Archive for the ‘ASSU’ Category

A much more coherent modest proposal for testing the hypothesis that ASSU time is wasted.

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

My last post suggested that those who run for the ASSU, or participate in fights about it, are wasting their time, because a) the ASSU has little-to-no power, except to inefficiently disburse funds, and b) time spent involved in the ASSU could, for those who genuinely care about the issues on which they campaign, be much more productively spent.

As a good little social scientist, I like to make testable propositions. And so, here’s a test.

Suppose we could find a wealthy Stanford alumna/s (Larry, Sergey, are you reading?) to donate an amount of money equal to the ASSU salaries, to employ a shadow ASSU. Each paid position on the ASSU would be represented, at the same rate, in the shadow ASSU. Members of the shadow ASSU would be selected by election by their fellow students (though campaigning would be strictly regulated), and would be expected to put in the same amount of work as paid ASSU members.

But members of the shadow ASSU would not be given an organization, or a budget, or tasks like allocating student funds. Instead, they would be expected to spend their time working to achieve whatever social or campus good they promised, in their campaign, in the best way they know how. This could be founding their own organizations, social entrepreneurship, community organizing and political activism, or just volunteer work for an important cause.

At the end of the year, we could see who has achieved more of what they hoped to achieve, the real ASSU or the shadow ASSU. Any bets on the answer?

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

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

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.


But I Thought Smart, Caring Citizens Voted: Your 2011 ASSU Reality Check (Part 2)

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Read Part 1 here.

Diddy is voting for Fantastic 4teen.

On this eve before the voting commences, this Reality Check wraps up with a review on the referendum that’s got everybody’s gender-neutral underwear in a twist, a call for citizens to action, and an uninspired joke about Mayor McCheese.

Referendum A

Despite a ringing endorsement from Obama himself (Lord, forgive me for linking to The Weekly Standard), ROTC is strug-guh-ling to return to Stanford a 41-year exile. Honestly, it’s amazing how little people mention the history of its banishment. This issue literally almost tore this campus apart back in 1970. Next time you have a moment, track down a 1970 Stanford Quad to see some crazy photos. Back  then, the issue was about publicly supporting the military when they were engaged in a war nobody wanted to be in. Now, it’s a battle of weary ROTC commuters vs. advocates for trans equality. Stanford is weird. (more…)

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.


But I Thought Smart, Caring Citizens Voted: Your 2011 ASSU Reality Check (Part 1)

Monday, April 4th, 2011

In terms of entertaining seasons, ASSU Election season ranks above Duck Season (No, Rabbit Season) but below the first season of Archer. Highlights include Senate who may not know what ASSU stands for, their WordArt-enhanced flyers that have default formatting and slogans that even Soulja Boy would find insipid, the rhetorical paroxysms of The Stanford Review over the wasteful spending of the Band/Daily/all ethnically-based organizations, students that wouldn’t be caught dead taking Intro to CSRE complaining about the racist power of the SOCC, the mystical return of middle school values that make apathy cool again, and best of all, the Obama-esque (both in rhetoric and attainability) promises of the executive slates with the knowledge that the winner has a 50% chance of ending up embroiled in a corruption scandal. Wow, I guess college does prepare you for the real world.

2011 is no exception. This is my guide to: The 2011 Elections for the ASSU, Which Totally Doesn’t Do Anything At All, Right Guys?


Football Exempt from Sustainability?

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Meet Sustainable Stanford.

Stanford’s football team was not the biggest loser on Saturday night.

That prize goes to the sponsors of the on-campus viewing party at Angell Field, who purchased several hundred Aquafina water bottles (pictured right) for students despite the abundance of tap water sources near the event. Although Stanford’s bigwigs claim to have embraced sustainability with great fanfare, these kinds of excesses make the university look hypocritical and insincere. In light of the hullabaloo generated over the false use of recycled paper by some of last year’s ASSU Senate candidates, the mass purchase of low-grade, bottled tap water is simply absurd. A more down-to-earth sustainability policy is in order.

