ASSU Undergraduate Senate Endorsements

The Review endorses Arbeiter, Creasman, Warma, Gelbart, Katz, Guo, Reid, Sivaram, Tan, and Tyle for ASSU Undergraduate Senate. Below are their responses to our questionnaire.

  1. Jonathan Gelbart*
  2. Ruthie Arbeiter
  3. Jia (Alan) Guo
  4. Zachary Warma
  5. Howard Tan
  6. Adam Creasman
  7. Otis Reid
  8. Sheel Tyle
  9. Varun Sivaram
  10. Alex Katz*

Jonathan Gelbart

What are the two main points of your platform?

Pragmatism over activism in the senate and supporting a stronger student voice in administrative decision making. In recent years, the senate has often fixated on political issues over which it has absolutely no control. Divestment from Israel and Donald Rumsfeld’s coming to Hoover are two prominent examples. I believe that the senate should focus instead on issues more relevant to the students it represents and work towards positive, tangible change in Stanford undergraduate life. One of these issues is amplifying the voice of the student body in major administrative decisions. The recent White Plaza renovation is a prime example of an event that had a major impact on Stanford students, yet was carried out with little to no student input.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

Primarily, the ASSU should advocate for students by acting as their proxy when dealing with the administration. The ASSU should make sure that administrators take the student body’s opinion into account when making major decisions, and should also act as a guide to the often impenetrable Stanford bureaucracy. Ideally, students should be able to come to any senator with a question, idea, or problem, and know that that senator will do everything he or she can to make sure those concerns are heard by the relevant authorities.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

The two biggest shortcomings that currently exist in the ASSU are lack of transparency and lack of institutional memory. By lack of transparency, I mean that the average Stanford student has no idea what the ASSU actually does. Senate meeting minutes are incomprehensible to those who do not actively keep up with ASSU politics. This could be remedied by something as simple as a senate blog containing plain-English summaries of what was accomplished at each meeting, or major achievements that otherwise might not become known to the general population. As for lack of institutional memory, this could be greatly improved by having each outgoing group of senators produce a short summary of what it has achieved and what has substantially changed in that term.

Ruthie Arbeiter

What are the two main points of your platform?

As a former ASSU Senate Associate, I recognize where the ASSU shines and where it needs to be reformed.  One of my major goals as Senator, therefore, will be to improve Senate transparency and effectiveness, so that the ASSU can best direct Stanford’s resources to serve the student body’s needs.
Apart from this, I intend to promote sustainability initiatives, improve student health resources and health awareness, and ensure strong support for the arts.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

It has always been the duty of the ASSU to grant student groups the funds they need to thrive.  However, the Senate can also assist students by utilizing the ASSU’s close contact with student groups and organizations – as well as with official University resources.  By connecting students with others who share their objectives, the ASSU can facilitate cooperation toward common goals.
Moreover, a responsible ASSU – particularly with the University’s recent budget restrictions – must decide which proposed initiatives would be a waste of valuable student funds.  If a project is ultimately doomed to fail or will not truly benefit the student body, then the ASSU must not let such a project impede the progress of other, more vital initiatives.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

I feel that the greatest shortcoming of the current ASSU is the time and energy wasted debating controversial political issues.  ASSU decisions should 1) focus on improving student life on campus and 2) reflect the will of the student body as a whole.  In the past, when the ASSU has attempted to accommodate narrow ideological interests, it has resulted in a standstill in actual ASSU progress and has sparked outrage and protest within the student body.

As Senator, I will make a major effort to focus ASSU attention and energy where it can best benefit the Stanford environment: on campus-related issues and objectives that unite, rather than divide, the student body.

Jia (Alan) Guo

What are the two main points of your platform?

I intend to focus on the issue of mental health. I hope to ensure the service of CAPS not to be affected by this budget cut, and facilitate collaboration between the CAPS, the PHE program and student groups such as Bridge, Stanford Peace of Mind to change the climate around mental health. This year, we already saw great step moving in this direction. The release of the Mental Health Report, the Bystander Campaign & Wellness Room all spoke of the university and ASSU’s increasing attention to this issue. I will ensure this effort will continue with a new cohort of senators.
 
