it to be the best that it can be.  As a passionate advocate for all that is Stanford, it is my very love for this institution and the people that make it great that drives me to demand higher standards from my student government.  Did you know that both members of the ASSU Executive receive salaries of approximately $8,000, derived from our student fees?  For eight grand, I’d like to see a little more dedication.

Dedication, my friends, is not joining the Axe Committee so you can get the shirt and run on the field one day.  Dedication is not making a flashy website about change.  Dedication is pursuing change by DOING.  Not brainstorming, whiteboarding, or flowcharting.  We have become so enamored of the Silicon Valley dot-com mentality of sticky notes and action plans that we forget the importance of just going out and getting your hands dirty.

I have seen the movers and shakers on Stanford’s campus, and they are not in student government.  They’re too busy.  They don’t have time to keep followers (real and purchased alike) updated on every bragging point and bowel movement on Twitter (#numberTwo # touchdown! #ilovefiber).  They don’t depend on clichéd, corporate motivational phrases (“let’s go!”, “promote synergy!”) to inspire their contingencies; they ARE the motivation.  They lead by doing, not by proselytizing and pontificating.  I’ve seen real change through leaders in Circle K who spend their weekends ripping weeds out of forgotten nature preserves.  I’ve attended inspiring cultural performances where ethnic and social groups advocate through art.  I’ve witnessed generations of inspirational engineers leave their mark on the Solar Car team, constantly pushing the bounds of solar technology.  I’m a supporter of spontaneous Haiti relief fundraisers, women’s rights vigils, and philanthropic sporting events.  I am a fan of action.

Social media is a powerful tool, but it is all for naught if it fails to accomplish tangible change.

So why the essay?  I’d like to encourage our ASSU Executive to think outside the box of “social entrepreneurship” and instead consider taking action in a visible, tangible, widespread way.  I would also encourage them to drop the pretentious titles and taglines.

Because if someone addresses me as “Stanford 2.0” in a form email ever again, I will scream.


24 Responses to “A Few Words on Hubris”

  1. Derek Ouyang says:

    I support every single point that has been made in this essay.

  2. Dan Thompson says:

    Hey :). Upfront full disclosure – I’m the Chair of Entrepreneurship so am obviously biased. I’m just going to give my two cents on a few of he major points.

    First, I think it’s a bit preemptive to say that we haven’t seen change on campus given that the school year hasn’t started yet. Every member of the cabinet has awesome initiatives planned (asdf aside), but none of them have gotten off the ground a full month before school starts ;). As to why Michael asserted that we were the most innovative student govt before these initiatives have begun to reach fruition- you’d have to ask him, but I believe the idea is that we want this year to be awesome unlike previous ASSU administrations and so were starting with lots of enthusiasm / setting the bar high. If you don’t like the branding, totally understood, but the goal is to provide lots of substance.

    Regarding substance, I think it’s a bit silly to say that Stanford2.0 is primarily about social media or that those who are active on Twitter can’t actualize serious changes. Right now were in the “marketing phase,” which makes sense because it’s e beginning of the year. Just like a cappella groups are going to be in white plaza letting people know what they’re all about to build enthusiasm and recruit members, the ASSU is going through that process right now. Ultimately, the goal is to execute on huge projects, not just toot our own horn.

    Finally, there seemed to be a lot of comments against planning, flowcharts, blueprints, etc. I’m all for spontanaiety, but I’ve never worked on a major project that succeeded in the absence of clearly detailed agendas and action steps. It works great for something short term or with a small group of people, but name a big company that works without clear objectives and metrics. It’s about keeping people accountable so you could rightly and objectively accuse us of screwing up if we haven’t kept to pace at the end of the year. Transparency is huge, at least in my opinion. Stanford2 is trying to achieve a lot, and without large (even by Gmail standards) emails and blueprints, we would be doing students a disservice by glossing over the details and promising pie in the sky.

