Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

Stanford Has Free Classes?!

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

My first answer is duh. Everyone is currently talking about Stanford’s new Engineering Everywhere program that allows individuals around the world to virtually attend the physical engineering class online. For a moment I was giddy with excitement. After I graduate (which isn’t for some time yet) I would have a chance to secretly attempt another CS course after my public formal approach. Tens of thousands of people were (and are) enrolling in these classes. The Chronicle and other sources have hailed this to be the dawn of a new era in learning from a well established university.

With a computer and the Internet, this joy can be yours!

And then I realized that free classes have been around for quite a while. I’m glad the unique set of Stanford CS courses, and the distinctive way it’s being offered, stand as a reminder of how easy it actually is to get a free quality education through the Internet. Although Youtube can teach us many things, universities of Stanford’s caliber have been trying to share their knowledge online for quite a while.

A simple search for free online classes from universities not only brought me to many sites listing the top websites to get an elite education in biology, it also led me to an older but still exhaustive article on LifeHacker.com that goes through many of the colleges that offer a free online education. MIT’s site alone offers over 2000 courses. (more…)

Generality Generation

Monday, November 14th, 2011

"You say you got a real solution... we'd all love to see the plan" - the Beatles, Revolution

Of late, I’ve felt a sense of isolation and frustration as I’ve departed from most of our “big name” speaker events.  Bill Gates.  Kofi Annan.  The Dalai Lama.  The list goes on, but unequivocally, as I file patiently out among the thronging crowds, passers-by will ask one another, “wow, wasn’t that inspiring?!”  Generally speaking, the socially expected and accepted response is an effusive and enthusiastic gush of superlatives.  This guy is a big deal, it seems to convey, so it must have been important!

Yeah, sure, they’ve got the resumes.  But for those of us paying close attention to the details of these speeches, it quickly becomes apparent that these motivational speeches for the next generation of leaders are less than substantive.  The speakers launch into harrowing statistics and anecdotes about societal problem X, pulling a PWR1 triple punch of ethos, pathos and logos to convince us of the nobility of their aims.  But when push comes to shove and the message delves into a call to action, the instructions are painfully, almost naively, vague.

Take, for example, Kofi Annan’s recent speech on food security.  Yes, 1 billion people have been born in the last 13 years, and yes, it’s alarming that aid to Africa has dropped 70% in real terms in the last 10 years.  But upon impassioned inquiries from the crowd during Q&A on how Stanford students might rise to the challenge, he categorically dodged divulging any form of concrete, actionable tasks.

He isn’t the only one.  Bill Gates’ instruction to change the world and the Dalai Lama’s call to compassion last year were well received, but lacked any substantive direction for students hoping to accomplish these important goals.  And while I’m not arguing that it is the responsibility of the great thinkers of our time to hand out to-do lists to each university they visit, I think that  more concrete and tangible recommendations might be in order to maximize the potential of our next generation of scholars.

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Dorm Sweet Dorm

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

My frosh residence was Rinconada, aka the best freshman dorm ;)

The class of 2015 will soon realize that transitioning into college involves a bunch of emotions– excitement, anxiety, and homesickness, to name a few. Having a dorm room that makes you feel comfortable might ease the process more than you’d expect. While Stanford’s dorms are pretty nice compared to others, a blank space with a bed and a desk can be intimidating (cinderblock walls don’t exactly scream warm and fuzzy). Here are my tips for how to bring warmth to your space while maintaining some organization and cleanliness. Please leave any comments with tips of your own!  I’ll also provide a list of stores in the area where you and your more concerned parents will find just about everything you might need.

Use as many or as few of these tips as you desire. Don’t worry about making your room “perfect” or getting everything done at the start of the year. If anything, I advise you to get out of your room and meet people; you will be able to add a personal touch to your room as the year progresses. Keeping your door open and getting to know your neighbors trumps decorating every time. If you don’t want any tips, just skip down to the list of stores. I won’t be offended. Remember: don’t hesitate to express yourself in the room but be considerate of your new roommate. If you plan on doing anything that affects the whole space, ask him or her first. Unless you like sleeping with one eye open. (more…)

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Stanford

Monday, September 5th, 2011

To this year’s Larkinites (but I guess you other freshmen can read this too):

I’ve seen a lot of things in my time here on the Farm. I’ve seen world leaders, I’ve seen philosophers, I’ve seen TV personalities, and I’ve seen Afroman. I’ve seen buildings razed, and seen buildings raised (and heard too; I lived in Toyon through the construction of the Arrillaga dining hall). I’ve seen magic. I’ve seen brilliance. And I’ve seen far too many wangs. In short, I’ve seen Stanford.

