Well, whether you like it or not, it is officially that time of year again. Amidst the warm weather and spring quarter barbeques come a group of opportunistic, overeager Stanford students hypnotized on the coveted prize that is the ASSU. Over the next few weeks, catchy slogans, bright colored fliers and viral videos will permeate the campus, ultimately begging the question “why?” In a year where the ASSU has been dragged through the fire over issues of ethics and constitutionality, it is difficult to comprehend why anyone would ever want to take the reins for the 2010-11 session, not to mention spending hundreds of dollars on a campaign in which less than half of the student population actively participates.
As in all ASSU elections, campaign promises play an extraordinarily unique role in that they are very rarely achieved. Since over two-thirds of the Undergraduate Senate candidates are freshman, many know very little as to what a senator actually does and how the ASSU operates on a day-to-day basis. Even more disturbing are the oversimplified campaign buzzwords, such as diversity and sustainability, that are much more complex and broad than any candidate makes them out to be.
Below is a list of the top campaign promises over the past few years that are sure to emerge during Campaign Week 2010. While some slow progress has been made on these issues over the years, previous candidates have consistently disappointed; one can hope that this year’s candidates make a more concerted effort to understand the issues, the limitations to the power of the various elected bodies, and develop feasible plans of action to resolve them.
Funding Reform: More money to more student groups
It seems that every candidate wants to change the way in which money is allocated towards student groups, one of the ASSU’s most important responsibilities. The problem is not so simple. A multitude of organizations, from the SSE to the Senate Appropriations Committee to the Graduate Student Council Funding Committee, are involved in the distribution of funds to student groups and one alone does not have the authority to change the entire system. While the funding system is far from perfect, the process by which to change it as well as which policies are most fair for all groups is a discussion that has caused rifts among the ASSU and its constituents for over a decade, most recently in the past two months as the Senate has attempted to reign in Special Fees expenses.
Improved Social Life: Stanford students deserve more parties with fewer rules
Believe it or not, the party regulations at Stanford are actually fairly lenient in contrast to other prominent universities. Yes, many fraternities and houses have been forced to cut back on throwing parties in recent years due to budget constraints and the cost of providing security continues to be a burden, but overall these are small issues in the scheme of things. In addition, many candidates forget to even mention that social life can be improved through many other mediums beyond parties. Although some senators and members of the executive have committed to improve the atmosphere of Old Union and Tresidder, much work can still be done in creating more social opportunities on campus independent of dancing and drinking.
Mental Health: Students are overly stressed and need a place to relax
Mental health is a huge issue on college campuses. Classes, homework, student groups, work, friends, family and so much more push students to the limit at least nine months each year. College is stressful and sometimes students need to take their minds off of the work at hand and have some free time. In recent years, one of the ASSU’s solutions for mental health was the Wellness Room. While successful at first, the Wellness Room quickly began to become consumed by high costs and the inability to find consistent programming and students to run those programs. If candidates are going to promise to provide services to de-stress the student body, a more effective and targeted strategy needs to be implemented to achieve those ends; collaboration with student groups specializing in this area, such as the Bridge Peer Counseling Center, is probably the best way to approach the problem.
Communication: The ASSU is committed to improving the lives of Stanford students
Last, but certainly not least, we come to my favorite campaign promise, that of communication. From campaign slogans such as “Forward Together” and “Students First,” candidates love the communication buzzword and want their constituents to know that they are being represented. The problem is, a monthly email and periodic articles in student publications by ASSU representatives are not enough. Students to not want to be told what the ASSU is doing for them, they want to see it firsthand. If this year’s crop of candidates is indeed more committed to the collective values of the student body as a whole, I surely hope that they do more than send me the occasional email with an embedded YouTube video.
Ryan Woessner served as ASSU Elections Commissioner for the 2007-2008 academic year and was the Legislative Liaison for the Gobaud / de la Torre Administration until his resignation in December. He apologizes for his cynicism, but insists that the ASSU does that to people.