Interview with Outgoing 2nd-Term ASSU Senator Luukas Ilves

In spirit of this year’s ASSU elections, The Stanford Review sat down with Luukas Ilves ‘09, a former editor-in-chief of The Stanford Review currently wrapping up his second term as an Undergraduate Senator, currently serving as chairman of the Administration & Rules Committee. Ilves shares his perspectives on his time with the ASSU as well as what it still needs to do to effectively advocate for students.

The Stanford Review: Luukas, you wrote in the Stanford Review at the end of last school year that “That government is best which is most boring. After a disastrous but amusing period of activism, the ASSU has finally returned to pragmatic but effective advocacy on behalf of the student body – it has become boring again.” Has that held true this year? What happened?

Luukas Ilves:
Yes, by and large we have succeeded in our mission of boringness! This year’s executives came in with an ambitious agenda—we’ve supported them where they were right, and constrained their follies. We’ve funded a lot of behind the scenes initiatives that will bear fruit in the next year or two. Much of this year has been overshadowed by the budget cuts, and developing a coherent strategy to respond to them.

TSR: You sought re-election to the Senate largely to advance an “un-sexy” agenda, revolving around internal reforms in the ASSU. What have you been able to accomplish? What still needs to be done to make the ASSU function better?

LI: We were in a rule of law crisis – the Governing documents hadn’t been updated in years, and important changes to the Constitution weren’t transparently available. That will be taken care of by the time I finish. I’ve spent a lot of time being the ‘Grand Old Man’ legislator—helping draft bills, serving as institutional memory, asking tough questions. I personally take credit for drawing most meetings out by an extra 20-30 minutes. You would never want an entire student government composed of people like me, but someone has to keep us honest.

TSR: Has your role in the Undergraduate Senate changed as a second term senator? Was there anything you accomplished this year in which it helped to be in your second term?

LI: Stanford’s 6500 undergrads have a lot of good ideas, and (trivially) most of them are not strongly involved in the ASSU. I’ve found that as a legislator I’m most effective not when I’m implementing my own limited ideas, but when I can bring my knowledge and critical eye, and the ASSU’s influence and resources, to bear in support of the brilliant ideas other students have.

TSR: Many Stanford students fail to see the point in the ASSU, unable to name anything specific that it does. What would you tell them?

LI: First, to claim we don’t do anything is simply wrong. The ASSU airport shuttle, the free tables you can check out to use in White Plaza, the Student store, running Big Game activities are all tangible services many students regularly use. But you don’t actually want student government running your student life. The ASSU has a history of spinning off successful groups—the Speakers Bureau, Flicks, Axe Comm, and others started off as ASSU initiatives
Second, we do a lot of behind the scenes stuff your average freshman doesn’t see. Sitting in tense meetings with administrators, working with student groups to pull of large events and initiatives, and most importantly, presiding over nearly $3 million in funding for student groups through Special and General Fees. Our funding process may be imperfect, but it’s far more fair and open than any administrator-run process on this campus.

TSR: What does the ASSU need to do to become better known and more popular?

LI: I doubt our popularity is a problem, but we do need to convince the best students that being involved in the ASSU is worthwhile. That’s a matter of better publicity. I see two big areas where we can do more.
First, we need to support individual students who have problems with the administration. We’re great at helping student groups who have trouble with (OSA Director) Nanci Howe or getting funding, but we do much less for the countless individual students who get stuck dealing with the administrative morass of this university.
Second, we need to develop policy viewpoints on the myriad of university policies that affect our education. From GER requirements and IHUM to alcohol policies, there is a student-centric viewpoint. But nobody knows what it is! Our 600 student groups are great, but they don’t strike at the academic heart of our education. If students want to set the terms of their education instead of being passive recipients, they need to develop coherent policy viewpoints and push for them. Considering the tuition our parents are paying, we are perfectly justified in taking a more consumerist approach to the services this university provides. The natural focal point for developing more capacity to influence policy is the ASSU.

TSR: How would your ideal ASSU look structurally, and what should it be able to do?

LI: Our structure is pretty sound. Sadly, we fail to take advantage of our existing resources. For example, the ASSU appoints over 150 students to sit on various University governance and oversight committees, often in voting positions. Unfortunately, these students don’t really know what to say or do on these committees, so they voice perhaps intelligent opinions, but they don’t voice the opinion of the student body. If these students had a coherent agenda, developed with the political arm of the ASSU, they could do a lot.

TSR: What are the biggest problems that the incoming executives and senators will need to tackle?

LI: The budget cuts, the budget cuts, and the budget cuts.

TSR: What should Stanford students keep in mind when casting their ballots for next year’s elected ASSU?

LI: It pains me to say this, but ignore the campaign rhetoric. It’s canned and aimed at freshmen that don’t know any better. You want people with the energy and ability to work hard, liberal or conservative. Endorsements do a surprisingly good job at picking out good candidates. Vote for whomever The Stanford Review endorses! (Also, do look at the Stanford Dems’ and Jewish Student Association’s endorsements—they’re pretty good and competence-driven).

What’s it like leaving the Undergraduate Senate after two years and watching a record number of candidates vie to take your place? And lastly, Luukas, what are you going to miss the most?

LI: (I’m going to miss) The comfort of the sandbox. Student government offers the opportunity to do a lot of good, but the consequences of missteps are minor. The outside world is less forgiving.

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