That government is best which is most boring. After a disastrous but amusing period of activism, the ASSU has finally returned to pragmatic but effective advocacy on behalf of the student body – it has become boring again.
A year ago, the ASSU was the laughing stock of the University, mired in a tangled mess of grandiose projects that brought no benefit to the student body, and even caused harm. This mess was the consequence of an election that had filled over two thirds of Senate seats with members of SOCC, the “Students Of Color Coalition”. SOCC claims to represent the majority of students, but pursues narrow ideological interests. Their successes included: – initiatives on “sweat-free” clothing and higher wages for janitors, which culminated in large protests that frustrated administrators and distracted the ASSU’s energy, – months debating a resolution encouraging the University to divestment from companies that do work in Israel. The resolution failed, but not before polarizing the entire campus and wasting more of the ASSU’s energy, – a bill for faculty diversity that sought to implement numerical targets for professors of certain ethnicities. “Diversity” was limited to ‘Black, Hispanic, and Native American’, and didn’t bother with geographic, economic, sexual or intellectual diversity. The Executive was equally hapless. Their biggest campaign promise was ‘making dead week dead’. In this morass, little of actual interest to the average student got done. Last year’s election in 2007 swept SOCC out of power and gave the reigns of the Senate to pragmatic moderates. Many Senators ran on an explicit platform of keeping global politics out of student government. Two former SOCC-Senators won the Executive election in a very tight race. The campus feared the ASSU would be “gridlocked” and “divided”. But the Senate and Executive have functioned surprisingly well together, racking up a decent list of accomplishments, some of which include: – an increase in library hours from midnight to 2am – effective social programming, including a successful Row Block party – reducing the costs of course readers and putting more textbooks on reserve – making course evaluations available online – significantly increasing student group funding – chartering several new groups, including an Arts Grant board to support student arts and FanatAxe, a new umbrella group that will coordinate fan support of sports teams moved undergraduate student life into Old Union. We strayed from our commitment to avoid world politics only once. This fall, with the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to the Hoover Institution, several Senators introduced a resolution condemning the former Defense Secretary’s presence at Stanford. Though the frivolous bill ultimately failed to pass, it first managed to suck the entire ASSU into a prolonged month of discussion and debate over an ultimately meaningless bill. For this month, we were not boring, but we were useless. This year’s elections reflected the increased interest in student government our mostly pragmatic year had produced. The Jewish Student Association, Queer/Straight Alliance, Stanford Democrats all played key roles in the election. The Stanford Review endorsed seven successful candidates. The Executive Election was a face-off between four serious and competent slates. Jonny Dorsey and Fagan Harris swept the Executive election, while the Senate is evenly divided between SOCC endorsed candidates and others. The Senate has once again been called divided and gridlocked. It is also, however, accountable – the involvement of a growing number of student groups in ASSU politics means that we have to satisfy our constituents’ needs and are subject to greater scrutiny. The more groups take interest in student government and seek out competent candidates, the more accountable and representative we will be. The Senate and Executive now have the opportunity to work together to consolidate the gains of the last year, and move the ASSU into new territory: 1. Oversight and advocacy The ASSU does not currently use its lobbying power to systematically improve University policies from housing to academic regulations. Past ASSU successes have been haphazard and focused on individual policies like gender neutral housing or course evaluations. The ASSU has not systematic way of gathering student concerns about education, housing, or student lift and forwarding these on to the administration with recommendations for policy changes. To address this, we need to leverage the 100+ students we have sitting on dozens of University governance and advisory committees into a policy-expert establishment. These students need to communicate with the ASSU, exchanging information about problems and policy fixes. 2. Better spending The ASSU currently underspends money for small student groups to the tune of $100,000 per year (see article). We need to distribute this money fairly, and help remove non-monetary barriers to student programming. 3. Student unions and student life We now have a new student union, but one that is anodyne and still leaves many students feeling underserved. We do not know what to do with Tresidder Union. Student space remains scarce. This year’s ASSU needs to make Tresidder and Old Union both real student unions. If we can stay focused on issues that directly affect student life, if we can meet these three objectives and others, if we can avoid polarizing political issues, we will have pulled off a year of effective student government. That may be boring, but it should also excite all Stanford students.