Author Archive - Josh

About Josh:

I'm Josh--I graduated in 2011 with a degree in Public Policy. I was in charge of the blog from 2009-2011. Thanks for reading!

Dorm Fund Fail: The Inadequacies of Current Dorm Social Refund Policy

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Every person in a dorm or house pays social dues at the beginning of the year, and the dorm uses that money to plan and execute events for the dorm community. The dorm is supposed to use all of that money, and many dorms do. But in some cases, for whatever reason, a dorm does not use all of its social money. For example, I ran into a bunch of people this week who casually told me that their dorm still had 10,000 dollars.

Common sense would dictate that unused money would go back to dorm members; as it stands, though, housing policy prohibits this action.

Currently, if a dorm has leftovers, “any unused money will be funneled into a fund allowing [dorm] alumni to plan reunion parties.” The dorm is not allowed to refund money, nor is it allowed to use it for any other purpose than future reunion-type social events. I can see this being well-intentioned: housing wants to encourage dorms to use their social dues for social events, and if there is the possibility of refunding money or donating it elsewhere, dorm staff might feel pressured to not plan events.

The problem is that the system fails in reality. Dorms like the one above with huge surpluses are never going to use that much money for dorm reunions, if they even occur. As a result, these dorms have thousands of dollars at the end of the year and very few days to either spend it or essentially lose it. So they do what most people would do: they spend it in any way they can, which usually means going out to dinner with a small group of people from the dorm at the most expensive restaurant they can find.

This is not to vilify those people who do this: they are using money that will otherwise go to waste. But I believe we all can think of many more useful ways to use this money if the policy were to allow it: namely, either refunding the money back to residents or donating it to a local charity. Since some dorms still have leftover funds even with a policy that prohibits any incentives to not spend it, it is clear that some dorms will just not use up all their money. To not have a more flexible refund policy in these cases is extremely inefficient, not to mention frustrating.

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The 3rd Annual Unabridged List of Suggested Dorm Themes

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Institutionalized punnery doesn’t get much better than Stanford’s annual dorm themes. But even the most pro-pun RAs can’t do it alone, and that’s where I step in to lend a friendly, possibly not-PC hand with my list of annual suggestions for themes for each dorm and house on campus.

This tradition started two years ago, when, as part of the student sketch comedy troupe, The Robber Barons, I spearheaded the creation of a list of fake dorm themes. That list is available here (on page 2), and that got such a positive response that I did it again last year here on TUSB.

Welcome to version 3! Special thanks to fellow blogger and Robber Baron Carlo for helping out with this year’s list. I will be graduating this year, and thus not doing this again, but hopefully Carlo as well as some others can come together to keep doing this crucial, crucial public service for the Stanford campus. Without further ado, the list of what I suggest should be the themes of Stanford residences next year:

Stern, home of Academy Award Winning-Dorms

All parties in Serra will end in a Bollywood dance number.

-THE LARKING’S SPEECH
-MILLION DONNER BABY
-BURROKEBANK MOUNTAIN
-TITWAINIC
-ON THE ZAPATERFRONT
-SLUMDOG MILLIONSERRA

Wilbur

-OTER AND SPACE MUSEUM
-SOTO AND GOMORRAH
-CEDRIAN BRODY
-JRO MAGUIRE
-ARROYO LA TENGO
-TRANCOS (0) = 1
-HOSNI MUBARINC
-MUAMMAR OKADAFFI (Manages to make MubaRinc look like a nice guy)

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When Mailing List Incompetence Meets Internet Memes

Monday, April 11th, 2011

This video makes the entire mailing list fiasco worth it.

The Moral Implications of Special Fees

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Student election season is here again, which mostly means that a bunch of freshmen are scrambling to find rides to Kinko’s to print their best puns. Regardless of which 15 undergraduates are elected to the ASSU Undergraduate Senate, this year’s campaign season has brought to light a far more interesting, and far more contentious, aspect of the elections process: student group special fees.

