In the opening week of fall quarter this year, Special Fees funding was accidentally placed in the accounts of student groups that were not successful on last spring’s Special Fees ballot. Furthermore, the unsuccessful groups were also listed on the ASSU refund website for the first week of the refund period.
Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE), the financial arm of the ASSU, has now resolved the situation. Money was removed from the accounts of those groups that did not qualify for Special Fees, and students who refunded prior to the removal of the groups from the refund site were asked to submit their refund requests once more.
Hari Arul, Capital Group funding coordinator with SSE implemented the solution. In an interview with the Review, he indicated that “the Special Fees accounts for the relevant groups have been updated to the proper amounts, without any issues or difficulties. The system is robust enough to handle changes in the refund system.”
SSE said that it will follow up personally with those individuals that refunded prior to the change to ensure that their refund requests are entered once more so that they can be processed correctly.
Alice Nam, director of the ASSU Publications Board, first noticed the problem while reviewing the refunds website. She noted that a number of groups, such as the humor magazine The Stanford Chaparral, were listed on the site even though they had been unsuccessful in attracting sufficient student support to receive Special Fees.
Other groups listed incorrectly included The Stanford Progressive, Stanford Students in Entertainment, Stanford Cardinal Broadcasting Network, Society for International Affairs at Stanford, and Stanford Journal of International Relations. All six incorrectly listed groups were rejected by voters in the spring as they failed to attract the minimum approval level of 15% necessary to receive Special Fees funding.
Despite the accidental placement of funds in these groups’ accounts, SSE indicated that none of the money had been spent by the six groups. Raj Bhandari, chief executive officer of SSE, said, “No loss was incurred to SSE/ASSU because of this error.”
Bhandari also stressed that there would be no long-term consequences for students, stating that “all refunds are based on the new correct schedule; everyone has the option to ask for the correct amount from each group and no one can ask for more than what they paid.”
Former editor of the Chaparral John Lyman recalled discovering that Special Fees money was placed in the group bank account: “I think someone said oops, I can’t remember who.”
The ASSU refund system has come under increased scrutiny in the past year, as an increasing rate of refunds has put the Special Fees system in jeopardy. In fact, the 12th Undergraduate Senate recently considered a bill to require refunders to come into the SSE office to submit refund requests, rather than submitting requests via a website. The Senate has not yet taken action on the proposal.
As of now, it remains difficult to determine the extent of the refund issue, as data on fall quarter refunds is not yet available due to privacy concerns. Data from fall quarter of 2009 showed that 788 undergraduate students requested refunds, a significant uptick from previous years.
The latest refund crisis has been averted, but the refund issue is surely not gone for good.