Leading by Example

Student Activities and Leadership’s (SAL) choice to hire an outside provider to set up their activities fair, as opposed to the in-house Event and Labor Services (ELS), underscores the fact that cost reductions are possible and even necessary in this climate of economic downturn, if one looks beyond traditional ways of doing things.

More immediately, it also highlights a growing need to provide additional resources to student groups that would allow them to capitalize on similar savings, as well as a growing need for wily financial officers who are willing to learn the system and put in the time to spend budgets in the smartest way possible.

Due to concerns at the large rate of growth of Special Fees, many student groups saw a their budgets reduced by a stricter appropriations committee, meaning they will have less money to work with next year. Furthermore, the General Fee Reserve was tapped deeply this year, meaning next year’s appropriations committee will need to keep an even tighter grip on the purse strings.

Currently, SAL implicitly and explicitly encourages student groups to use ELS in most circumstances; on their website, they have lengthy descriptions of how to work with ELS and other on campus solutions to event planning. However, all they have to say about off-campus vendors is that “students can contract outside vendors (e.g. caterers, technical services) unless the venue manager states otherwise. If you plan to do this, be sure to read about negotiating and signing contracts.” Groups can hardly be blamed for not wanting to pursue off-campus vendors.

This pithy comment is frankly insufficient; SAL should work to complete a more exhaustive guide on how to utilize off campus resources. There are many measures SAL could take to resolve any reliability concern and ensure that student events using these resources would still be successful.

For instance, a list of pre-approved off campus vendors could resolve some reliability concerns; furthermore, this “recommended vendor” system could even be used to obtain special Stanford VSO discounts. Furthermore, SAL administrators or student group officers could post reviews on these vendors, quickly rooting out unreliable or poor quality providers.

There are certainly advantages to using an intra-University solution in certain situations, and they bring campus knowledge and reliability. We are not arguing that outside vendors are the right solution for every event, but rather that right now there is barely a choice.

After all, SAL’s mission statement is: “We work to help students find and foster their passions while developing their life and leadership skills.” How better to help students foster their passions than by expanding group spending capability? How better to teach leadership than by encouraging students to spend wisely and learn how to contract with “real world” businesses?

It would be remiss of us not to address the role that student groups and their financial officers play in the selection of vendors; quite frankly, too often FO’s do what is easiest for them, even if it is significantly more costly. This artificially raises costs for events, and ultimately results in less bang for student buck. If SAL made off-campus vendors a more realistic option, we can only hope that financial officers would use these resources and spend more responsibly.

Lastly, the ASSU Appropriations Committee could play a critical role to incentivize the use of off-campus vendors. Currently, event setup expense estimates are reached by using numbers from University organizations such as ELS. If, instead, the committees had some idea of the savings that could be afforded through off-campus vendors, they could approve less funding for events, ensuring that group leadership then make the most responsible decisions with their funds.

The benefits of using cheaper off-campus vendors for many events are clear; now all that remains is extending their benefits to student groups. SAL’s decision has opened the door to this possibility – they should endeavor to support and encourage these cheaper off-campus alternatives.  With collaboration from the ASSU and student group leadership, the costs of events could be lowered significantly, and possibly lower the financial burden of student fees.

— The Editorial Board

Correction: The headline of the last issue of The Stanford Review incorrectly stated that Basmati Raas and Mock Trial failed to successfully petition the student body to be placed on the ballot for ASSU elections. Both groups went on to receive enough votes to win their special fees requests.**


Unsigned editorials represent the views of The Stanford Review’s Editorial Board and do not necessarily reflect opinions of The Stanford Review or its staff. The Editorial Board consists of the Opinion Editor, the Executive Editor, and the Editor-in-Chief. To submit a letter to the editor or guest op-ed, please e-mail our Opinion Editor, Matt Sprague, at mattfs@stanford.edu.

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