I think it is fair to say that just about everyone is confused about special fees. Special fees is an amorphous vat of money outside of general fees to fund student groups that can’t be funded through normal bureaucratic channels, and as such it is inherently confusing: since it is essentially impossible for the average student to try and understand the intricacies of the ASSU funding system, let alone each of the 600 student groups’ funding needs, voters are unable to understand why or for what a group should receive special fees.

If this chimpanzee had applied for special fees, he would likely have been violating the principle of universalizability.

Because of this system, groups take advantage of the system and stretch the boundaries of special fees legitimacy. This issue was brought to light by the special fees petition of the members of the Stanford Flipside, in which they requested 7,000+ dollars to buy themselves a Segway scooter. The Flipside’s satire attracted a fair amount of attention, and certainly achieved its satirical mission: it made clear that the special fees process has enormous, easily exploitable loopholes. The Flipside has exposed the problems with special fees that other groups have been abusing for years. The actions these groups are taking are, in my opinion, wrong: it is immoral for students to game the special fees process at the expense of other students. But why?

After thinking about this issue, I believe it is possible to create a coherent moral justification for rewarding special fees money. There are right and wrong actions for student groups requesting special fees to take, independent of other student groups’ actions or the rules of special fees. Just because the law does not prohibit an action does not make it morally justifiable, nor does the fact that other groups are acting immorally condone one’s immoral actions.

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The Important Distinction Between the University and its Students

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Very briefly, I want to point out a disconcerting issue that has come to light in the wake of, but is certainly not limited to, the Daily’s article on the course list available to athletes and the subsequent reaction to it. No matter what is said, the entire debate seems to have failed to distinguish between the athletic department and student-athletes themselves, which is a very dangerous conflation. The argument is focused on ‘athletes vs. non-athletes’ or ‘some students vs. other students.’

Let me be very clear: I am deliberately refraining from making any commentary on the article itself, or its merits or flaws (commenters, I’m serious about this). I am neither defending nor supporting the article. That is a debate for another place, and this is a commentary on the state of discussion, not on the specifics of this case.

The idea of combining together the policies of an institution with the actions of its members is one that I believe very negatively contributes to discussion and makes it very hard to sort out some of the more important issues at stake. The policies of the athletic department, like those of the University as a whole (or a company, or a government, etc.), should be open to criticism; student-athletes themselves, or all students and their contributions and merits, should not be. I think most, if not all of us, can agree that student-athletes work incredibly hard both on the field and off of it; this does not mean, however, that all athletic department policies are ideal, or even good, just as criticizing Stanford itself for many of its policies is not a criticism of the students who attend, feel a part of, and are the life and blood of this school. When the discussion becomes centered on attacking or defending the behaviors of students, it quickly loses sight of the real issues at stake and the possible fruitful outcomes of the discussion about the policy are lost.

As a policy student, allow me to offer up a politically-based analogy. Many people, myself included, disagree with the Bush tax cuts for those Americans earning over $250,000 per year. I think this policy is a bad one. But does it mean that I think all people who make over $250,000 per year are bad? Absolutely not. Nor do I believe that these people contribute less to society than other citizens. Criticizing the tax cuts is not a criticism of those who are affected by the policy–it is a criticism of the policy itself.

Again, I am not judging or commenting on the merits or content of the ‘list’ article, and this is obviously a simple commentary on a very complex and multifaceted controversy that affects many members of the Stanford community. But to promote full discourse on any subject, now or in the future, we will all be better served if we keep in mind the crucial distinction between the policies of an institution and the actions of its members.

Last Chance: Enter Our Six Word Story Contest!

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Showcase your creative talent and send us your best six word stories before it’s too late! The contest ends at 11:59pm tonight (Sunday, Feb 27), so don’t miss out. You can email them to us at stanfordblogging AT gmail DOT com or comment them below or tweet them at us with a hashtag sixwordstory.

Full details here.

Good luck!

Complaining: Helping Create a “Better Stanford” or Being Ungrateful?