    Anyway, I think your article was really well written, and I love controversy and criticism :). I do hope though, that Stanford2, and the entrepreneurship variant e2.0, blow you away by the end of the year ;).

  3. Kabir Sawhney says:

    The points raised in this commentary are many, but I’d like to respond to a couple of items in particular. First, the ASSU Executive regrets any errors or typos that slipped through the cracks as we produced and published plans for Stanford2.0’s initiatives for this year. Many of our plans are currently still in draft form, and have yet to be completely finalized.

    Though Kristi may have taken issue with many of the specific details of our plans, I must reiterate that the ASSU Executive remains committed to improving the experience of all Stanford students, regardless of major. This year, our team has chosen to pursue the ideal of “The World’s Most Innovative Student Government,” finding new, fresh solutions to the challenges that face our fellow students.

    We have chosen to bring an entrepreneurial mindset to this year’s ASSU, and have devoted countless hours to developing ideas and initiatives that will be put into action once students return to campus in one month’s time. Yes, the set of “blueprints” may be extensive, but that is merely a reflection of our desire to be as comprehensive as possible. Above all, I can assure you that next year’s ASSU Executive team will be dedicated and unafraid to, as you say, “get our hands dirty” and affect change at Stanford.

    Kabir Sawhney ’13
    ASSU Executive Press Officer

  4. SQ says:

    “though I might note that “FGLI” is both confusing and inappropriate-sounding”

    FGLI stands for first generation and/or low-income. I’m sorry that the life I’ve lived leads to a confusing and inappropriate sounding acronym.

    Seriously? I think this goes to show why we need FGLI intiatives!

  5. Concerned Student says:

    First, it’s not technically the case that the year hasn’t started. The Exec team has been in office for over 12 weeks now. It is understandable that most initiatives have not been kicked off since the new school year hasn’t started and it is harder to get traction during the summer. However, I do think it is an institutional problem with the ASSU that the “ideas” stage lasts for almost half of the ASSU term until about the end of October. I hoped that this would change this year, but from reading the blueprints, it seems like the “ideas” stage is FAR from over and implementation is months away. When goals are still “Pass tons of good legislation” and “Collect initiatives from students and admins”, it’s hard to have much hope for an effective year.

    About the “Stanford 2.0” and the most innovative student government ever – it is really ALL just marketing and branding. It is incredibly smart though – by calling it the most innovative, some people will delude themselves into thinking that it really is. What is it really? The most techie-centric student government ever. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of technical innovation, I’ve taken my fair share of CS, and I do support the incredibly generic “entrepreneurial spirit”. But these have very little to do with the practical results that people want on campus. I’m sorry but new websites are hardly the answer to almost any problems at Stanford.

    I agree that the Executive’s ideas concerning humanities and the arts are quite frankly demeaning and insulting – not just from the blueprint, but from the previous [ridiculously long] campaign platform as well.

    I’m sure every member of the Cabinet has great initiatives and would love to act on them, but just think about it. Given the ASSU’s limited resources, do we actually expect even half of them to succeed? (especially the annual pointless goals of “promote feelings of belonging” or “build sense of community”) Probably not. But I do give the Cabinet members a sincere good luck in trying to do their best.

    On an unimportant note, though, I completely agree that the Executive’s use of hashtags on Facebook is completely ridiculous and annoying.

  6. @SQ says:

    I definitely agree that the first-generation low-income community (which I am part of) needs more substantive initiatives, and I am honestly so disappointed that Michael and Stewart have placed so little emphasis on it. But the acronym FGLI is indeed unfamiliar to many people, and it does sound a little inappropriate.

    This is one are that I sincerely hope that the Executive will make a larger priority. I forget the exact number, but the FGLI community is something like 12-18% of the student body. That’s not only a huge number, but it’s a number that has barely been addressed by the ASSU in any administration.

    Good luck with your work as FGLI Chair.

