In Upcoming Elections, Be Careful Who You Fund

In Upcoming Elections, Be Careful Who You Fund

Campus politics at Stanford have been revolutionized in the past several years by a popular movement bemoaning lackluster student life on campus. But what critics of Stanford’s lack of fun cannot complain about is a lack of funds for student programming; Stanford’s Undergraduate Senate gave over $3 million in funds to 129 verified student organizations on campus for the 2023-2024 academic year. This money ensures that student clubs, organizations, and initiatives have the financial support they need to enrich the experience of their members. 

But the question remains: With all this money being poured into student life, how can students complain about a lack of fun?

I served as the Appropriations Chair of the Undergraduate Senate from the spring of 2022 to the spring of 2023. The process of student group funding is little-known outside of those who administer it and those who receive it. Most groups apply for “Annual Grants” from the Undergraduate Senate. These grants ensure that groups can receive a permanent and stable funding source throughout the academic year.

The Undergraduate Senate Appropriations Committee then reviews the grant applications to ensure they fall within previously established guidelines. For example, groups generally can only seek a five percent increase from the amount they received in the previous year. The Undergraduate Senate’s role is essentially administrative, ensuring that grant applications follow appropriate rules and procedures. The Senate is hardly interested in making value judgments about how the money is spent and whether grants are being used effectively. 

These Annual Grants, once approved by the whole Senate, go before the undergraduate student body, which generally approves every single grant. Last year, all grants on the ballot passed, with the most downvoted group, Stanford College Republicans, still getting over 75 percent support for its requested funding. Why such lack of real oversight? Most voters do not care about student group funding. The General Election ballot gives voters the option to either batch-approve all Annual Grants approved by the Senate or to go line-by-line and decide which groups are worthy of funding. At the last election, over 60 percent of students opted for the former option. 

The role of the Undergraduate Senate is mostly administrative, but even in that ideally neutral role, there are bruising fights between senators and student organization leaders. Failing to give a club as much money as they want, especially a club with an ethnic or religious theme, often leads to accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia… you name it. In truth, most of these fights occur due to student group leaders failing to comply with long established rules around the funding process. 

I do not fault the leaders of these groups for playing hardball and seeking more money for their organizations. However, senators must review hundreds of applications from these groups within the span of around a month, in addition to their own classes and other extracurriculars. Very often the senators—including me—rubber stamp the grant applications to avoid a fruitless political fight where all sorts of nasty allegations could be thrown around. Senators tell themselves that any problems can be sorted out at general election time, when the voters have their say about group funding.

But the voters always do the same thing: fund every student group. So, I am asking voters this election to really question what kind of student activities should be funded. 

All sorts of organizations receive funding from Undergraduate Senate: pre-professional organizations, identity-based groups, political interest clubs, fraternities and sororities, musical groups, club sports, the Stanford Concert Network, and much more.

It can sometimes be hard to tell how distinct many of these organizations are. Stanford Student Space Initiative received a whopping $143,297 in funding last year. In case that wasn’t enough for our aerospace needs, the Stanford Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Engineers, Entrepreneurs, and Enthusiasts club received $22,820. Meanwhile, the Stanford African Students Association received $61,540 in funding last year. Due to better organization and funding history, Eastern African students got $20,188 more than their Northern, Western, or Southern African peers who were stuck in the umbrella group. Stanford Student Biodesign & Biopharma received $20,988, while their competitors at Biological Interdisciplinary Open Maker Environment edged them out with $22,770.

Club Sports was the biggest single grant recipient at $284,583 last year. Why is Club Sports funded by the student activities fee and not the University Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER)? Apparently, there is an uneven gender split among club sports teams. This disparity could violate Title IX rules, which say that equal resources must be provided for men’s and women’s athletics at universities. So instead of assuming the responsibility of a core part of athletics at Stanford, DAPER punts Club Sports funding to student politicians who have to wrangle with 41 consolidated club sports. 

Remember: All this is paid for by you, the students. Every quarter, you are charged around $200 for a Student Activities Fee that funds every group. What do you want your money going toward? Should your money be spent on clubs whose only role is to divide the campus into Balkanized groups based on arbitrary identity categories? Should funding go toward pre-professional groups that promote a culture of fakeness and excessive backstabbing? Should it go to fund organizations like the Stanford Band, which is in effect no longer run by students and has had its unique culture destroyed by puritanical administrators?

At their best, student organizations enrich the student experience at Stanford, serving as places where students can learn, make friends, and engage in fun activities. However, the funding of student groups has become institutionalized and undemocratic. There is not enough of a check from the student body on the financing of clubs, especially from many that add little value to the Stanford community. 

The purpose of this article is not to call out any individual club, but rather to point out broader flaws in the system of student organization funding that pushes the electoral voice aside, leaves students overcharged, and fails to enhance the student experience. So go vote on April 25th, but only for the clubs you think add something great to the student experience at Stanford.

If you want to read more, here is a list of all the organizations that will be on the ballot.

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