Monday, February 14th, 2011

It’s no secret: I like to complain. See here. Or here. Or here or here. You get the idea.

Is there value in complaining? I certainly hope so–otherwise, I would be wasting a significant portion of my time. Many of my complaints (and others’) have sparked discussion and entered a more general discourse, which I believe contributes to addressing the problems we face and hopefully improving the status quo. This is the general idea behind the recent “Make Stanford Better” project headed by Robin Thomas ’12. An open Google Doc for people to “vent” their criticisms of Stanford, or, as Thomas states:

I kept marinating on my own beefs with Stanford, and wanted to see how other people were feeling. Maybe if everyone’s frustrations were written down in one place, it would be easier to get some things changed.

So what frustrations were shared? Over 100 of them. Allow me, as a self-determined complaint expert, to highlight what I see as the most insightful comments:

Stanford is a great brand name, but I honestly don’t feel like I have gained meaningful academic experiences. Think about it: How many classes at Stanford can you say that you have loved? I can only name two that I haven’t found until this quarter. Winter quarter of my junior year! For a school that emphasizes following your passion and giving back, we sure do get caught up in grades. We say that we are only in competition with ourselves, but that’s untrue — at least for me. I find myself comparing myself to others, because how else are you going to measure your success? Now I know that we don’t have to compare ourselves to others, but Stanford doesn’t facilitate personal academic advancement. It’s not about learning. It’s about getting good grades, which doesn’t fulfill me if I can’t take anything away from it.

Many people on the spreadsheet agree that grades and learning are mutually exclusive: you either get good grades and learn little, or attempt to learn and get poor grades. I agree with this sentiment and how unfortunate this is, but am personally torn by it. I want to learn and I want to not care about grades, but the importance of getting good grades still pervades my life and definition of success. The definition of success also comes up a few times, but I think one important point is missed: Stanford and all of us encourage and seek out an achievement-based definition of value; in other words, the only items that carry value are those that can be quantified in terms of achievement. Socializing is inferior to being in a group because being in a group is a quantifiable and recognizable achievement but just getting to know people is not.
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The Failure to Prioritize the Arts at Stanford

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Stanford is not a school generally known for its arts programs, and if you ask anyone who has any knowledge of Stanford, they’ll tell you flat-out that there is not much of an arts scene on campus. Arts are certainly not at the forefront of campus culture and not valued as highly as other pursuits.

Stanford Drama put on a highly acclaimed production of Rent in Roble Studio Theater. Since then, that space has been completely shut down by the County, leaving many performing arts departments and groups in even more need of adequate space. Photo from Stanford Drama.

In recent years, the University has made an ostensible push to try to improve the state of the arts on campus. There’s the Arts Initiative, replete with a snazzy brochure. There’s the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA), which has, among other endeavors, hosted a number of meetings of student arts leaders to try and brainstorm ways to increase the presence and ubiquity of arts at Stanford. All of these efforts are important and crucial to making headway in the fight to make the arts better. But despite the work of these groups and the University’s claims to the contrary, the University continues to make large-scale decisions that make it very clear that the arts do not have first priority at Stanford.

For those who live in the West Campus boonies and like to work out, the recent news of the Board of Trustee’s approval of a new gym on Roble Field is good news. For those of us who know the story of the old Roble Gym, however, however, the decision is less unilaterally positive.

Roble Gym, which has its own Wikipedia page, is a gorgeous early 20th century building. The Athletic department occupied Roble Gym until the new gym, the Arrillaga Center for Sports and Recreation (ACSR), was built in 2004. The Athletic department moved to ACSR and gave most of their building over to the Drama and Dance departments. There was a huge problem, however: as an old building, Roble Gym has many problems, most notably a failure to comply to more modern fire and other standards. Neither the Athletic department nor the University wanted to, or still wants to, pay the heavy costs to retrofit and upgrade the building–it’s pretty expensive, and in very poor shape. (Take a look at the locker rooms, for example). In the years since the Drama and Dance departments took over the building, Roble Gym has essentially been condemned and parts of the building, including the main theater space, have been completely shut down by the County. For departments already significantly struggling with facilities–one higher level administrator noted, “Many junior high schools have better [drama] facilities than Stanford”–this has made it nearly impossible for any theater on campus, including any student groups that perform, to find space. And the problem extends to all of the arts: musician and Daily columnist Lucas Johnson can tell you about the state of the music facilities on campus.