I am also particular interested in pre-major student advising reform. The current system is extremely ineffective, leaving many students frustrated and confused about their academic path. I propose to establish a peer mentor/advisor program for every departments, as I believe students know best about their majors and their own experiences on the Farm.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

ASSU can only advocate if it is in touch with the interests and needs of the student body. ASSU needs to ensure bilateral communication between itself and the student body. ASSU has to exploits all venues to be in touch with its constituents—facebook, emails, town halls, website, publications, etc. Only then can ASSU effectively articulate the interest of the collective student body to the university. This means that ASSU should focus on issues that pertain to Stanford and student life. It should focus on producing tangible impact on student life through advocacy, not passing resolution of lofty goals.

In addition, the ASSU needs to build a close relationship with key people in the administration to ensure its advocacy is heard and acted upon, as the administrators will ultimately make the decisions.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

  1. ASSU needs to engage students by being more transparent. The Senate and ASSU need to show students they can and are doing things that affect student life by updating students the progress of ASSU and articulating the general goals of the association.
  2. Clear guideline on the division of roles between the Senate and the Executives. Currently, there are overlaps between the two divisions. By having a clearer mandate, the Senate can focus its energy on advocacy and legislating.
  3. A fair and unbiased Special Fee & General Fee process. Many students groups are alienated by the complicated nature of the process. The Senate has the responsibility to make this process easier and more transparent to the student body.

Zachary Warma

What are the two main points of your platform?

  1. I believe in shaping an ASSU that is both responsive to and an advocate for the needs  of the ENTIRE student body. To that end, I hope to help the Senate become an  organization that effectively connects students directly to administrators, either through  monthly “public hearings” on specific topics (i.e. Housing, the OSA, “diversity”, etc. In addition, 2) Reforming Old Union has been a goal of mine for nearly a year, because this  school lacks a gathering place for all students. I will work to ensure that Old Union  fulfils its role as a central hub for the entire student population.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

To advocate for the student body, the entirety of ASSU needs to work in concert to better refine a message that can be presented both to undergrads and the  administration. The ASSU can do more to actively connect students with administrators, either through sponsored discussions, the notion of “public hearings,” or a variety of  other avenues that break down long-standing barriers between the two bodies. In addition, both the ASSU and the student population are best served when student  government stays far away from issues with either national and/or international  implications. The ASSU is both designated and best suited to weigh in on issues that  explicitly pertain to Stanford University.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

First, the special fees process needs to be reformed, in terms of transparency, fiscal responsibility, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the special fees ballot. By limiting the amount of dollars that can be voted upon, assisting fiscally smaller organizations navigate away from the ballot, and informing students how their money is being spent and by whom can we make the process a sounder one. In addition, there must be greater cooperation between the respective organs of the Association to maximize its high potential for effectiveness. To do so, the Senate and Execs need to jointly work on more projects and lobby administrative figures in concert with a similar message.

Howard Tan

What are the two main points of your platform?

Doing the basics well – I would define my Senate role as a facilitator and supporter of student initiatives, rather than as a program manager. Individual students and VSOs are best placed to initiate programs that directly serve their members and communities – our job is not to duplicate their work but to ensure they receive the resources they require and are not inhibited by excessive university regulations.
 
I also seek to represent the interests of the undergraduate international student community, and promote its greater engagement with student government. I believe that the ASSU can do more to advocate for issues important to them, particularly working toward need-blind admissions and providing support for international student associations.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

The ASSU is best served by focusing on its core responsibility of supporting programs that directly benefit the student body. Too much time invested in making statements about broad social and political issues – while done with the best of intentions – detracts from our focus on serving Stanford undergraduates.
 
The ASSU need also work harder to present a common and united front when advocating for student interests with the university administration. A student government with a strong core focus, well thought out agenda, and a clear position on relevant issues is more likely to be heeded by administrators and faculty.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

The ASSU does not currently have optimal co-ordination between the work of the Senate and the Executive. Members of both groups should work out clearly demarcated roles and responsibilities to maximize organizational efficiency. I will make it my priority to pro-actively seek out Executive cabinet members and establish a good working relationship at the start of my term.
 
The ASSU also needs to make itself more accessible to the student body. It should seek creative avenues to tap into student feedback beyond traditional town hall sessions and open meetings, with Senators taking the extra effort to be ‘out there’ in the community and listening to ideas, concerns and constructive criticism.

