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
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.