On its website, the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) proudly proclaims that it is the only student group of which every student is a member. Consequently, every student has a say in determining the leadership that governs the organization.
However, it is often unclear to voters what each of their votes means. The purpose of this article is to describe the major components of the ASSU and how each voter impacts those branches of leadership.
Each voter directly impacts only three branches of the ASSU: their class presidents, a legislative body (Undergraduate Senate or Graduate Student Council), and the ASSU Executive (President/Vice President slate).
The roles of the class presidents are generally the most well-defined. They are responsible for planning major campus events (e.g. Full Moon on the Quad, Mausoleum Party, Senior Pub Nights), as well as class events such as formals.
The roles of the other two branches are less commonly understood.
The two legislative bodies, the Undergraduate Senate (UGS) and the Graduate Student Council (GSC), are responsible for one of the most important roles on campus: funding. The UGS and GSC appropriate money in the form of General and Special Fees to different student groups (the UGS funds undergraduate groups and the GSC funds graduate groups, with a small number of joint Special Fee groups that deal with both organizations).
General Fees come directly from a pool of money collected from students in their university bill each quarter – the money can be disbursed at the will of the Senate or GSC.
Special Fees operate differently. First, the student body directly votes on them each year. They are collected quarterly as well, but they are directly earmarked for specific student groups.
So, what is the role of the legislative bodies? Their approval is needed for changes to Special Fee budgets, especially for large increases in those budgets. Without legislative approval, Special Fee groups need to collect a large number of signatures in order to have their budgets placed on the ballot.
Funding is easily the most well-known aspect of the mission of the UGS and GSC. However, they also each have committees that perform other tasks, ranging from Advocacy to Communications to Student Life, Housing, and Education. These committees aim to make a direct impact on student life by using their access to administrators and the Senate’s own budget to create new programming.
The ASSU Executive plays two major roles on campus. The first is that of student liaison with the Stanford administration. This is a two-way position. The Executive has the standing and connections to transform some student desires into policy, but also should be a sounding board for dramatic changes in policy proposed by the administration. The other role of the Executive is a programming role. The Executive can help coordinate student groups and use its own budget to create events. The Executive Cabinet is selected by the Executive and is key to implementing the Executive’s vision.
However, there are a few other branches of government that also have roles. The Constitutional Council is a little-used, but key mechanism for resolving legal disputes in the ASSU system.
Nominations Commission is another lesser-known, but key mechanism for increasing student involvement with the Stanford administration. Nominations Commission nominates students to positions on university and Board of Trustee committees. University committees are composed of students, faculty, and administrators and make much of the policy for the university. The Board of Trustee committees have the final say over any major decisions and are almost entirely composed of major donors and illustrious alumni.
Members of the Constitutional Council and Nominations Commission are actually appointed by the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is composed of the President and Vice President (Executive), the Chair and Deputy Chair of the UGS, the Chair, Deputy Chair, and Financial Officer of the GSC, and the ASSU Financial Manager (Stanford Student Enterprises). This body also helps to coordinate the actions of the different branches, especially by building links between the UGS and GSC – trying to iron out differences and decide whether legislation requires joint approval or just the approval of one body or the other.
That is the structure of the ASSU. By simply voting on the Executive and a legislative body, each voter impacts as many as eight other classes of organizations. The ASSU is a complex organization. Hopefully, this article has done something to make it seem less so.
Editor’s Note: Otis Reid was a member of Nominations Commission from 2009-2010.