  7. @Stanford2.0 says:

    Two things:

    (1) Lol (actually) – why do we have an ASSU Executive Press Officer? This is so hilariously pretentious that it can’t be true. I bet it’s a joke.

    (2) If Exec really thinks the average Stanford student is going to read through that entire email they sent out (or even HAS the time to), then it’s clear that they are already incredibly out of touch with the student body. We get a lot of email; we don’t have a lot of free time. And while long emails riddled with shortened URLs might technically fit the definition of transparency, if no student has the time to sift through it all – what’s the point?

  8. Annoyed Student says:

    I completely agree with all of the points in the above essay. I have been a part of the ASSU in the past and still regularly work with them and I know that in the past I have viewed the ASSU as inefficient and full of many kids just on a power trip. I will give this administration the benefit of the doubt, but there may be reason most of the senators in the ASSU are rarely juniors and seniors, most upperclassmen have lost faith in their student government by their third and fourth years on the farm.
    I can live with an inefficient student government because I still love Stanford otherwise, but what annoys me the most about this particular ASSU Executive is how pretentious and douchey they are making “ALL” Stanford students appear. If I was an incoming freshman this fall and I received the ASSU Executive’s last e-mail, I would look at it and immediately be under the impression that the next four years will be spent listening to douche bags talk about how great they are, instead of meeting some of the greatest people on Earth who’s actions speak for themselves. So, if this Executive wants to be taken seriously, I would recommend removing the label “The World’s Most Effective and Innovative Student Government,” so as not to be interpreted as “The World’s Most Pretentious and Conceited Student Government Full of Douchebags on a Power Trip.”

    – An Annoyed Student who does not want to be viewed as a jerk by the rest of the world because of this ASSU executive

    Also this e-mail makes me think were going for number 1 on the list below of “Douchiest Colleges in America,” I’m always a fan of winning but we gotta pick our battles a little better.


  9. Jaded Student says:

    I just flipped through the website and I feel like a lot of it is cross-posting action items from other sections in order to bolster the weight of the section. I know the counter-argument will be “but they are issues that apply across multiple … section things” or whatever they’re called. But still. I think I saw “Gender-Neutral Bathrooms” in like 5 sections. Someone probably should have done a cardsort or some sort of User Experience testing beforehand to decide where all of that stuff goes.
    Also, as a coder, I am frankly kind of put out that the only way that they think we can give back to the community is through “code for change” hackathons. Sure, I spend a lot of my time programming, but maybe I’d like to have a wider variety of offerings to choose from. I code for class. I code for work. Even so, I don’t really know if the entire definition of me is “someone who codes”, and I would appreciate that being known.
    I also enjoyed that every single category had a catchy title except for the ones under the “Grad” section. Just made me chuckle a bit.
    But enough of my complaints. The best laid plans, as they say, and I’m seeing a lot of plans here. I’ll bite my tongue on the rest until after school’s had a bit–because as previously noted in the comments, you can’t expect your student government to accomplish much during the summer, especially when some of the initiatives include things like “better Freshman roommate selection”, “lower parking permit prices” and a whole lot of “meet with administrators to discuss Fall Quarter Options.”
    Ah, I already bought my permit.

  10. Recent grad says:

    Even as a techie, I’m disturbed by the lack of attention paid to the humanities.* Sure, we need smart engineers and coders. But we also need those engineers (and everyone else) to have an understanding of history, politics, social issues, and probably other things I’m missing to be able to affect change.

    I wish I had some more concrete suggestions (perhaps for something the ASSU could add to their todo list) but that may be asking a lot for Sunday morning.

    *I also want to point out that saying 71% of students are in the school of H&S does not support your point. The problem is a lack of focus on humanities, not a lack of focus for math, bio, or other sciences in the school of H&S.

  11. Jaded Student says:

    Totally just realized that I did get that e-mail, I just didn’t notice how long it was because GMail clipped the message.