Going into my junior year, I’m starting to realize that my time on the Farm is fleeting. What is my legacy to this renowned institution? An article about how my skateboard was stolen and a sketch about Greek life? Nay. This shall be my legacy. My magnum opus. My Toy Story 3. This collection of little time savers and campus observations shall live on forever, and, hopefully, my impact will stretch from here to infinity… and beyond.

Here’s my list of hacks for this year’s incoming class. You’ll hear a bunch of generic pieces of advice (e.g. go to office hours, try a class outside of your area of interest, get out of my way), which are all fine and dandy. The following, though, are things that the typical Stanford student knows, but only after a year or two of experience. I hope you all gain a lot from this list. We here at TUSB are certainly glad to have gained you, Freshmen ‘15 (Please let this name catch on).

Note: Items marked with an asterisk (*) are ones that I, sadly, have learned from experience. Learn from my mistakes.

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Nine Lessons For Freshmen

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

This summer, I’ve been training sled dogs in Alaska—and getting paid $12 an hour! My coworkers are older than me; most of them finished college several years ago. It’s been great to spend the summer hanging out with people in their twenties, because they constantly remind me of an important fact: college will be over soon.

That having been said, you might assume that I’m a regretful senior looking back on my misspent college years. Not so; I’ll be a sophomore in September. I took a gap year before coming to Stanford, and I grew so much during that year. Still, I found freshman year challenging. I’ve reflected a lot this summer on what I learned from the first year of college. Here are my nine biggest lessons:

1. Work Stanford to extract the benefits you want.

A recent Stanford grad pointed out to me the distinction between “working” and “being worked.” When you get overwhelmed by academics, you’re no longer working; you’re being worked. On a similar note, you should view the Stanford campus, with all its resources, as the raw material which you must shape and knead to meet your specific needs. The important point is to actively design your college experience, instead of passively expecting this place to hand you happiness. That shiny Stanford brand is nothing more than a name until you “work” Stanford to extract the benefits you want.

2. Mold the Stanford campus to fit you, instead of trying to change yourself to fit Stanford.

There are many “Stanfords,” not just one. You might even say that each student attends a slightly different university. So don’t feel pressured to drastically change yourself in order to fit in. Chances are you can find at least one person like you here; there really are many different types of students on campus. Focus on fitting Stanford to you, not fitting yourself to Stanford. Go ahead and change yourself all you want, but do it for the right reasons—not because you feel like you have to.

3. If at first you don’t succeed, find another way.

My dad is a musician, so I grew up surrounded by art. But as a freshman, I didn’t get into any of the performance groups I auditioned for. I should have tried harder to find some way to participate in the arts, but those auditions discouraged me. So I spent much of the year feeling like no one at Stanford cared about what I love—that if I wasn’t an engineer or computer scientist or entrepreneur, then I was at the wrong place.

I can’t tell you how wrong that conclusion was. Remember, even if you can’t get involved directly in something you love, there’s always a need for people to work behind the scenes. The bottom line is, you need to be proactive. Don’t wait for the opportunities to find you.

4. Apply, apply, apply.

If cars run on gas, then Stanford runs on applications. There are a lot of interesting opportunities at Stanford and elsewhere, but most will require you to put together some sort of application. Get in the habit of applying to every program, position, or opportunity that intrigues you. It might seem like a lot of work, but taking this step will help you get the most out of college. Even if you don’t think you’ll get accepted, apply anyway. Never sell yourself short.

Think about this way: college is simply a dense concentration of resources. It’s a pipeline of money and opportunities, and you’re hooked up to it for the next four years. Lucky you! Just be sure to extract as much as you can.

