ASSU Expansion Must Be Checked

Over the past two quarters, the ASSU Executive branch, led by President Michael Cruz and Vice President Stewart Macgregor-Dennis, has created and articulated quite an admirable plan of action for the upcoming school year. As promised, the executive team has involved numerous students and has communicated with the entire student body quite well.

But the administration has branded itself “The World’s Most Effective & Innovative Student Government,” an interesting title given its short existence and even shorter track record. Stanford 2.0 promised an entrepreneurial spirit. But an ASSU executive staff size increase of over 500 percent from last year (perhaps the largest expansion ever) and a cabinet replete with duplication do not exhibit the ideals of efficiency or innovation one would find in a true entrepreneur. The Review Editorial Board urges Cruz and Macgregor-Dennis to stop the ballooning of their cabinet and to instead focus their energy on tangible policy results and connecting with the student body.

The Stanford 2.0 executive team spent much of the summer preparing its cabinet. After initially accepting into their cabinet 40 chairs and directors, Cruz recently requested applicants for 15 new positions. These positions, more appropriate for the government of a small state, include a Director of Speech writing, a Director of Fundraising and Grants, and a Director of Overseas Ambassadors.

Using the ASSU’s online staff hierarchy tree, the office of cabinet members, Community Action Representatives, Health and Wellness members, and additional staff add up to a headcount of at least 100 people. A statement from the blueprint of the Co-chairs of Management and Project Implementation reflects the ASSU’s growth. As one of their goals, they plan to “Help Change the ASSU from an idealistic but mostly passive organization to an omnipresent, ultra-efficient powerhouse.” These intentions remind us more of Ingsoc than of an accountable student government.

The excesses of an ASSU “powerhouse” can already be seen in their summer planning, such as their desire to fundamentally change the academic expectations for just student entrepreneurs. The Entrepreneurship division wants to identify “qualified ‘student entrepreneurs’ on campus,” and then award them “a special status (comparable to athletes) that provides them increased academic support/accommodation,” such as excused absences and reduced units.

The executive branch seems also to be trying to supplant several other student groups and entities with their own new divisions. The Division of Internal Review’s duties mirrors the ASSU Senate’s oversight duties. The seven member Health and Wellness team looks to provide competition to Vaden, the Bridge, and CAPS. And the Sports Super Fans Director seems to be creeping in on the Axe Committee’s territory.

Every duplication of purpose in the ASSU wastes time, resources, and student fees that could be used for practical services to the student body. This institutional interweaving causes us to worry about not only serious external duplication but serious internal duplication as well.

For example, there will certainly be overlap between the Director of the Innovation Initiative, the Chairs of Project Management and Implementation, the Design Thinking Team, and the Division of Internal Review, if one can determine their purposes in the first place. The Design Thinking Team will “train members of the ASSU Executive to master the processes of empathy interviewing…using idea selection processes, [and] rapidly prototyping with a bias to action…” among other things. Why could these simple expectations, required of any manager, not be incorporated into an information packet, or combined with another one of the divisions that focuses on efficiency?

Furthermore, how is the ASSU paying for this ballooning bureaucracy? Review inquiries have been redirected from the executives themselves to various cabinet members. One request has gone unanswered for weeks. Only rough numbers can be ascertained from materials created by executive cabinet members.

The executive cabinet is budgeting for at least $20,000. After another seven chairs report their budgets, and after factoring in salaries for the cabinet and support staff, the final number could be much higher and much greater than the branch’s allotted amount. One of the chairs even admits in her blueprint that she has no idea what the ASSU executive’s funding will look like this year.

Budgeting should be a primary task in any government. The Review urges the executive to use their promised technological prowess to provide a budget portal on their website, Stanford2.com, that would provide up-to-date, detailed budget information for the entire Stanford community.

Blogger Kristi Bohl, of The Unofficial Stanford Blog, summed it up best in a recent post: “I’d like to encourage our ASSU Executive to think outside the box of ‘social entrepreneurship’ and instead consider taking action in a visible, tangible, widespread way.  I would also encourage them to drop the pretentious titles and taglines.” Efficiency is excellent and planning documents are desirable. But Stanford’s student body wants and deserves tangible action. The executive needs to assess the duties and tasks of the divisions within the branch to ensure their necessity. Then, the executives need to inspire the divisions to act. If done well, it might leave a record of action that makes the ASSU worthy of its new moniker.

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