SAL vs The Real World

SAL vs The Real World

The world after Stanford is a harsh one. Stanford’s founders recognized that truth in the University’s Founding Grant, in which they established that the key purpose of Stanford is “to qualify its students for personal success, and direct usefulness in life” or, in other words, to ensure that the academic and social education Stanford students receive allows them to succeed outside of “the Stanford Bubble.” This mission has informed countless administrative decisions that have shaped Stanford and its students: everything from educational requirements to alcohol and sexual assault training aims to ready its students for some of the realities of life ahead.

One of these realities is that of fierce competition. This year, though, student leaders are claiming that Stanford’s institutions have fallen short of this goal because they are now enforcing open membership. This new policy, enforced by the Student Activities and Leadership (SAL) requires student organizations to provide basic membership (i.e., “access to the organization and its activities”) as long as interested students meet “simple objective requirements.” These policies mean that anyone with a demonstrated interest in an organization can participate to some degree, so organizations must increase their expenditures to accommodate more members.

There is a strong egalitarian appeal in such a policy: if a student wants to try an activity, they can do so regardless of their abilities and do not have to worry about potentially discriminatory factors that could work against them. In defense of SAL’s policies, Stanford Marketing claimed that the policy helps them to “educate more people and make a larger impact on the world outside of Stanford.” Under the new policy, students can learn about any topic that interests them without fear of rejection.

But many campus leaders have pointed out that exclusion is not inherently wrong, noting that Stanford as an institution exists because of subjective judgments that exclude 94.9% of applicants.

Despite their complaints that this new policy does not adequately prepare students for life after Stanford, many campus groups are afraid to speak out against SAL; after all, they are at risk of losing their status as a registered voluntary student organization (VSO) if they do not amend their constitutions to comply with the new policies. Of all student groups that The Stanford Review contacted, all but one group requested to stay anonymous and all but one respondent had a negative review of SAL’s new open membership policy. While Stanford Marketing described their meeting with SAL as  “a relief on both ends,” other pre-professional groups described the policy as “slow and crippling.” One group leader claimed that the new policy poses an “existential threat” to their organization: if they do not comply, they risk their status as a VSO; if they do comply, they risk decreasing the value of membership and quality of discussion.

One student leader, who asked not to be identified by name or organization, expressed concerns that with the open membership policy, “membership experience gets diluted, because personalization cannot be scaled at a campus-wide level.” A degree of selectivity, he said, “is tightly linked to community and giving back; when you feel like you have personalized attention, you pass this onto the next generation of members.” Without such a sense of community, there is less of a sense of obligation to give back. The result is a form of adverse selection – student leaders are less likely to want to plan enriching activities and projects if they do not feel that it will create value for their members.

While SAL’s intentions are admirable – openness and inclusivity are important to campus climate and student morale – many student leaders have expressed frustration with SAL’s heavy-handed approach to managing club recruiting. The real world is not as open as SAL is about membership.

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