5. Explore possible careers.

I just finished the book “What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers.” But I really should have read it sooner. It’s natural to feel some anxiety about what kind of job you’ll get  after college, but don’t let this feeling overwhelm you. If you find yourself wishing that you liked computers (so you could major in Computer Science) or business (so you could major in Economics), or convincing yourself that you need to go to law school (since you’re not interested in medicine or business), fight back. Take the time to do some thorough self-reflection, and figure out what’s really important to you. Recognize that there are always alternatives—you are never obligated to follow the well-marked path. A great resource during your search is a Slate.com article about career guides.

6. You can’t overprepare for college…

…so read some advice books on college before you start. There are a lot of general guides to college life, while other books focus on the larger goal of getting an education. Also be sure to check out Cal Newport’s books and his blog, Study Hacks.

7. Don’t let setbacks blow your confidence.

The truth is that it’s very hard to be the best at Stanford. In my case, I found my confidence a little dented after a few months on campus. You’ll probably encounter some setbacks of your own, but don’t let them bring you down. Never underestimate your own intelligence or ability, and don’t overestimate the intelligence or ability of the people around you.

On the bright side, there’s not a lot of cut-throat competition at Stanford. If you do feel any competitive pressure, chances are that it’s self-imposed. I can honestly say that high school was much more competitive than college.

8. Every morning, think of three things for which you’re grateful.

A friend of mine got this tip from a fitness elective called “Happiness.” Give it a try—it will definitely help you get out of bed on rough days.

9. Don’t listen to all the advice people give you.

Sometimes people give you bad advice; sometimes their advice just doesn’t apply to you. Take what fits your unique situation and discard the rest.

What have you learned about succeeding at Stanford? Leave a comment and share your wisdom with the incoming freshmen.

Filter Function: in Defense of “Sketchy” Grad Students

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

GSB admit weekend T-shirts? Too soon?

It’s summertime at Stanford, which means there are more people getting married at MemChu than you can shake a stick at.  The Quad’s colonnades and courtyards are positively bursting with bridesmaids in various pastel shades, and each procession of limos can hardly clear Palm Drive in time for the next nuptial motorcade.

Yes, Stanford students get married.  But most intrinsically to my point, Stanford students often get married to each other.  Not to beat the dead horse of the Contemplation or Action IHUM, but “ay, there’s the rub.”

You see, the Stanford Alumni Association is more than happy to point out to incoming students, current students, even prospective students (who promptly look around their Discover Stanford tour group in a mixture of excitement, apprehension, and horror), that about a fifth of Stanford students end up marrying other Stanford students.  Most of these folks meet their future mates by the end of sophomore year.  So juniors, you’re stuck.  Hope you like the pickings, ’cause that’s it.

Just kidding!  In all seriousness, though, it’s an interesting topic of discussion, one which is usually met with “oh-nos,” “oh-weirds,” or chortles and quick changes of topic.  Why the cold shoulder to intra-Stanford spousing?

So maybe I’ve been watching too much How I Met Your Mother, but the real world of dating outside college looks like it sucks.  From show to show and girl to girl, you suffer with hapless Ted who, despite being an attractive and successful architect, simply cannot seem to land a winner.  Accuse him, if you wish, of “searching for love in all the wrong places,” but quite frankly, what is the right place?  In college we’re blessed with a preponderance of extracurricular activities in which we can meet and enjoy the company of those who share our passions and interests.  When you’ve got a nine to five job, it’s a lot harder to pick up activities just for kicks and funzies.

So what’s the real-world alternative?  Bars.  Where the Barney Stinsons of the world trawl the seas of the single.  In a bar the first impression is appearance.  Boom: hot, not, or eh-why-not.  You’re instantly judged as a piece of meat, and the Barneys don’t care if you love sustainability or saving the pandas – they care if you look, shall we say, appetizing.