The Stanford Store Gets a New Manager…And a New Home

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

The Stanford Store is one of those places that take a while to figure out.  It’s not the bookstore, but it sells Stanford gear.  It makes the über-popular Big Game t-shirts, but it’s also impossible to find.  It’s entirely student-run, but it still seems like a legitimate business.

Which got me thinking – who are these mysterious students that keep the store running smoothly day after day and provide me a seemingly unlimited supply of Stanford paraphernalia?  To answer my question, I sat down with the person who puts the ‘student’ in student-run: 2010-2011 Stanford Store Manager Olivia Witter.

Only a sophomore – and potential STS major – Olivia is responsible for ensuring that all the behind-the-scenes stuff that makes the Stanford Store a success gets done.  “Hand counting inventory, reordering clothes, making sure the store is stocked, customer services,” Olivia recites off just a few of her myriad duties to me.  “I really enjoy meeting with suppliers and picking out items that go in the store,” she continues.  “It’s like being a designer, but not as intense and judged.  And because I’m a student, I’m also a customer – so I think, ‘Would I buy that?’”

Among some of the new items that Olivia has picked out for the store this year are Stanford yoga pants – a guaranteed-to-be-popular item amongst Stanford’s exercise-happy student population.   And just think, while you are busy thinking how great your backside looks in your snazzy new yoga pants, the money you spent goes right back to the ASSU.

Stanford Store Manager Olivia Witter

Of course, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.  Like any boss, Olivia also has the unfortunate duty of letting substandard employees go.  “It’s an awful part of the job,” she tells me, cruelly denying me the villainous response I was so hoping for, “but what it comes down to is are the employees working well together, are they doing their jobs.”

But the stress of firing is child’s play in comparison to the bigger challenge being heaped onto Olivia’s plate this year: the relocation of the Stanford Store.

That’s right, you heard correctly – the Stanford Store is finally emerging from its hiding place and moving out into the open.  “We are moving from our current location to right next to Jamba Juice – where the Stanford Ticket Office now is with all the ugly couches.”  Bad news for the ugly couches, good news for the store.  “The move is scheduled for early January,” Olivia tells me excitedly, “and we are shooting to reopen for the first week of winter quarter.”

The move will no doubt positively impact the store’s profits and visibility.  Although I have to say, I will sorely miss watching bewildered freshman wandering around in search of the elusive Stanford Store.  We used to make them earn those Big Game t-shirts.  The Class of 2015 will never know how good they have it.

If you have questions or suggestions for what you would like to see in the Stanford Store, be sure to email Olivia at  I’m casting my vote for a Stanford swimsuit/swim cap combo.  Thoughts?

In Which I Try to Talk about Divestment and Free Speech (Without Getting Bogged Down in Nuanced Political Issues On Which I am Unqualified to Speak)

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict once again became a heated issue on campus when the possibility of a divestment bill nearly reached the ASSU Undergraduate Senate last week. As that happened, people started writing about Israel, Palestine, and the idea of divestment: (in chronological order–take a deep breath, here goes): op-ed here, op-ed here, op-ed here, an overview here (recommended), a news article here,  an op-ed here, an op-ed here,  a news article here, an op-ed here, and an op-ed here, and this. On top of all this, people actually utilized the comments section of some of these articles–most notably Linda Hess’s piece (op-ed the third)–and went on to add to the dialogue a mix of comments ranging from interesting to hateful to hilarious.

After reading all of the above and talking in-depth with members of the ASSU and students who support (strongly) both sides of the issue, one thing is extraordinarily clear: whatever your view on divestment is, or on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it is absolutely clear that this is not a topic in which the ASSU should have any involvement.

