Archive for the ‘ASSU’ Category

Party With Fees: A Lighthearted Rant

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Would you like $250 $140? Right now? Free and clear? How about every quarter? Yeah, so would I. However, unlike most random hypothetical questions, I can actually deliver on this one. $250 $140 of your tuition per quarter automatically goes to special fees. However, saying as you don’t ever actively consent to this distribution of funds to various student groups, the ASSU would be in something of a legal snafu if they didn’t give you the option of taking the money back at some point. So they do. For the first two weeks of every quarter, you have the option of waiving the money you paid for special fees. It’s really that simple. You can get a refund for $250 $140 worth of special fees every quarter. The solitary attached string? The leadership of groups that get special fees are allowed to request a list of students who waived their fees and may bar those students from using their services. But that’s seriously it. Now some food for thought: what could I buy with the $750 $420 a year that I currently spend on special fees? Here’s my short list:

 – A boatload of Philz coffee

Seven Four trips skydiving

– One of those giant stuffed trees from the bookstore

– A romantic weekend in Tahoe

– My weight in marshmallows

– *Part of* The mens water polo team

– Parking for my entire Stanford career ~two years

– A flight to somewhere very far away

30 17 cases of Two Buck Chuck

– Half an Ochem textbook

– An iPhone 17

3 2+ Dance Marathon pledges

– The worlds most hipster bike

Someone to slap me when I procrastinate (could definitely use one of those right about now…)


The Golden Rule

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Yes, I am writing about the ASSU election.  Yes, a lot has already been said.  I am writing anyway.  And even though while I type this, I feel like a mom lecturing her badly-behaving children, I still think it deserves to be said.  Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.  The message is simple.  Every human being deserves respect.

Sure, Stewart MacGregor-Dennis has put himself in the public sphere.  He has allowed every detail of his life to be published, for the entire world to see.  He holds elected office and is running yet again.  His platform, the job he has done this year, the current ASSU election system — these are all valid things to question and be critical about.  However, disagreeing with someone and dragging their name through the mud are NOT the same thing.

It is easy to sit at your computer and post a status, send an email, or write a blog post saying something not-so-nice about someone else.  You don’t have to face them in person.    You don’t have to think about how your comments might make someone else feel.  Instead, you just have to write and press post.  Voila!  Now your opinion is in on the web, for anyone and everyone to see.

But let me tell you, your words have power.  They have the power to make others laugh, the power to foster introspection, the power to spread knowledge.  And among many other things, your words also have the power to hurt.

I would know.  A year or so ago, I published a blog post, for TUSB in fact, about a internet site called Total Frat Movement (TFM).  I was bored during break, found out about the site, and decided to write about it.  In the end, it was a rather strong criticism of way in which the website portrays Greek Life to the world.  In the end, TFM ended up linking my post in their head bar.  The post got over 200 comments, most of which were extremely negative.  These people called me everything from stupid to fat and ugly.  And while, I knew that none of these things were true and these were people that I had never met and know nothing about me, those comments still hurt me, just as I am sure, the things said about Steward hurt him.

These posts, these statuses will live on the internet forever.  When someone googles his name (maybe an employer), the post you wrote will pop up.  It will and has affected his life.

One of my favorite things about Stanford, and one of the main reasons I decided to attend this university, is the type of people it has attracted — brilliant, passionate, fun, warm, kind people.  This is not the foot we are currently putting forward.  If I was a prospective student reading this back- and-forth, I would get the picture that Stanford is a cut-throat environment, where peers are constantly bringing each other down, trampling over each other to get to the top.  This is not Stanford.  It is certainly not the Stanford I fell in love with as a ProFro and the institution I am proud to say I belong to.

So as the election finishes up and the results are released, please remember to respect your peers, whether you agree with their positions or not.  Really, we are all just doing our best to get by in the world, to follow our dreams, to find our passions.  And frankly, that is hard enough as it is.

Why I Dropped Out: an Editorial from a Former ASSU Candidate

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

James Mwara '13, who recently withdrew his candidacy from the ASSU Executive race.

The following post is from James Mwaura ’13, who recently withdrew from the ASSU Executive race with his running-mate, Charles Mbatia ’13.