This, my friends, is why college serves as an excellent built-in filter function.  So yeah, there are a few folks that seem to have slipped through the cracks of our stringent admissions process, but you just as well as I can look up the stats online.  Even if you get someone in the bottom fifty of the SAT score rankings, you’re still doing just fine, and it’s quite possible Mr. or Miss Perfect is busy curing cancer, building the next generation of electric vehicles, or composing a symphony in  his or her spare time.  Everyone here possesses “intellectual vitality” in some way, shape, or form, and everyone has the shared experiences (or sufferings, depending on your take) of IHUM, PWR, and Stern Dining.  And if money is any object… well, let’s just say that with a Stanford grad you’ll probably be doing just fine.

So I kind of resent it when my friends and acquaintances mock “sketchy grad students looking for wives.”  Well, can you blame them?  This is their last shot at the Stanford filter function, and the approaches of the outside world leave much to be desired.  I think there’s a reason college sweethearts Marshall and Lily are the happiest characters on How I Met Your Mother.  And their love is legen – wait for it! – DARY.

When Did Stanford Join the Ivy League?

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

It’s that time of year again – internship time. It is filled with hours of technical training and semi-menial labor for temporary bosses. It is (possibly) the first time one is introduced to the full-time 40 hour work week, and the 9 to 5 job. And it is also a time for a bunch of strangers to get a chance to judge you based on where you go to school.

Even if the lines are blurring between Stanford and the official Ivy League schools, its nice to know that Stanford will always look better. Palm trees will always trump winter.

I’m not saying that the judgment involves any censure, but people always get a specific impression of you from where you go to school. And for some reason, the impression our school has been adding to my general persona is “Ivy League.” I say Stanford, and because people consider it prestigious and align it with the Ivy League, they automatically think that Stanford is a member of the group. I have gotten this reception from students and adults this summer. I correct it only half  the time – I’ve seen the interest feign in people’s eyes if I say it isn’t Ivy League without the long saga on what membership entails. I don’t know this for certain, but I think that when I denounce the claim, they think I’m referring to a different Stanford. Some people can’t seem to separate our school from its Ivy League peers. Students at our own fine institution admonish the title. Even though these schools are a country away, we still crack jokes about them at Gaieties. We still feel that being a part of the East Coast through more than a satellite station is somehow bad for our school (I don’t actually agree with that sentiment, maybe because I am from the East Coast and see more of its potential, but that’s for a different blog post). The  Ivy League is foreign to our West Coast mentality and ways. Yet from the outside (and maybe even a little from the inside) I don’t think things are quite as different anymore.

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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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If It Ain’t Broke…. Why I Don’t Support the Stanford NYC Campus Proposal

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

A study in contrasts.

West Coast, best coast.

As a SoCal native and lifelong Californian, to me this phrase sums up not only the Californian lifestyle and culture but also the tremendous advantages of going to school in the beautiful, entrepreneurial West.  Right next to San Francisco and San Jose, smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley (and 45 minutes from the beach!), we have all the resources a pioneering academic institution needs for inspiration, exchange, and advancement.

Why mess with that?  Interestingly, in the past few months, some Stanford administrators have proposed the creation of an additional Stanford campus in New York City.

Granted, there are some valid motivations.  Because “New York dominates the fields of finance, media and fashion, but has underachieved in science and engineering,” Mayor Bloomberg and others have requested that universities submit proposals for new technical graduate programs to be launched in the city (Wall Street Journal).  President Hennessy and others have argued that a Stanford satellite campus could transform New York into a second Silicon Valley.  Per Hennessy, a NYC campus would make Stanford a “world-class model for the multi-campus university” and “increase the university’s visibility on the East Coast and perhaps connect with new sources of philanthropic support.”

Were money, time, and resources no object, this might represent an interesting academic experiment.  However, in my opinion this is an unnecessary venture that is at best an altruistic publicity stunt and at worst an expensive and distracting dilution of the international prestige of our wonderful University.

Stanford letter jackets: so hip during the Renaissance

Call me Machiavelli…

…but what do we stand to gain from a New York campus?  We already have our Silicon Valley, with all of the wonderfully symbiotic relationships with industry that it entails.  Helping New York found its own tech region would be a retrogressive move, retracing steps we’ve already taken and perfected out west.  Indeed, even if our primary motivator were altruism, wouldn’t it be more useful to build on that which is already excellent than to reinvent the wheel as a mere side project?  While I definitely agree with President Hennessy that “we are a university that serves the nation,” I think we’d do both ourselves and the nation the biggest service by continuing and expanding operations from our California campus instead of distracting ourselves from our central aims by starting from scratch in New York.