Luckily, and to my cynical-self’s surprise, the leaders of the primary pro-divestment group (Campaign Restore Hope) and anti-divestment group (Invest for Peace)* have come together and agreed that the ASSU should not be the arena for the divestment debate. I have no idea how this occurred, but I cannot commend the leaders in this discussion enough: this is a victory for any hope at actual progress and helps diminish the likelihood of the campus devolving further into an unproductive flame war with heavily negative consequences for many students on campus.

What this last concept–negative consequences of this debate–brings to light is that much of the divestment discussion is intimately linked with free speech. But free speech, like Israeli/Palestinian politics, is a much more nuanced issue than most people want to acknowledge.


It’s Only Been a Week, and 1/5 of the New ASSU Senate is Already in Ethics Trouble

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

GAIA, an environmental group, endorsed candidates for Senate

In politics, as they say, Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose. The scandal-plagued, scandal-plagued, scandal-plagued ASSU just got a whole batch of new Senators–and 3 of them are already facing ethical complaints.

First, there’s Ben Jensen, who signed a declaration saying he wouldn’t go abroad and then decided to go abroad. Luckily, this will make his attendance rate similar to every other person on the Senate.

Then, there’s Carolyn Simmons and Rebecca Sachs, who both agreed to run a recycled-paper-only campaign to be endorsed by GAIA (which sounds like an LGBTQ group but is apparently an environmental one) but found themselves short on supplies. Their plan of action? No joke–they allegedly printed off copies of Obama’s new Healthcare bill to create their own recycled paper. It is obvious that though they have limited concern for the environment, they do care about spreading the knowledge about what’s in the new Healthcare bill–which, it turns out, allows young people (that’s us) to stay covered on their parents’ plan until they are 26.

With Sarah Palin only making the occasional ridiculous appearance these days, it’s good to see that the ASSU will ensure that politics will be entertaining for a while longer.

The Real Winners (and Losers) of the ASSU Election

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Just when you thought you had escaped the exhaustion of ASSU Elections, after learning of the election results, we decided to give out our own awards.

Best Slogan

big agenda

Straight to the point. Too bad it wasn’t big enough.

Most Interesting Use of Photoshop

safari‘Nuff said.

Most Campaign Paraphernalia

they suckMeet the winning sophomore slate. We couldn’t cross campus without seeing a neon green Sophs4More t-shirt or a pair of neon sunglasses.


Why the ASSU Senate Might Actually Be Bad for Students

Thursday, April 8th, 2010
The human candidates may be well-intentioned, but I will be voting for Senator Palpatine.

The human candidates may be well-intentioned, but I will be voting for Senator Palpatine.

If there’s a pervasive atmosphere on campus during the ASSU election period, it’s apathy—most people really could not care less except for the people who are running or the people who realize that their group needs special fees to survive. The reason there is so little interest in elections is because the ASSU, particularly the Senate, really has no power. This is problematic in particular because there are so many people running for this relatively useless position—if these students are actually interested in meaningful change at Stanford, their possible contributions will probably be minimized via this form of student government.

The Senate serves one very important role: determining fiscal appropriations for student groups, which is because most student groups try to achieve a lot with very little and need all the funding that they can get. The ASSU Senate is able to allot funding to groups from money paid by the entire student body, allowing for student groups to produce that which is otherwise too expensive, such as put on shows or make publications (I’ve gone through the ASSU for both things as a Financial Officer, and it’s been extremely helpful both for allowing students to create and for allowing other students to experience these creations, free of charge).


TUSGraph: Election Time

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010


Hennessy’s Office to ASSU: You Have No Authority

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

It is fairly clear that it is in the University’s best interest to maintain control of student rights. For the most part, there are no issues, since the University and the students do not clash often enough to make headlines–and when they do, very few people will say anything. But in response to the Westboro Baptist Church protests and various other free speech violations, various members of the ASSU tried to codify campus free speech laws to ensure their protection at the end of Winter quarter…and were forcefully shut down, replete with a letter from President Hennessy’s office essentially telling students that they have no authority and should not even try to pass any meaningful legislation.