It is with great disappointment that Charles and I are announcing the end of our campaign. It seems we attempted to climb a mountain too high, faced a tweeter/video blogger too relentless, challenged a political schematic too masterfully designed to maintain the status quo. We attempted to play Ralph Nader in a Bush-Kerry election, assuming Bush was of less-than-wholesome mental stability and Kerry backed by a not just the Democratic party, but an organization deemed so righteous that challenging it would be abandoning all political sanctity. We entered this election with a goofy grin on our faces and a catchy campaign slogan, and leave with a piece of useful knowledge which I am eager to share with all you:

The ASSU will remain exactly the same forever, unless something really, really radical happens. By exactly the same, I mean a SOCC-endorsed, GAIA-endorsed group of a few dozen students whose interests are more closely aligned with a mock government high school group than the members of a “democracy” managing a budget of several million dollars and a constituency of more than 14,000 individuals. (While this does little to appease offended parties, I only put “democracy” in quotations because the University has the ability to nullify almost everything ASSU does.)

Charles Mbatia '13, James's running-mate.

I’ll begin with a story. When winning this campaign still seemed feasible, I was told that I needed to attend an ASSU meeting to lobby for public finance money, as my petition had fallen short of the necessary number of valid signatures. The meeting ended up being one of the most enlightening and most disheartening moments of the campaign. For over 45 minutes, ASSU senators debated with the executives on wildly miniscule features of Michael Cruz’s brainchild, the new ASSU Constitution. The arguments included the removal of double negatives, the wording of various sections, and other mundane issues. It was easily one of the least productive assemblies of people I had ever witnessed. The meeting concluded with my meekly bringing up my finance conundrum, which was fortunately unanimously approved. (This was later retracted, as it turned out that the graduate and undergraduate sides of the ASSU Senate had failed to pass the same version of the original public finance bill.)  (more…)

Memes and Extremes: ASSU Judgement Day

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

This article is a response to Kristi.

Everyone has their quirks, especially here at Stanford, where high achievement is often the result of hyperorganization and highly developed time management and planning skills. Where Stewart MacGregor-Dennis differs from most students is that he posts his thinking online for all of Stanford to see. This can make him a target, but it also means that you know the candidate you are voting for. Spending his personal money on maintaining his social media (if you look through his ODesk account, he has only spent about $50 services related to his campaign) doesn’t seem to be an issue pertinent to his ability to be President.  And in the end, it’s all transparent: everyone can see his likes, twitter followers, and ODesk account. Why is the most controversial issue in this campaign the idea that a candidate might actually try to maximize his social media footprint? Some tactics may have been misguided, but to claim Stewart is unethical or that he was trying to dupe the student body is laughable. We all know how the internet works: things that get liked or followed get more likes or followers. But everyone can still see who is liking and following what.

Stewart MacGregor Dennis and Druthi Ghanta

The current attacks on Stewart aren’t focused on his experience, or his platform. They don’t critique the things he has done working for the ASSU, and they don’t question his plans for the coming year.  Instead, they focus primarily on his personal life. This isn’t problematic in and of itself—politicians open themselves up to scrutiny by the public. Stewart, perhaps more than any other student at Stanford, lives his life with transparency.

Much has been made of the infamous 40 page life plan, his propensity for mind mapping, and his active tweeting. These are all ways in which Stewart has combined the private and public spheres of his life. This is quirky, and it’s easy to look at a 40 page life plan and crack jokes (you have, after all, forty pages of material to work with). However, the things that look eccentric in Stewart’s personal life are the things that make his successful in Stanford student government. Life plans, mind maps—all of these are indicative of a strong vision and a passion for organization.

The ASSU needs a President that can keep track of it’s  its over 650 student groups, the over 40 university committees with student representation, and branches of government like the SSE, SSD, Undergraduate Senate, and Graduate Student Council. And if it takes a thousand mind maps to make it happen, then that’s what it takes. Next year, I want Axess to be improved and upgraded further (a la SimpleEnroll), co-hosting small grants for students groups, and affordable summer storage for students and student groups. These things affect Stanford far more than a few unwanted emails or the number likes on a Facebook status ever will.

Vote for the candidates whose platform you support on April 12 at  

Update: This is Rachel Rose. This article was posted to my personal Facebook, but thanks Adam for the reminder to be clear for those not on Facebook.

Complications with Special Fees Reform

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Brianna is currently the Chair of the Appropriations Committee of the ASSU Senate and a candidate for ASSU Executive. 

In a column published yesterday in The Stanford Daily, fellow student Jeff Mandell called for a reinvention of the ASSU Special Fees system. Jeff aptly pointed out the concerns of many Stanford students, which the ASSU has struggled to address for many years. The (1.8) million dollar question: How can the average student be tasked to determine whether student groups deserve and ought to receive Special Fees?

With the current Special Fees system, there is a committee that takes partial ownership of the process: the ASSU Undergraduate Senate’s Appropriations Committee. The committee vets groups’ budgets, reviews invoices and receipts, and works with Financial Officers in revising their Special Fees budget requests.  However, the committee’s involvement in the Special Fees elections process ends when a group gets their budget on the ballot. Once the budgets are submitted to the Elections Commissioner to be put up for a vote in the spring elections, the Appropriations Committee entrusts the Stanford community to vote yay or nay to determine whether their budget amounts are appropriate and whether the group should receive any student money at all.

