A Recent History of Special Fees

With less than 24 hours before the polls close I thought I’d present a brief recent history of Special Fees. Thank you to former Senator Chris Nguyen (’07) and Senator Zachary Warma (’11) for sharing your Special Fee related memories with me.

MEChA Loses Special Fee (2004)

One of the last major groups to lose their Special Fee request was MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan). MEChA, a nationwide organization, acted as a Chicano cultural group on campus. But the 2003 California Gubernatorial campaign highlighted the relationship between Cruz Bustamente, the leading Democratic candidate, and MEChA. Journalists pointed out that the national MEChA organization espoused some underlying philosophies that called for violence and the reclaiming of the Southwestern United States through force.

Bustamente received the second highest vote total (Schwarzenegger was first). But the MEChA issue would not die with the 2003 Gubernatorial election. During the 2004 ASSU Election, Stanford Review writer Christine Boehm investigated the MEChA group at Stanford and published an article of her findings. The article implied that Stanford’s MEChA had ties to the national MEChA organization and was thus radical and racist. Nguyen believes, “the Review article may have been crucial in swing[ing] the necessary ~5% of the voters to defeat the Special Fee.”

According to Nguyen, SOCC “accused the Review of launching an unprovoked racist attack on MEChA.” But he points out that the Review only conducted its investigation because of the prominence of the investigation into MEChA conducted on a national scale.

The University administration purportedly became furious over MEChA’s loss and hurried to provide University funding for the organization. This was also the time when the University “started enforcing a draconian policy that prohibited door-to-door distribution of student publications in dorms unless the dorm explicitly voted to allow it,” stated Nguyen. MEChA has received Special Fees funding since at least 2006.

BSU Illegally Funds Executive Slate (2004)

Also in 2004, the Daily broke the article “BSU Illegally Funded Husbands/Schwartz” which detailed the Black Student Union’s (BSU) illegal $200 donation to the SOCC endorsed executive slate of Husbands/Schwartz. The journalist who broke the story for the Daily was later awarded.

Special Fee Refund Crisis (2004)

As if 2004 couldn’t be more exciting, 25% of students requested refunds of their Special Fees. This sent student groups into a crisis as they worried about from where their funding would come. Chris Nguyen interpreted “the refund crisis as a student fee rebellion against overly high fees.” Chris worked with Senate Chair Chris Lin to decrease the Special Fee costs in the next election. History repeats itself here and then consequently here.

SOCC Features In-N-Out In Their Campaign (2005)

SOCC purchased In-N-Out to promote both their groups requesting Special Fees and their candidates.

Club Sports and the Daily have split Grad and Undergrad Measures (2006)

Club Sports and the Stanford Daily had one measure voted on by both undergraduate and graduate students. Because undergraduate students vote yes on Special Fees in overwhelming numbers, both groups usually passed with little graduate student support (graduate students tended to be more fiscally conservative because many of them were paying their tuition). Graduate student unrest led the Undergraduate Senate and Graduate Student Council to separate the groups’ fee requests into two measures. Nguyen explained it clearly: “One was the joint fee voted upon and funded by both grads and undergrads [joint Special Fees] while the other was a strictly undergrad fee, so for Club Sports to get all of its funding, undergrads had to vote for it twice (which they did).” The Daily was subject to the same process.

But in 2007 a constitutional amendment required undergraduate and graduate students to pass joint Special Fees separately. If either of those bodies didn’t pass it, then the organization didn’t receive Special Fees. This prompted the Stanford Daily to request all of their funding from the undergraduate student body because the graduate student body always posed the risk of turning down the Daily’s request.

Barrio Responsibility (2006)

Chris Nguyen applauded Barrio Assistance for their fiscal responsibility. He states, “Before the 2006 election, their reserve was so large that it could cover their annual budget twice.  They agreed to skip Special Fees in 2006 and operated solely off their reserve for 2006-2007.”

Axe Committee Not Passed (2009)

I believe it was in 2009 when the Axe Committee didn’t pass. Students were apparently discontent with the football team’s performance. Their lack of enthusiasm gave them little incentive to support the Axe Committee.

The 2010 elections could add another interesting story to the history of Special Fees. Current Senator Zachary Warma shares his thoughts about how Special Fee groups will perform this year:

Though I am very much aware of the historical trends, I think there is a chance this year that perhaps one or two do not pass, which would be a potentially not unwelcome change to the status quo on campus life.  At the same time, there is an equally strong chance all groups pass with even more overwhelming majorities than in years past, simply as a result of student pushback from the actions of this year’s Senate.

Students must remember what occurred in 2004. Special Fee budgets were greatly increasing and students were calling in their refunds. A similar situation arose this year, but the number of students requesting Special Fee Refunds was less. Though the Undergraduate Senate successfully lowered the overall fee (and received criticism for their methods), I believe many students are again in a 2004 mode. Rather than calling in their refunds, they will use the election to send a message and reduce the overall fee cost.

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