Sophomore Jarrod Marks was happy to hear that the ASSU Nominations Commission (NomCom) was nominating him to be a student representative on the Board on Judicial Affairs, the body responsible for all University policy concerning student judicial procedures. During his first interview, he told NomCom that the Board on Judicial Affairs was the only university committee that really interested him.
Imagine Marks’s surprise when days later he received a second e-mail telling him his nomination was revoked—because he is a man.
“I was confused and insulted that I was kicked off the panel simply because I am a man,” Marks said. “Although I certainly agree that diversity is extremely important for any committee or panel, I don’t quite understand why diversity in this case equals gender.”
Marks’s acceptance-turned-rejection has raised concerns in student government over the criteria Stanford uses for student appointments to key university committees and, critics say, exposes hypocrisy in the nomination process by sacrificing quality for quotas. Some suggest that the legislative bodies’ confirmation of all nominees deserves to be put on hold until a resolution can be found. Meanwhile, a deeper examination of existing campus rules questions the role that gender can play in defining committee composition.
At the Undergraduate Senate’s June 2 meeting, ASSU Vice President Jay de la Torre announced that the planned confirmation vote on nominees would be postponed until the 2009-10 school year, once NomCom resolved issues of “gender imbalance” in their appointments to certain panels.
Adding to the confusion, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) had previously confirmed all nominees to university committees, including Marks to the Board on Judicial Affairs, without incident at its May 27 meeting. However, because the GSC failed to follow proper protocol by publicly posting the nominees prior to their vote, the ASSU Executives said the vote was invalid.
“The Judicial Affairs Office informed us that the Board on Judicial Affairs did not approve of their [NomCom’s] nominees,” ASSU President David Gobaud later added, rationalizing the Executives’ decision to delay the vote. “Therefore, there was no reason to continue confirming the nominees because it would have to happen again for this committee anyway.”
Once the ASSU Executives learned that the Judicial Affairs Office would not accept its nominees, “I just let [NomCom Chair] Jonathan [Bakke] know about this problem and what the Constitution and the Joint Bylaws say,” Gobaud said. “We don’t support discriminating.”
The process is scheduled to move quickly as the new school year begins. New nominees to the Board on Judicial Affairs were chosen before the end of the 2008-09 school year, with what NomCom Chair Bakke described in a statement as “a special emphasis on gender.” Now, all NomCom nominees to university committees are ready for a vote by the Undergraduate Senate and the GSC at their first meetings of the year.
Marks’s experience sheds light on obscure and complicated guidelines for the student nominations process to boards that in fact make significant decisions on university policy.
The Joint Bylaws of the Associated Students of Stanford University include a provision that grants university committees the authority to make “additional objective requirements and objective criteria” for NomCom to consider when selecting students to nominate, so long as those new considerations are “formally specified.”
According to Bakke, “Before the application process began, we e-mailed all committees requesting them to update their student member needs for the upcoming year. A few committees requested personal meetings, as was the case with the Board on Judicial Affairs, and as Chair of Nominations Commission, I met with the Judicial Affairs Office prior to the application process. They requested a diverse committee, representative of the student body, with the most specific request being 3 graduate and 3 undergraduate students.”
Even then, the Judicial Affairs Office failed to give NomCom a requirement for gender ratio, which raises doubts whether their justification for removing men from the Board meets the “formally specified” requirement under the Joint Bylaws. A specific quota for gender diversity on the Board on Judicial Affairs exists nowhere publicly in writing.
NomCom’s website confirms that the Board on Judicial Affairs only asks for “3 Undergraduate students and 3 Graduate students, preferred. Diverse, reflective pool of Stanford student population, including gender, race/ethnicity, and field of study needed. Preferably to include one student from each of 6 or 7 schools.”
Further, the Board on Judicial Affairs was created and is governed by the Judicial Charter of 1997. When specifying the Board’s composition, it only states, “The Board should be drawn from a wide spectrum of the Stanford community and must include both undergraduate and graduate students.” Sex or gender is not mentioned in the Charter or its bylaws, which were last updated in 2008.
However, Section 5 of the Joint Bylaws has a clear nondiscrimination policy that applies to all bodies of student government, explicitly banning discrimination “against any individual or organization on account of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability.” Some student government leaders have argued this statement means a man’s removal from a university committee only because of gender constitutes discrimination by gender.
The Judicial Affairs Office refused repeated requests by The Stanford Review to explain their specific policy toward the make-up of the Board on Judicial Affairs and how long the policy has been enforced, maintaining, “All university departments have the responsibility for determining the composition of committees and boards.” Last year, for example, five men and one woman made up the student representatives to the Board on Judicial Affairs, which at the time included only two undergraduates.
Undergraduate Senator Zachary Warma, Chair of the Student Life, Housing, and Education Committee, suggested that confirming the new slate of nominees may go no smoother than it did at the June 2 meeting. “I am wholly convinced that it would be both unconstitutional and simply unethical for the Undergraduate Senate to accept the entirety of the NomCom nominees as it currently stands,” Warma said. “What is being asked of the Senate, to approve commissions that were altered by removing individuals explicitly based on particular characteristics, flies directly in the face of the ASSU’s nondiscrimination policy.”
For Marks, whose service as a judicial panelist gave him qualifications for the Board on Judicial Affairs, a loss of confidence in the system may be among the worst consequences. “Although I will continue to serve as a judicial panelist next year and probably the following few years as well, I doubt that I will go through the nominations process again to be on a committee,” Marks said. “The reason is not because I fear rejection, but simply because this episode has made a mockery of the process. The bureaucratic pressures that have surrounded NomCom have completely marred its integrity.”