Adam Creasman

What are the two main points of your platform?

I am a fiscal pragmatist. The Senate will face some difficult choices as it decides how to allocate funding to student groups from an ever-shrinking pool of resources. I will give top priority to the essential functions of the University: academic excellence and student health and safety. If we don’t accomplish those two goals, then nothing else matters.

Second, I want to address some serious structural defects in the way the administration interacts with students, starting with the OSA. The OSA has two contradictory missions: to “help” students plan social activities, and to enforce rules and restrict student activities. Until we divide the OSA into two distinct offices to remove this institutional conflict of interests, student distrust of the OSA will continue.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

I think it is important first to recognize that the ASSU is a local political body, not the United Nations. Focusing on issues not directly pertaining to students and campus life detracts from the real work at hand.

In line with this philosophy, the ASSU must devise a mechanism for increasing its influence when it comes to University policy. On issues that matter most to students—housing, academic programs, student life—the ASSU has surprisingly little say. As a Senator, I would work to integrate the ASSU with students serving in advisory roles in the administration to increase the ASSU’s awareness of potential problems and increase our leverage throughout the administration.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

The Senate cannot again leave crucial issues like special fees, mental health and wellness, and campus sustainability to the very last meeting of the term. The Senate needs to address issues according to their importance to the student body, instead of procrastinating on politically inconvenient topics. To address this, I would like to involve the student body more actively in the setting of each Senate meeting’s agenda; I envision a weekly online poll to determine two subject areas that the Senate would be required to address before adjourning that week. I would also like to publish online profiles of each Senator’s policy accomplishments; by forcing all Senators to continually prove themselves to the entire student body, I hope to encourage swift action and political moderation.

Otis Reid

What are the two main points of your platform?

The main two points of my platform are efficiency and effectiveness: I believe that the Senate has acted as a rubber stamping body for too long and that it is time for the Senate to have members who are serious about putting in the work needed to spend money effectively. It is unfair for one student group to be receiving hundreds of dollars to provide its members with food when another group is struggling to fund its publication. I believe that I can successfully allocate your money so that it reaches those groups that will give the most back to the Stanford community.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

The ASSU is most effective via its control of its own funds. The ASSU can and should communicate with university leadership on issues of pivotal importance to students, such as the budget cuts, but most of its efforts should be spent on using its own resources effectively. The ASSU has many resources available that would allow it to better serve the student population, but it is not using them.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

The primary shortcoming of the ASSU is that there is too much emphasis on creating flashy new initiatives or otherwise seeking publicity and too little focus on the nuts-and-bolts work of running the Senate. The vast majority of the ASSU’s money goes towards already existent student groups, so that’s also where the majority of the ASSU’s work should go. The Senate Appropriations Committee should have members willing to put in the work it takes to accurately budget for different organizations. Electing such people is the only way to reform this shortcoming.

Sheel Tyle

What are the two main points of your platform?

For one, I believe that the school with the third largest endowment in the country at over $15 billion should not be cutting more programs and laying off more faculty than many peer schools around the country. Adequate funding for student organizations and for student wellness is my number one priority.
 
I am also a strong advocate for reforming the dining system so it is more open to vegetarians and various religious groups, as well as more realistic in terms of Cardinal dollar allotments. Students should have more options with dining plans, including electing to purchase all Cardinal dollars rather than being required to purchase a 10, 14, or 19 meal plan. It’s time to give students the choice.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

The members of the ASSU were elected to serve as liaisons between the student body and the administration—something that shouldn’t be forgotten. Constant interaction with a diverse group of students by the Senators is absolutely essential for the success of the ASSU. Senators should be open to the idea of having various student organizations attend meetings and perhaps make a short pitch regarding a specific cause that is especially important to them, as each individual group’s desires should be heard and treated with great importance.
 
If a diverse group of people with varying backgrounds and interests are elected to the ASSU Senate, many of the problems of representation will be alleviated.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

The transparency of the ASSU has been a problem in the past. Jonny Dorsey did a great job with making the student government much more on par with the students through town halls and open meetings, but the situation can be aided further. The minutes of the ASSU are posted, but the agenda of meetings should be made available to the general public in advance. That way, student organizations won’t have to wait until after a meeting to figure out whether their topic was discussed or not—they can take a look at the agenda and decide, based on what is planned, whether a representative should contact a Senator and ask to present at the meeting.