In some cases, the process can become more complex. Though the Appropriations Committee can recommend an appropriate, reasonable amount, groups have the option to override the committee’s budget review process by petitioning 15% of the student body to put their original version of the budget on the ballot. For example, when the committee recommended that the Flipside eliminate a Segway purchase from their budget, the Flipside chose to override the committee’s recommendations with 15 percent of the student body’s support. (Lesson to be learned: Make sure you know what you are signing and what your signature really means!(more…)

Keep it civil, please

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

DeLong's email attacking SMD

Dan Ashton is the current deputy chair of the ASSU Senate.

Mudslinging began in the ASSU Presidential race even before TUSB could blog about the race.

In the included email to students, Daniel DeLong personally attacked current ASSU Vice-President Stewart MacGregor-Dennis when discussing an unbiased event for the upcoming elections.

The context makes it worse: DeLong and SMD are probably running against each other next year.* The attack was, in effect, a negative campaign message.

An apology was issued by DeLong later the same day, saying that he never wished to “tarnish the reputation” of SMD.

[EDIT: removed additional commentary about the apology]

I hope everyone remembers that in a STUDENT Government, student body unification — not divisiveness — is the ultimate goal.

As a result, I really hope this is the last personal attack we see.

And so it begins….

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Brace yourself for the start of a new ASSU election season.  As we look forward to the year to come, take a moment to reflect on this year’s ASSU.  What was great?  What could’ve been better?  Respond in the comments and the poll below!

How do you feel about the job done by the ASSU Executive this year?

View Results

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Bit early, eh?


Halftime Highlights of the ASSU

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Stewart MacGregor-Dennis is the current vice president of the ASSU.

Our tenure so far has been a lot like the Stanford student experience: challenging and hugely rewarding. As we reflect back on the first half of our tenure, we’re energized about what lies ahead. We believe lasting changes can still be made.

ASSU Executive Cabinet

In the first half of our tenure, we focused on laying foundations. We built the Executive team and met with a wide range of university administrators. Though we concentrated on our foundations, we were able to realize a large chunk of an ambitious platform. We’ve completed 39% of our platform’s action steps so far. Some of the efforts made were public, such as the Occupy & Food Town Halls. However, much of the work went on behind the scenes, such as the efforts to re-write the ASSU Constitution. More than anything though, the work of our brilliant Executive Team has stood out. Each leader on the Cabinet, Community Action Board, and team of Directors has completed meaningful work. From putting on Food Day and helping to develop the Union Underground store, to creating Power To ACT and the Social-E Capital competition, these initiatives have made a concrete difference.

The work done so far has laid foundations for the rest of the term. Many of the relationships and groundwork for initiatives have been established. The second half of our term will build on what we have already achieved.

Going forward, we’re excited about the last half of our tenure. Our new ASSU Chief of Staff, Lina Hidalgo, is sure to add firepower to the whole ASSU. We’re excited to lead an administration that embraces transparency through the Division of Internal Review and the feedback loop that comes along with it. Most of all, we are happy to empower initiatives by leaders from all over campus that are working through the ASSU to affect change in areas students care about. We are working with the University administration on an overhaul of the outlets for the arts on campus, on piloting a class that would become Stanford 101, on improving the healthiness of late night dining, on building the ASSU’s capacity to preserve institutional memory from administration to administration and on centralizing resources for students with a variety of interests. We have a lot to accomplish. Our work is not done. We’re excited to come out roaring after halftime.

Michael Cruz & Stewart MacGregor-Dennis


I Call Shenanigans: ASSU’s Proposed Preferential Treatment of “Entrepreneurs”

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

He didn't make the cut.

I’m calling the ASSU out on an abuse of student health and wellness.  Earlier this week while reading the ASSU blueprints, I almost choked laughing when I read part of the ASSU Exec’s Entrepreneurship Team’s (excuse me, E2.0’s) blueprint.

Matter of factly, one of the primary initiatives is listed as:

Identification of qualified “student entrepreneurs” on campus — awarded a special status (comparable to athletes) that provides them increased academic support / accommodation — e.g. excused absences when travelling to business-relevant events, reduced units”

See page 4 of the “E2.0” blueprint here.