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Dropping Out to Start Up: Think Twice

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook Founder & Harvard Drop Out A few months ago I attended a talk at Stanford. The room was packed with aspiring entrepreneurs — standing room only — and the atmosphere felt like the Dalai Lama of Silicon Valley was about to arrive. At 8pm, Peter Thiel, a Stanford Philosophy major and alum of the Stanford Law School, took the stage to give a short speech on the future of technology. As an entrepreneur, it was one of the most inspiring talks I had ever been to, and I left with a set of new ways to frame technological problems. While I agree and support many of the beliefs Thiel has on the future of technology, I take issue with his latest initiative to pay students to drop out of school.

In the last few weeks, a heated discussion in Silicon Valley has broken out in response to Thiel’s offer to pay twenty students $100,000 to drop out of school to start a company. Some think it is brilliant (1, 2), others think it is terrible (1, 2), but it is indubitable that Thiel’s offer has been effective: seventeen Stanford undergraduates applied to the 20 under 20 Fellowship.

The two sides of this discussion in the media have come from the viewpoint of journalists and investors. The only student that has written about it (that I know of) has himself dropped out to start a movement. I would like to offer my opinion in this discussion from the perspective of a current student who has co-founded a company in San Francisco before coming to Stanford and just launched ClassOwl as a student.

There are three things that students tend to overlook when they become excited by the Thiel Fellowship and programs similar to it:

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Why Stanford: Admit Weekend 2011

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The best place to spend the next four years of your life. (Photo cred: Molly MacKenzie)

The sun is shining brightly.  The track and fielders are thwarting gravity right outside my window, and Stanford’s very own Wind of Freedom is lilting happily through the trees.

As I write this post, gazing happily from the relative calm of the Visitor Information Center, it is easy to forget that we are about to be invaded.  Swarmed.  Rendered under siege.  But actually.  Starting this Thursday, good luck biking anywhere, ’cause we’ll all be wading waist deep through ProFros and their parents.  Oh, baby, it’s Admit Weekend season.

Welcome, ProFros, to the TUSB “Why Stanford” list.  The all-inclusive, ever-so-persuasive, quantitative canon of why you really should just click “yes” already and spend Admit Weekend living it up with your future classmates.  Using the latest and greatest metrics Stanford has to offer, I am about to blow your inquisitive minds as only a tour guide can.  Drumroll please….

5.  We Got Game:  #1 Division I Athletics Program

Come watch our BCS Bowl football team, #1 men's swimming team, women's basketball Final Four team, etc., etc.

  • Every year, the Director’s Cup is given to the #1 Div. I athletics program in the nation.  We’ve won it for the last 16 years.
  • If Stanford had been its own nation in the 20048 Beijing Olympics, we would have placed 19th in the world.
  • We have 35 Varsity sports.
  • We have extensive club and intramural sports programs, including sports as diverse as Ultimate Frisbee, inner-tube water polo, sand volleyball, and basketball.
  • All Stanford sports games (besides playoffs) are FREE to all Stanford students.
  • 83% of Stanford students participate in some sort of athletic activity.  This is because we have amazing activity and athletic course offerings.  After Stanford’s classes in sailing, fencing, and archery, you, too, can kick it like Captain Jack Sparrow.  Word.

Stanford alumna Sigourney Weaver rocks the Cardinal

4.  So Hot Right Now:  the Value of the Stanford Brand

In case you missed my earlier article on How Stanford is Redefining Cool, let me break it down for you.  Stanford has been the #1 dream school according to Princeton Review surveys for the past three years.  We have over a dozen career fairs on campus every year, because international employers respect the value of a Stanford education and swarm our campus on a regular basis to recruit our talent.  Not convinced?  How about Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck giving up a probable #1 NFL draft pick and multimillion dollar starting salary to finish out his senior year?