From the letter:

The ASSU has no authority to legislate on behalf of the University and this amendment will not be accepted by the University if passed […] In the very rare instances in which  the University permits a limitation of its authority through the ASSU, it is only after significant consultation with VPSA.

Continue reading for more and the full letter:


California Senator Says He’s Gay, Defends Anti-Gay Votes

Monday, March 8th, 2010

roy ashburn.jpgHypocrisy remains the lifeblood of politics. State Senator Roy Ashburn, a Republican from Bakersfield with a staunch anti-gay voting record, came out as gay in a radio interview this morning. When Ashburn was charged with a DUI last week in Sacramento, a local TV station reported that several people saw him at a popular gay bar the night of his arrest. The news set off a media frenzy and rekindled old rumors that Ashburn lived a closeted life.
Ashburn maintains that he has cast the votes his conservative constituents wanted, adding, “I don’t think it’s something that has affected or will affect how I do my job.” He has consistently voted against bills that would expand rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Californians.
Such personal sacrifice entails a great deal of selflessness, right? How noble for him to sacrifice his own principles (if he has any) and live a life of denial in order to stay in office.
Since he has so much time to mess around, Ashburn ought to drop by a Stanford class offered next quarter, Ethics in Theory and Practice (ETHICSOC 10), and re-examine his thought process. Perhaps ex-ASSU Vice President Jay de la Torre could join him to ease the transition and express solidarity.

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Petition Palooza: Mass Emails about Special Fees Petitions Flood Student Inboxes

Monday, March 1st, 2010

n106672444564_2418.jpgNoticed a sudden frenzy of activity in your dorm, group, and other Stanford-related email chatlists? You aren’t the only one. The race is on as student groups vie for a spot on the ASSU’s Ballot for Special Fees requests. The actual vote on the ballot won’t occur until April 8-9, 2010, but the deadline to get onto said ballot is this Friday, March 5.
So what does this mean for all of us? A flood of emails with subject lines taking the form:

“Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: [name of that group you randomly signed up for freshman year at the activities fair and never bothered unsubscribing] Sign the Special Fees Petition for ____ (fill in with the student group of your choice)!”

Now while I appreciate the momentary thrill I get when I see things like Inbox(52) and imagine that this is what it must be like to be popular, the mass of emails about specials fees got me wondering: what even are special fees? What am I supporting when I enter my electronic signature on these petitions?
According to the ASSU Elections Commission Website , “Some student groups can’t satisfy their funding needs [through funding from the Undergraduate Senate and Graduate Student Council (GSC)], usually because they have an especially large role on campus. These groups can request that a Special Fee to fund their operations be collected each quarter directly from students.” These groups submit a budget proposal to the Senate (or the GSC); depending on the Senate’s response and the amount being requested, each group may need between 10-15% of the undergraduate student body (or graduate student body for the case of graduate student groups) to sign a petition if their request is to appear on the April ballot. For undergraduate groups, this translates into 725-1,088 students (coterms included) according to the ASSU. If a group is successful in securing these signatures, then they will need a 50% or greater approval of the request in the April vote.
However, before you get too nonchalant about the petition process, keep in mind this little tidbit of information: of the 50 groups (joint, graduate, and undergraduate) that got on the ballot for special fees in 2009, 100% had their requests approved. So which petitions you choose to support DOES matter – because chances are that if they get on the ballot they will be getting those special fees. And the money backing those special fees? It’s part of your tuition bill (granted you can ask for a refund, but come on….unless you’ve got one hell of a reason, that’s a bit of you-know-what move if you ask me).
So the next time you get one of those mass emails, mull on it, decide which groups you feel are deserving (and this doesn’t have to mean the ones that you are in – there are a lot of good ones that you aren’t a member of), and above all, remember: don’t just casually throw around your signature like it’s an STD in a freshman dorm. Because while you don’t have a choice about paying Vaden’s fee (just consider treatment for said STD “getting your money’s worth”), special fees are, in fact, up to you.

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