  12. Stanford 3.0 supporter says:


    “I’m all for spontanaiety, but I’ve never worked on a major project that succeeded in the absence of clearly detailed agendas and action steps.”

    Of course. You *clearly* did not work for Facebook in the early days. And if I recall correctly, those guys did some world changing.

  13. nick says:

    Thanks for the article, Kristi. While I do think it’s a bit too early to criticize the ASSU, your post brings up numerous points that I find notable and interesting.

    In defense of Stanford 2.0, the concept of “bringing the spirit and methodology of social entrepreneurship to student government” is unique, if not innovative. As a student whose been well exposed to the D School’s approach to design, applying design methodology to student government is a promising idea buried beneath “The World’s Most Effective & Innovative Student Government.” That said, as previous replies have stated, a unique approach is not enough, and I am curious (and hopeful of) what Stanford 2.0 will actually “do” come the school year.

    Looking over the email, the number of separate blueprints and the “hundreds of initiatives and projects” seem rather disconcerting to me. It looks like a divide-and-counquer approach, but I doubt that many of these initiatives will have a noticeable impact. It would be much better if there were just a few good projects as opposed to hundreds with little effect. Personally, I would like see two alterations:

    1.) Less focus on applying technology and more focus on real-life student interaction. As an old-fashioned student who still takes notes on paper(who still does that these days? =P ), I’ve already had enough with the extent that we have to rely on our laptops, and would much rather see work done on consolidating existing websites together and reducing the time I need to spend on my computer.

    2.) More focus on bringing together the student body. Many blueprints are for specific student groups, but I’d like to see more fostering of the student body as a whole. Considering the aforementioned problem of not focusing enough on the humanities, I don’t think this is an easy task and I unfortunately don’t have any ideas regarding it at the moment.

    That said, I wish Stanford 2.0 good luck for the fall and thank you for the work you’ve been doing this summer.

  14. Recent Graduate says:

    The fact that Macgregor-Dennis used a service to get twitter followers (probably paid) is just a total sign that these guys are idiots on a power trip. I’m not confident having what amounts to the “TechCrunch Fan Club” running the show is particularly inspiring.
    I see their goal as to become relatively well known in the valley tech circles while doing practically nothing of note and masking the fact that they are at best mediocre technical minds. Then they can graduate, create the next Pets.com, and run away with the money to Tahiti while their VC backers are left out in the cold. And they’re conning the entire student body into propping them up because there are no real alternatives. Props to them for their enthusiasm, but being legit is what counts here. Given the intelligence of the electorate here we shouldn’t be voting for the loudest people in the room all the time…

  15. Jonathan Poto says:

    I appreciate the ambitiousness of the S2.0 government but they have clearly spread themselves too thin in trying to address every major campus issue, and instead of doing a great job on attainable issues they have put themselves in a position where the people with talent are all stuck on their own island projects rather than working together to get stuff done. The reality of entrepreneurship is that great products are not created by individuals but by dedicated teams. Look at how many executive positions our president and vice-president have created we clearly see that the talent and dedication required to make such effective teams has been sabotaged. While in theory it is ideal to have a student government succeed with numerous, in the words of our government,”huge” agenda proposals, the reality is that not all of our 6,500 undergraduates (or whatever the number) are as committed to becoming a part of such projects. When you only have 12 months to make such projects happen, you better make sure you’re 100% capable of turning such projects into reality or else you’re wasting the talent of the people in your organization. I love the enthusiasm of S2.0. It just needs to be focused. Instead of turning the ASSU into the next Apple, S2.0 should be satisfied if they can first create one or two great products.

  16. Don’t Blame Me… says:

    We have no one but ourselves to blame for this convoluted inanity. We, the voters, are responsible for continuing to install these yahoos every April.

    Though, I proudly voted for Tenzin-Vasquez…

  17. Crystal says:

    Kristi you have set the bar before the coming school year. I hope that this post drives more people to speak up about what they want from the ASSU rather than be dazzled by all they claim they’re going to give us.