If you’re reading this as a ProFro, major props – you conquered a 7% admissions rate to be where you are today.  Consider, for a moment, the flip side of the coin.  32,022 students applied this year.  That’s approximately the population of Monaco.  You’re in a tremendously desirable position.  You were one of the chosen few, and you have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend the best four years of your life here at Stanford.

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Disgust. It’s What’s for Dinner.

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Well looking back, it is better than the crap they served in middle school.

Having recently become interested in the popularity of being a foodie, and having just come from faculty dinner, I’ve caught myself thinking a lot about dining halls and how mysterious these places are.  Really, who hasn’t complained about dining hall food at least 349683 times?  Don’t get me wrong, I love that Wilbur tries to give you good ingredients (thanks for leaving the cinnamon out for me to play with, Wilbs), I would give Ricker an A every time I’ve been there (granted, that is actually a total of 3 times), and I love Indian-food-Sundays at FloMo, but on the whole I’m a bit disenchanted with dining halls and the whole Stanford food situation as of late.  And as you probably already know, we at TUSB are encouraged to bitch about things at our bi-weekly staff meetings (I’m only sort of exaggerating).

So while I’m not a journalist, and I am basing the following off of only my own experiences and perceptions on dining at Stanford, here goes all my thoughts on Stanford dining.  Something that everyone seems to want to complain about, but no one ever really seems to want to change.  And really, what has your dining ambassador ever done except spam your email list?  I submit, nothing.  (Sorry to all the DA’s of the Stanford world, you’re probably still good people … maybe).  (more…)

A Real Thought on Socioeconomic Diversity

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Last Thursday, I attended a Fireside Chat led by the Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw concerning the “Value of the Socioeconomic Diversity in Higher Education.” For better or for worse, people don’t talk about income at this school. Hardly anyone is overt about the money their parents do or don’t have and this allows students to interact on an even playing field. Money issues don’t matter. But money issues are also subsequently glossed over. I was excited that the dean of admissions was willing to have a discussion about the topic with students. Yet out of the 53 people that claimed they would attend, a little less than 20 actually appeared. This was shocking considering how many people were worried about the investment in higher education sparked by Deresciewicz’s talk. If the people attending top colleges are sheep blindly doing whats expected of them by pursuing higher education, why should alumnus pay money to have more sheep attend the school?

But don’t worry – I don’t think the talk was very focused on the topic anyways. It seemed that the majority of students that submitted questions were from FLIP or were low-income. The first hour was spent reassuring students of low-income that they were meant to be here. I understand the questions – whether you are considered low or high-income sometimes Stanford can be intimidating. There’s always one moment when you pause and ask yourself what your admissions officer was thinking. There was also a debate about the different definitions of low income set by Stanford’s and the US definition that’s causing Stanford’s meaning of economic diversity to be misleading but it was still not pertinent to the topic.

My main issue with the talk was that it didn’t actually refer to the contribution that socioeconomic diversity provides to the campus. There’s the usual matter of accurate representation of the nation in the student body. In some ways it’s also a way to prove that people from all classes can excel at elite institutions. But as one of the many people here with some form of financial aid, I feel like economic diversity contributes more than representation. They do more than make this institution look good on paper. Besides the fact that brilliance comes from all backgrounds, socioeconomic diversity brings in two things Deresciewicz thinks we’re lacking: perspective and empathy.

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Why College?

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Have you thought carefully about why you’re in college? Can you articulate what you want to get out of these four years? Now is an especially good time to ask these questions, because William Deresiewicz, author of a popular article on The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, will be speaking at Stanford this Tuesday, April 12th. While his thought-provoking article has a fuzzie slant, most students will see some truth in Deresiewicz’s critique of universities like Stanford.

In the meantime, if you feel like you sometimes struggle to reach your potential as a student, take a look at Cal Newport’s blog Study Hacks. Newport advocates the radical notion of a college experience centered around simplicity, and is also the author of two student advice books. In stark contrast to the mindset that academic success = more units + less sleep, he suggests taking fewer classes, performing outstandingly in them, taking on original projects that set you apart, and many other ideas. Some of the blog’s suggestions are probably best ignored, but overall it offers a ton of helpful and unique advice about college. (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.

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