In December, the ASSU Senate rejected a request from the Stanford College Republicans (SCR) to fund a speaker event with former Vice President Mike Pence. The ASSU cited Senators’ concerns about event size, security, and public health as primary factors in their decision to deny funding.
These concerns all appear to have been untrue. Just one week before the initial vote was held, a group of 700 Stanford students gathered in Dinkelspiel Auditorium to watch the Nutcracker— the same auditorium that SCR petitioned to use for the Mike Pence visit. The hypocrisy shown by the ASSU, while embarrassing, also illustrates how public health and event size are apparently only of concern when a conservative speaker is coming to campus.
SCR filed a constitutional complaint against the ASSU. The Constitutional Council released their decision last Tuesday and ruled that the ASSU did in fact disregard the constitution and the vote was not done in good faith. This ruling overrides the ASSU’s rejection of funding for the event. SCR will receive their requested $6,000 to host Mike Pence. The Constitutional Council noted that they did not rule on the issue of free speech, but rather determined that the ASSU violated constitutional procedure. There’s a lesson to learn from this incident— students should be worried about the fairness and objectivity of the Undergraduate Senate.
Back in December, when the Senate first voted on funding, they did so in a private Slack channel. After SCR raised concerns about the private vote, votes were publicly recast the following day on Zoom. Initially, seven senators voted in favor, seven abstained, and one voted against. In the second vote, five senators voted in favor, and eight abstained.
Why did the vote change so much over two days?
It appears the Senators charged with representing us change their votes when held publicly accountable. Two senators who voted in favor of approving funding on Monday abstained in the second vote. The sole individual who voted against the funding in Monday’s vote also chose to abstain from Tuesday’s vote. This goes to show that when Senators are held accountable for their actions, they are afraid to stand behind what they truly believe.
This discrepancy in public versus private voting should be worrisome to all students, regardless of political affiliation. These representatives are meant to protect student interests and constitutional rights at all times, not just when they are being examined by watchful eyes. Let’s also keep in mind that the ASSU’s job is to approve funding for Stanford events in an impartial manner; most students pay a fee to ASSU with the assurance that they will be fair in their distribution.
But clearly, some Senators don’t believe they should make impartial and objective decisions. Senator Dehmani added, in a Zoom call where Senators were discussing their decisions, “we’re allowed to make moral judgements if we want to… as a senator, as an individual human being, you’re allowed to weigh your options, both technically and morally.”
Case precedent also reinforces the idea that ASSU has no basis for rejecting the funding based on ideological grounds. In the 2004 case Mefford v. Fifth Undergraduate Senate, the Constitutional Council determined “that [the ASSU] has a Constitutional obligation to fund student groups without regard to religion or political positions, and that refusing to fund a group because, say, the Senate disapproved of its politics would violate the Constitution.” Furthermore, the current ASSU president added that campus speakers ought to be assessed based on their academic and professional credentials. Is being a former Vice President of the United States an adequate credential to speak at Stanford? The answer is obviously yes.
This ruling is a win for the free exchange of ideas that is so important at institutions like Stanford. Even so, it’s still disappointing that this case was forced up to the highest judiciary power at Stanford. The funding should’ve been approved in the first vote.
While this victory is a step in the right direction, we should still be dissatisfied with the ASSU’s inability to represent students who disagree with its leaders’ political beliefs. If you are a Stanford student concerned about this, then get out and vote for candidates that care about the equitable and open exchange of ideas.