    At this moment, I have one very basic demand – bring back the assu.stanford.edu website! After this extremely long post that goes over the campaign website/promises, I find it ironic that the primary gateway to the ASSU is down until further notice. Even if the ASSU hasn’t been as efficient as it could have been over the past couple of years, they still ALREADY provide a ton of services students appreciate. I was going to actually check out their book exchange link.

    Can the first action be putting back up the website? Please?

  18. @IKnowRight says:

    I think it’s funny that the web designer took down the deadline for updating the ASSU website.

    As of a week ago, it said that the website should be up and running by about August 10.

    Great results so far Cruz-Macgregor-Dennis…

  19. If Only the Student Body Listened… says:

    I didn’t vote for this slate either. I wish more students educated themselves on the slates and special fee groups before elections. Don’t forget that Flipside’s budget included a $7000 segway, although I secretly love that it passed just to show the ASSU that they have serious issues.

    I headed the Stanford Daily’s warning about this slate, and I wish more student did too:

    “The Board was gravely disappointed by the interview performance of Michael Cruz ‘12, who appeared to defer to Macgregor-Dennis on most issues, did not correctly match his statements to the platform points listed on the slate’s website, and gave indirect answers to straightforward questions.” –Editorial: Editorial Board endorses Tenzin-Vasquez for ASSU Executive
    Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 . The Stanford Daily.

  20. George says:

    GO KRISTI! Loved this post. Literally was rolling on the floor after the comment about the arts website, which I use very frequently to check out new arts-related opportunities and events on campus.

    A personal anecdote: I have been approached by this new executive slate twice about tightening relations between Stanford Alumni Mentoring, which I now run, and ASSU. Both times I followed up, and both times I heard back nothing in return. This was worse than not being contacted at all because I felt like I had been treated as a check-box. If Stewart and Michael are sincere in their goals and intentions, and at the moment I will give them the benefit of the doubt, they should be more careful about how they interact with people who are willing to help them.

  21. Thank god… says:

    That engineering at Stanford finally has an advocate. Damn humanities, getting all the attention.

    Good on you, guys.

  22. Dan Thompson says:

    Lol I gotta say “Recent Graduate” had a pretty awesome post lololol.

    This was one of the funniest and most biting lines I’ve seen in a while: “I’m not confident having what amounts to the “TechCrunch Fan Club” running the show is particularly inspiring.”


  23. No kidding says:

    Thank God someone’s finally calling a spade a spade. Does anyone outside the ASSU actually think that its members do anything but pad their resumes? Talk about a power trip! At its core, the problem very well may be that the ASSU is simply trying to tackle too much. The price is that #littleisaccomplished and their credibility is #shot. But too much to do shouldn’t deter the world’s most innovative student government, right? Which, by the way, doesn’t sound like brilliant marketing to me but rather more like the tagline of a
    3 AM infomercial.

  24. Senior Engineer says:

    @Thank god… : The head cheerleaders of “the world’s most innovative student government” are not representative of the engineering/science departments here. Most of the cabinet aren’t representative either, and the majority of the community action members aren’t even declared–because they’re probably all underclassmen like the senators or are really slacking into their junior year.

    The better representation of engineers here are the people most don’t know of. They fly under the radar because they’re spending their lives in the labs/shops doing something productive, whether it be building a shelter for the homeless, making a part of a space module to help deep space orbital missions, putting together a racing solar car, dissecting drosophila testicles in the name of cancer research, using Kinect detection software to spearhead research in helping the blind cross the street, or finding ways to reduce unstart chances in X-51 scramjets so we can bomb insurgents more quickly (I kid, I kid).

    The second cheerleader-in-charge may be a CS major, but he’s not even close to climbing to the same league.

    All in all, I just want to sell some books and refund some fees through that crummy but usable ASSU website. I wish they would bring it back–and not in “2.0” form either.


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