Varun Sivaram

What are the two main points of your platform?

I will work for fair and transparent funding reform. In the face of budget cuts, the ASSU must stand up for all student groups, irrespective of size, and guarantee an equitable and accessible distribution scheme. I will introduce measures that reward VSO organization, fiscal prudence, and diversity (broadly defined), while curtailing the need for excessive campaigning (e.g., Special Fees groups).

I will enact an ASSU advising initiative to support academic success as other resources decline. With the administration’s elimination of Peer Mentors and HPAC’s, undeclared students, or those outside of large departments, have no peer academic resources. The ASSU initiative will train peer advisors in specialized academic areas to supplement current undergraduate advising in Sweet Hall, so that students can continue to receive academic guidance from knowledgeable sources they can relate to.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

I think of ASSU Senators as funnels for student opinion; their job should be to research and integrate constituents’ concerns and then voice them articulately and act accordingly. Senators can liaise with the administration, lobbying and negotiating for reforms backed by the student body, and avoiding politicized issues that are not strictly related to campus. For example, I would campaign with the OSA to for less restrictive judgments on parties, more constructive alcohol policies that help sick students rather than condemn them, and fewer obstacles to creating student groups and authorizing programming.

Additionally, an underutilized lobbying mechanism is the 100+ students that the ASSU appoints to various University governance and advisory committees. As a Senator, I would implement a more rigorous selection process for these positions, maintain closer contact with them, and ensure that a unified agenda of goals is being accomplished through student representation on issues like housing or advising. Thus, the Senate could accomplish far more than the narrow scope of its legislation.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

The ASSU does not refer only to the elected representatives, or the office in Old Union, but rather to the entire Student Body. As such, for the ASSU to succeed, everyone’s voices must be heard for student government to be representative and effective. I support the Town Hall measures this year, but I think we have to go even further to encourage free speech, for example by prominently advertising a weekly Senate Forum. I think the Senate’s shortcomings lie in its tendency to confront politicized issues that are rarely relevant to campus, artificial partisan lines that hijack productivity, and a complacency that has prevented it from exploiting its influence with the administration and in energizing the student body. I want to be a part of rebuilding the ASSU Senate to connect with the student community, and make sure that the University’s primary focus is still to keep Stanford an academic and social haven for students.

Alex Katz

What are the two main points of your platform?

OSA reform and mental health will be two central components of my campaign. Rising security costs and an overly simplistic party sizing system have severely impaired the campus’s social scene. Further, a lack of transparency and consistency in OSA policy has made appealing decisions difficult, if not impossible. I will work to provide ASSU support for party organizers and make OSA policy more campus friendly. On the mental health front, I will strive to ensure that wellness issues remain a priority. But rather than devote time to imprudent and impractical initiatives (like the Wellness Room) that will be ignored by future administrations, I will work instead to support and spread awareness about already proven resources, such as the Bridge.

In which ways can the ASSU most effectively advocate for students?

First and foremost, the ASSU must remain focused on campus issues – the purpose of the institution is to advocate on behalf of students on matters related to campus life. Further, the Senate must commit itself to remaining transparent and accountable to the student body. Too often, the Senate has fallen short in communicating its mission to students and in obtaining student input on its initiatives. Finally, the Senate has failed to provide a strong, unified front on the issue of budget cuts. Weak and scattered resolutions have given the university no coherent summary of the undergraduate student body’s views on the budget. As a senator, I would work to give a voice to undergraduates and ensure that their views are given the weight and proper advocacy that they deserve.

What shortcomings currently exist in the ASSU, and how can they be reformed?

There are many allusions to reform in my other two responses: renewed focus on proven resources rather than creation of new ones, greater transparency for Senate resolutions and initiatives, stronger advocacy on behalf of undergraduates on the budget, and so on. I will use this space to focus on a further priority: communication with the student body. As a senator, I would improve channels of communication between the Senate and its constituents. In particular, I would work increase cooperation between the Senate and other representative institutions, such as the Executive, class presidential slates, and leaders of student groups, as a means of reaching out to individual classes and communities and getting their input on campus matters.

*Jonathan Gelbart and Alex Katz are on the Review Staff

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