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Arrillaga University at Palo Alto: Figure 1

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

The East Campus Dining Commons apparently has a new name. Now, “I’m going to Arrillaga” can mean you are either working out or doing exactly the opposite. (H/T Ellen at the Daily for the photo)

Never heard of this Arrillaga before. Is he a donor?

Roe v. Wade in White Plaza

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Every year, pro-life students gather on the anniversary of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade and plant “memorial” flowers in White Plaza as an anti-abortion demonstration. Today, the pro-choice students took to the plaza as well, vocalizing their (opposing) position a friendly ten feet away. Just like the crazy bible guy who shouts in White Plaza sometimes, the flowers in White Plaza have become a staple of free speech at Stanford–and an annual reminder that social conservatives still exist on campus and are really into planting things.

And while it’s good to see free speech alive and well, Stanford still has free speech issues: namely, that White Plaza is a “free speech zone” and the rest of the University isn’t.

I'm not very good at math, which I why I try to avoid it at all costs.

Pro-choice churned out t-shirts on which you could choose what you wanted to write.

What Do You Think: Andrew Luck Returning to Finish His Degree

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Andrew Luck, Stanford quarterback/Heisman runner-up/Orange Bowl MVP, has chosen to put off the NFL for another year to stay at Stanford and finish his degree in architectural design. If he were to go, he would have been the presumptive number 1 choice, probably earning more than $50 million guaranteed right away.

What do you think?

Is Andrew Luck's Decision to Stay at Stanford the Right One?

View Results

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The Orange Bowl: A 501(c)3 Non-Profit?

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

What you should know: The #4 Stanford football team is facing off against #13 Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl.

What you might not know: The Orange Bowl is hosted by the Orange Bowl Committee, a tax-exempt non-profit organization whose mission is as follows:

The Orange Bowl Committee is a not-for-profit, 330-member, primarily-volunteer organization. It is a self-sustaining, independent organization that supports and produces activities and events that enhance the image, economy and culture of South Florida.

This sounds surprising for an event that generates huge amounts of money. Guidestar, the nonprofit database, reports that the Orange Bowl Committee has a total revenue of about 41 million dollars and expenses of about 34 million dollars. See graphic for full details.

However, not everything is peaches for the Orange Bowl Committee: the anti-BCS PlayoffPAC has filed a complaint with the IRS that the committee violated its 501(c)3 tax exempt status by treating its members as well as directors of other programs to a lavish Caribbean cruise. PlayoffPAC co-founder says:

This year’s Orange Bowl participants, Virginia Tech and Stanford, will again lose large sums. These loss payments aren’t just to keep the stadium lights on. They fund four-day Caribbean cruises for Bowl officials and athletic directors. If the BCS system actually served schools’ interests, BCS Bowl officials would cut these types of unnecessary costs rather than extract subsidies from cash-strapped colleges and universities.

If true, this would be particularly troubling for an organization that additionally receives, according to Guidestar, over a million dollars annually in government grants. (H/T Rob Reich for the story)

A Response to The Outbreak of IFS: Taking the High Road

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

The Internet is an extraordinarily powerful tool, and one that has completely retooled the mechanisms of personal expression. Here on TUSB, it allows any student to join the campus and worldwide discussion. Free speech works most powerfully when all ideas are able to be brought to the fore, which is also why we have a “comments” section on articles to foster discussion. We began TUSB with a mind to encourage students to write about topics on which they feel strongly, regardless of whether they are critical, laudatory, or somewhere in between. Many times, important and justified criticism (or, for that matter, praise) can not only open up the discussion but actively work towards fixing the problems at stake. See Jon Stewart’s brilliant, impassioned segment on the Zadroga Bill that undoubtedly had a powerful influence on the bill’s recent passage.

