Special Fee Requests – The Bad and the Ugly

Every year, Stanford student groups beg their peers, in the form of special fees, to pay for their trips, conferences, banquets, concerts and more. Many student groups thankfully use restraint in formulating their requested budgets. Some groups, however, demonstrate little regard for the pocketbook of their Stanford peers even in a time of serious recession.

Here are the worst special fees abusers of the 2009 special fees line-up:

Black Student Union (BSU) – $38,980.25 ($5.76/student) – Unlike other groups with swollen budgets, BSU only represents a narrow group of students; the money is not spread out amongst small student groups, but instead concentrated in a particular community. In the end, it’s good that Stanford has an active African-American community, but must they spend so lavishly? Their request has increased by about $4,000 since last year without clear reason. Moreover, more than a quarter of their budget is spent on food alone: $1800 for food on Parents Weekend, for example, and hundreds of dollars for “breakfast snacks” for visiting high school students. (Other student groups spend about 5% of their budget on food.) Considering they have a large reserve fund and Stanford students’ budgets are tighter than ever, the BSU budget lacks common sense.

Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO) – $32, 895 ($4.80/student) – Despite boasting a paltry membership total, this group asks for quite a bit of cash. Their request is disproportionate to their campus impact. Their main event, the Stanford Powwow, is impressive in many respects, but it is questionable whether students who don’t attend it should have to shoulder the costs.

Mock Trial – $29,004 ($4.29/student) and Society for International Affairs at Stanford (SIAS) – $20,504 ($3.03/student) – These groups certainly contribute to the vibrancy of campus extracurricular life, but their special fees request are a bit steep. The reason? Airfare. Both groups want other students to pay for their expensive flights of fancy to Atlanta, Boston, Seattle and other places. Trimming back these costs would make their requests much more palatable.

Volunteers in Latin America (VILA) – $23,090 ($3.41/student) – This group has relatively modest aims but an outsized budget- not a good combination. Certainly their work with Ecuadorian children is commendable but they have failed to distinguish themselves from the slew of similar organizations that send Stanford students to developing countries. What in particular about their organization deserves students’ hard-earned cash? The answer is unclear.

Sexual Health Peer Resource Center – $19,688 ($2.92/per student) – Another question: Why do students need free condoms? Answer: They don’t. As adults, Stanford students should expect to pay for their own contraception, as they will have to do for the rest of their post-Stanford lives. Surely, of all the serious costs incurred by a Stanford student, an occasional pack of condoms is not the one that will break the bank.

Astronomical Society – $19,473 ($2.88/student) – This small horde of stargazers wants to fund the construction of an observatory next year with the help of a generous alumna to the tune of $18,850. A telescope open to public use is a good idea, but surely there is another way to fund it other than raiding students’ bank accounts.

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