At Stanford, SEIU > Student Groups

The San Jose Mercury News reported last night in [“Newsom touts immigrants’ rights in speech at Stanford”]( ""Newsom touts immigrants' rights in speech at Stanford"") that San Francisco Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom was on campus to talk to “hundreds of union workers”:

“Do I support a driver’s license for everybody? The answer is yes,” Newsom said to a burst of applause from members of SEIU United Service Workers West, who gathered at the university for a two-day leadership convention. He touted San Francisco’s municipal identification cards, which are available to illegal immigrants as well as citizens, as a model for the state to build on.

Newsom’s liberal position-taking notwithstanding, the most important words here are **“members of the SEIU United Service Workers West, who gathered at the university for a two-day leadership convention.”  **The real question is why Newsom, as a declared candidate for Governor of California, was allowed to speak at Stanford University at all.

There’s a whole history behind this backward policy.  In 2004, the Stanford Democrats tried to hold a phone bank in White Plaza, Stanford’s designated “free speech zone.”  The Office of Student Activities (OSA) denied them, because they would be advocating for one candidate over another, even in Stanford’s “free speech zone.”  After then-Stanford Democrats President Kai Stinchcombe threatened the university with a lawsuit, the university reversed its policy – allowing student groups to engage in political activities, so long as they stay in White Plaza.  For more information, check out old stories in The Stanford Daily from October 12, 2004 and October 13, 2004.  (An interesting side note, Stinchcombe is now running for State Assembly in the district that includes Stanford and Palo Alto.)

When I sat on the free speech panel at the ASSU Policy Summit in June, OSA Director Nanci Howe said that because student groups like Stanford Democrats or Stanford College Republicans have “Stanford” in their names, they cannot engage in political activities on campus for fear of the appearance that Stanford’s endorsing one side or the other.

As a result, any events on campus including declared candidates for elected office – like Newsom – must be restricted to White Plaza.  Still, the rules remain fuzzy – when the Stanford Democrats helped to organize a rally on Election Day 2008, which also happened to include Newsom, the OSA expressed concerns that the event, in its direct encouragement of Barack Obama and opposition to Prop. 8, [wasn’t “bipartisan” enough]( "wasn't "bipartisan" enough.").

Of course it wasn’t bipartisan.  Stanford students are interested  in the issues of our time, and students of all political persuasions deserve equal access to engage their political activism on their college campus, a place where we’re supposed to grow and learn from each other.  Believe me, I have no love for Gavin Newsom – but that doesn’t mean he should be limited from coming to campus, and neither should a Republican candidate for office.

Although the Mercury News article doesn’t say where on campus Newsom spoke, I’m willing to bet that the SEIU didn’t have to gather in White Plaza to hear him.  So how can the SEIU can get away with bringing political candidates to campus when our own student groups can’t?  Administrators can counter that it’s obvious that the SEIU doesn’t represent the opinions of the University even when they use its space, but that’s still  a pretty poor double standard.

Since when does the SEIU have more rights on campus than our own students?

If anyone can justify or clarify the University’s position here, I’d appreciate it.

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