But there is one problem: allowing for greater expression also results in expression that is not constructive. Perceived anonymity causes people to forget that they are, in fact, humans [for a great read on the topic, try Stanford Professor Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect, chpt. 13] and engage in oft-egregiously obnoxious ways.

On the Web, this is called “Internet Fuckwad Syndrome.” See graphic.

At TUSB, we do not allow anonymous posting, but we do allow anonymous commenting, as outlined in our f.a.q. (which, to be fair, I wrote). As a result, we sometimes receive inflammatory ad hominem attacks in the comments section. If there’s a slightly more controversial article, there is the chance that the errant malevolent comment could incite a deluge of similar comments, resulting in what the CDC would label a “full IFS pandemic.” As TUSB became (and continues to become) more popular, it was only a matter of time before this happened.

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Tumblr: Redefining the Repetition Joke in the Internet Age

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

On his blog today, David Pogue of the New York Times highlighted the brilliant humor of Amazon.com comments sections of fairly ridiculous products. He writes, “You can say what you like about the Internet—it’s filthy, it’s addictive, it breeds isolation. But man, it’s also the greatest platform for humor the world has ever known.”

While this is quite the lofty statement, the ‘repetition joke’–one based on a consistently reiterated premise–seems to have found a breeding ground on the Web in the form of Tumblr blogs (referred to as the tongue-twisting ‘tumblelog’). Tumblr is an extremely simple blog platform that usually takes the form of a one column vertical blog in which each post consists merely of a picture and a caption. Or, in humor terms, the opportunity for each post to be a joke. The simplicity of Tumblelogs makes them perfect vehicles for a repetition: the blog itself becomes a category, and all the posts are variations on a theme within that category. Quick, easy, and if done right–hilarious.

The concept of simple blog-as-one-joke-pony has certainly been around longer than Tumblr; lolcatz and Cake Wrecks are just two of many comedy blogs based on specific categories that predate Tumblr. The simplicity of Tumblr (plus the ingenuity it seems to attract), however, has made these blogs even more accessible and far easier to read. In just a few minutes, and for free, your joke is out there for the public.

I now present my top 5 Tumblr blogs. Enjoy…

Garfield without Garfield

Garfield without Garfield is “a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb.” Really, anything without Garfield is better.

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Follow-up: Debating Harbaugh’s Salary

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled, “No, We Should Not Pay Jim Harbaugh More Money.” Not surprisingly, this generated a lively, and mostly fruitful, discussion that included a number of War and Peace-length comments. I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the points from the comments and also offer a few more rebuttals.

But first, two important items of business:
1. Congratulations to the football team–they’re going to the Orange Bowl in Miami to take on my cousin’s beloved Virginia Tech Hokies.
2. Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby has already offered to “sweeten” Jim Harbaugh’s contract to try and convince him to stay.

Now, back to business. One popular argument in favor of raising Harbaugh’s salary is that it he brings in more money for the school (or, more accurately, the Athletic department, since both his salary and the resulting benefits are essentially self-contained within Athletics). As Tkim writes:

Football has the chance to fund every other program in the athletic department (if Josh, you would actually come to the games). The ROI on the investment is much higher with Harbaugh.

This is true, but using this as reasoning creates a problem. If what matters is the amount of money brought in, there are a number of other obvious ways we can increase this quantity. The first is obvious: we can stop holding our student-athletes to high academic standards. Every year, our athletics program turns away thousands of talented athletes because of insufficient academics. Accepting these athletes would undoubtedly make our football program better and therefore more lucrative, but does that mean we should do it?

My guess is that most, if not all, Stanford supporters would be against lowering academic standards because considerations outside of football are important. Harbaugh himself has been vocal about the importance of putting the student in student-athlete. At other schools, football players are students in name only (see: Heisman-trophy winner Cam Newton of Auburn). But that’s not adequate reason to say that we should allow that.

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