The ASSU’s Credibility Crisis

The last few weeks have not been good for the ASSU’s image.  First, the Review uncovered that former ASSU executives Hershey Avula and Mondaire Jones spent $13,000 of their discretionary funds on food and gas.  Then, current ASSU Vice President Jay de la Torre announced his resignation when his punishment for copying code in CS 106A, taking winter quarter off, neared.  So what has the ASSU learned from these events?

Not much.

Stanford Student Enterprises CEO Matt McLaughlin pointed out at the last Senate meeting that the ASSU now suffers from “a crisis of credibility.”  Students already criticize the ASSU for delivering too few benefits.  Time after time, the ASSU places a higher premium on process than results.  So when the whole organization falls under an ethical cloud, it at least ought to get the process right.

Think about it: there are no preventions to stop the ASSU executives from spending your dollars on fast food runs or gas for their car, and an executive holds on to his position until the last minute in spite of a Fundamental Standard violation.  Shouldn’t the ASSU want to start clean-up in the most transparent way possible to show that the problems are with individual people and not with the whole organization?

If you answered yes to that question, you’d be in disagreement with ASSU President David Gobaud.  At the last Senate meeting, Gobaud announced that his nominee to replace Vice President de la Torre would be one of his two chiefs of staff, Andy Parker.  Gobaud argued that it was necessary to promote someone from within his Cabinet who knew about all the ongoing projects; therefore, Parker would hit the ground running as vice president from day one.  Clearly using the same logic, Gobaud then chose as replacement chief of staff senior Farah Abuzeid, who has never been involved in the ASSU.

Gobaud’s selection process for these divergent nominees raises serious concerns.  Given the Vice President’s resignation for a Fundamental Standard violation, Gobaud should have solicited candidates from all across campus to demonstrate commitment to ethics and transparency.  He did not.  Instead, he told the Senate that the executives and chiefs of staff made the decision to nominate Parker for vice president, and they decided on Abuzeid for chief of staff despite the fact that she had applied last spring, not after the resignation.  In other words, Gobaud originally had rejected the nominee he now called “the obvious choice” without asking for other applications.

Worse, one member of the Executive Cabinet told the Review on anonymity that Gobaud tried to interpret the ASSU Constitution to mean that his nominees did not need approval by the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council, despite confirming his Cabinet nominees last spring.

So even though a lot can happen in six months, Gobaud chose two people from the inside without any outside recruiting, who also haven’t applied for any positions since last spring, and then tried to go around any approval process.  And all of this was made necessary by a Fundamental Standard violation.  It just doesn’t sound like the ASSU has learned anything from its “credibility crisis.”

And it isn’t just the Executives, either.  The Senate has failed to act as watchdog to keep Gobaud acting transparently or rectify behavior that led to this situation.  Astonishingly, after a full Senate meeting where ASSU officers give reports and senators can ask questions, not one senator asked Gobaud tough questions with regards to what he knew about de la Torre’s situation and when he knew it (questions raised by Review staff writer Jordan Carr in a blog post the day de la Torre’s statement appeared in the Daily) until the very end of the meeting.

So what did he know?  De la Torre told Gobaud of his Fundamental Standard violation in August, but insisting that it was de la Torre’s decision, Gobaud did not reveal the information until de la Torre was ready.  Gobaud also indicated he did not pressure de la Torre to resign until he was ready.  And this is the same ASSU President who still didn’t feel a need to be transparent in his new nominees for Vice President and Chief of Staff.

“Transparency” has been a buzz word in every ASSU election I’ve seen at Stanford.  I’m starting to get pretty tired of waiting for it.  President Gobaud and the Senate still have something to prove: is this a problem with individuals in the ASSU or with the ASSU itself?  The jury may still be out, but it sounds like it’s finishing its deliberations.

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