Let’s forget for a second that we are gifted with the self-proclaimed “World’s most effective and innovative student government.” Let’s also forget that a vast majority of the administrative officers are brand new to the institution and their positions. Let’s forget that with each new ridiculously named division, the administration more resembles the Soviet Union than a functional student government. Finally, let’s even go ahead and forget the fact that we’re talking about the ASSU.
Instead, let’s focus purely on logistics.
Since last year, the size of the administration has ballooned by over 500%. According to the Executives’ websites, to date the administration claims 16 chair positions, 5 directorships, and 23 representatives to the Community Action board. Including the offices of the President, Vice President, and Chief of Staff, this year’s administration will have at minimum 44 students in leadership positions.
This expansionary tendency does not seem to be slowing down either: the above numbers have yet to reflect the addition of the new Division of Internal Review (DIR) or Michael Cruz’s recent call for a slew of new positions (including a Director of Speech Writing… who knew?). The expanse of this year’s cabinet is unprecedented and essentially happened over night.
While remarkable in some sense, this experiment is destined to fail. In building their “omnipresent power-house”, Michael Cruz and Stewart Mcgregor-Dennis failed to appreciate a defining characteristic of student organizations at Stanford: their repeated inability to successfully create a sense of institutional memory. That and the fact that omnipresent, power-house governments have not been in vogue since 1945.
Fundamentally, the problem with Cruz and Mcgregor-Dennis’ vision of government is one of transitions, and therefore efficiency. Let me go out on a limb and say that it is plausible, though highly unlikely, that this year’s administration accomplishes what it has set out to do: to begin redefining student government through social entrepreneurship. Which only begs the question: what next?
Stanford student organizations are often faced with difficult circumstances, some of which are inherent to university life, others less so. The fact that students are generally only on campus for four year periods does not allow for sustained leadership due to the expected seniority of organization officers and the frequency at which transitions occur.
Additionally, many Stanford students tend to be restless in their activities, juggling multiple obligations during their undergraduate years and then focusing on post-graduation plans during senior year. These various pressures lead to botched, incomplete, or at times inexistent leadership transitions from year to year creating significant inefficiencies as new officers need to spend time reinventing the wheel.
Granted, some student organizations at Stanford, such as Students for a Sustainable Stanford or Dance Marathon, have become very skilled at preserving a strong sense of institutional memory and inducting each new class of officers into a framework of long-standing traditions. The ASSU is not one of them.
As exemplified by last year’s election, ASSU campaigns are predicated on challenging the established system and creating different, personalized legacies. Cruz and Mcgregor-Dennis’ new administrative structure will rise and fall with their tenure as Executives. And if the next Executive the student body elects still finds the need to have a Director of Speech Writing, we have an entirely different set of serious problems to address.
Student government officials need time, resources, and jurisdiction to be effective. The Cruz / McGregor-Dennis juggernaut is rife with students new to the ASSU, leading positions that have never existed. The opportunity cost of creating and developing these new positions while training the students in them is excessively high – especially since a majority of this bureaucracy will disappear come spring.
Instead of trying to replace existing student advocacy organizations through senseless layers of bureaucratic redundancy, Cruz and Mcgregor-Dennis should focus their efforts and resources on enabling existing and established student groups. How can we help community leaders achieve their goals through their existing instructions without creating an illegitimate, loosely-defined Community Action Board? How can we promote established entrepreneurial organizations without duplicating their efforts? Why do we need an Operations Manager and Co-Chairs of Project Management and Implementation? These are the questions that merit some serious thought.
Instead of thinking big, Cruz and Mcgregor-Dennis should start thinking smart. It’s easy to create a new fancy-sounding division or to endow a new chair of (insert sexy issue here). The most challenging and intellectually demanding aspect of being ASSU Executive is learning to put all the resources and leverage at your disposal in the most efficient and effective way; its learning how to extract maximum value from existing institutions without blindly creating new ones; its helping student groups help themselves rather than replacing them. Unfortunately, this aspect of the job has been neglected by our current leaders.