It took a final outing to Illusions and a reunion with my freshman year dorm to realize that my time at Stanford is coming to a close. While the bittersweet feelings of independence and loss settle in, now is the time to look back critically over the past four years.
With regards to the ASSU, I’ll leave with feeling of confidence in the resilience of our institutions. Unlike any other university, our student government has an incredible amount of autonomy and while our complete independence from the university is an asset, it also bears with it substantial risk. However, the developments of the past years – from the 2009 budget cuts to the multiple vice-presidential scandals to the attempted constitutional reform – have ultimately been a testament to the staying power of the ASSU.
At the end of the day, the most fundamental function of the ASSU is the management of student funds. The social and programming aspects of our student government will vary from administration to administration, from useful to superfluous, from prescient to misguided (anybody remember the Wellness Room or Happiness Week?). If the past few electoral cycles have demonstrated anything it is that the student body has the ability to correct from term to term, picking the right leaders when the current ones have strayed too far off the expected path (yes, the Wellness Room no longer exists).
Of most importance, the ASSU needs to install safeguard measures to limit the downside risk of mismanagement of student funds in the case of incompetent leadership. Recent measures, such as the public disclosure of the Executive’s expenditures or the monthly budget presentation by the chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, have helped keep a close watch on spending, ensuring that student monies are being used in an appropriate and calculated fashion.
However, more rules need to be put in place to direct the use of the ASSU’s many slush funds. Whether these are buffer funds, reserve funds, or even discretionary expenditure funds, they total up several hundred thousand dollars and are too loosely handled by the Senate and the Executive (c.f. this year’s Frost expenditures).
An ongoing project of the following group of ASSU leaders should be to tighten the regulations for these funds in an effort to continually maximize the outcome of each student dollar and to limit reckless or egregious spending.
After having spent two years at Stanford entrenched in the ASSU, both as a Frosh Council representative and as a Senator, and then two years (mercifully) observing from the outside, my advice to the next generation of leaders is this: keep it simple, keep it focused.
Figure out what needs to be fixed, but most importantly, what is within your scope of fixing and apply yourself diligently to that. Unfortunately, the ASSU has developed a culture of overpromising and under-delivering – and yes, a point could be made that this is the case with politics in general. Hopefully the next year can be spent trying to reverse that dynamic.
Finally, and more broadly, I want to stress the importance of intelligent dissident discourse on campus. While ASSU meetings provide a good basis to entertain these topics – whether they be ROTC, divestment, sexual assault standards, etc – the campus at large suffers from a strong liberal bias. The Review has done an exemplary job of providing a voice to thoughtful dissent and differing opinions, but more still needs to be done for there to be a healthy ideological dialogue at Stanford, both in and out of the classroom.
This school and its institutions are only as good as the people that participate in them – which is why I can graduate confident that the ASSU, and student life more broadly, is in good hands. Of course, there will be ups and downs but there is no doubt in my mind that the ASSU, the VSOs, and the overall campus discourse are in a better shape than when I set foot at Stanford as a wide-eyed freshman four years ago.