This measure is embarrassingly symptomatic of the entitlement generation and displays an utter lack of responsibility on the part of those whom it would benefit.  Life requires prioritization and trade-offs.  If you prioritize your start-up over your classes, the choice is yours, but so is the responsibility for your actions.  However, if that is indeed your goal, don’t take up highly-desirable space at Stanford.  Pursue your start-up dreams to your heart’s content – stop letting that darned world-renowned university you attend get in your way – and let others enjoy the world-class education you are forsaking.

To a certain extent, this measure is, quite frankly, insulting.  With over 80% of students on financial aid, many of us are simultaneously working jobs just to pay for college, let alone launch the next Facebook app for social networking with Andean chihuahuas on the topic of locally-grown, fair-trade eggplant.  The hundreds of Stanford students on work-study programs don’t rely upon exemptions and exceptions: they take responsibility for their own time  management and make choices as necessary. (more…)

Update: ASSU Website has returned!

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

And considering the wait, I was slightly underwhelmed. The only colorful pages are those with pictures of the Cabinet, Exec Boards and Directors. And it seems a tad less interactive to me now. I mean, there’s a front page slideshow that is literally just pictures, no links.

To me, it seems ready to be amazing but its not quite there yet. If you have any thoughts on the new ASSU website, comment.

The ASSU Website is Not Coming Back Soon Enough…

Monday, September 12th, 2011

TUSB does not have a positive record when it comes to discussing the ASSU. From the elections, to the concept of an ASSU as a whole, it seems like we’ve dissected everything. And yet I still find more to comment on. I’m not asking for anyone to redo the system or for the ASSU to magically grow from being a testing ground for over-eager college students to a mature legislative and executive body. My request is much smaller. And more to the point, this isn’t for me. This is for ’15.

My request is rather simple: bring back the ASSU website. What was supposed to go up on August 10th (sorry but don’t have a screen shot of this) is now an ongoing wait that’s frustrating for all the silent students that check and use the website.


A Few Words on Hubris

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

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.


Popping the Bubbles within the Bubble

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

As another year of ASSU elections came and went, again I saw people campaigning with promises to reduce discrimination, build more social understanding between people, and promote positive forms of diversity.

These campaign platforms exist because we have not yet found good ways to engage everyone on community problems. It’s easy for people to stay in their own busy worlds and avoid unfamiliar perspectives. Sometimes, the people who avoid other viewpoints are precisely the ones that need to encounter them the most.

“But,” you say, “it’s ridiculous to expect everyone to engage.” Nonsense. Let’s raise our expectations and create a new normal. We need to create a routine of using better methods of engagement that involve the whole community.

Senator Palpatine and Write-in Campaigns

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Another ASSU election season has come and gone, and with it the usual suggestions about replacing the whole system with an algorithm that allocates funding based on some well-researched equation, friends spamming other friends to vote for special fees, and the now-annual write-in campaign for Senator Palpatine. The campaign debuted two years ago during the 2009 ASSU elections, and although Senator Palpatine always loses in a heartbreaking manner (this time he was only 314 votes away), he’s become somewhat of an event to look forward to during the busy month of April.


Suppose we abolished the ASSU today? A thought experiment.

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

If we abolished the ASSU today, what would we miss? (“Nothing.”)

The most obvious, possibly the only, function that we’d actually miss would be its funding of student projects.

How could we do so more efficiently, with less annoyance? Here’s an idea.

Set a fixed overall budget for all student group funding equal to the amount the ASSU spent on all student groups in 10-11, to be taxed equally to all students. Each year, have an election of the entire student body to decide whether the overall budget should be increased by 5%, decreased by 5%, or maintained at the previous year’s level.

Require each student group that wants funding out of this overall budget to submit a proposal by September 1. Convene a jury of 21 randomly selected Stanford students to vote yes or no on each proposal in a single meeting, by a simple majority. (This, of course, will give student groups the incentive to make only moderate and well-justified requests, since they get no second chance.) Do not permit student groups to lobby the jury through anything except the written proposal (with a strict page limit). Keep the identities of the members of the jury secret. Pay each member of the jury $100 per day of actual work for their service.

Should the jury approve less than the total student groups budget, return the surplus to the students pro rata. Should it approve more than the total budget, require them to reconsider yes votes until they’re in the black. Require the jury to complete its business within one week from the proposal deadline; automatically deny any budget requests not approved within that week. Have one paid staff member to do the accounting and enforce the rules (with appeal to the university).

And, finally, abolish “special fees” — nothing any Stanford student group does is important enough that the student body should need to override a random sample of its members. We trust random juries of ordinary citizens enough to determine whether accused criminals live or die. We should trust the vastly more competent pool of Stanford students to achieve the vastly less important task of funding student groups.

Voila. A fair and efficient way to replace the ASSU’s main (only?) function.

(Part 3 of a continuing series. Part 1. Part 2.