The Path to Credibility: New Year’s Resolutions for the ASSU

2009 was, to say the least, a tumultuous year for the Associated Students of Stanford University.  Revelations about the controversial behavior of former Executives Hershey Avula and Mondaire Jones, an unexpected vice presidential resignation along with the questionable decisions made by the Gobaud administration in recent weeks has virtually led to the collapse of the Association’s credibility.

As students continue to care less and less about the individuals elected to represent them and administrators amusingly watch what has become a constant circus, it is difficult to imagine a fully functional and effective ASSU.

Lucky for the ASSU leadership, however, a new year has arrived.  Fresh off a three-week recess, it is time for the ASSU to get back to work and make some necessary changes before the spring elections.  In order to help them get the ball rolling, below is a list of resolutions (no pun intended) that are essential for finally moving forward, even if just a small step.

Broaden Candidate Networks

In recent years, one of the biggest problems with the ASSU has been its lack of diversity of interests.  Only a few groups on campus, such as Students for a Sustainable Stanford and the Students of Color Coalition, endorse candidates each spring and even fewer follow through with elected candidates to make sure they are representing and upholding the values of the campus as a whole.   This needs to change.

A consorted effort needs to be made by the ASSU to encourage more students from a variety of backgrounds and interests to serve the student body through the governing bodies.  The ASSU should not be a practice ground for future politicians but a change-making organization that strives to improve the lives of all Stanford students now and for the future.

Work Closer with Administration

Most individuals who run for ASSU Senate each spring are freshmen with very little knowledge of what the ASSU actually is.  As a result, our elected officials constantly reinvent the wheel when simply talking to the administration would save both energy and time.  One easy solution would be the assignment of a faculty advisor to the ASSU with institutional memory instead of a hodgepodge of advisor-like faculty members for each division of the association.  Centrality of information is essential for more effective decision-making by the governing bodies.

Encourage Student Involvement

Much of what the ASSU does is in a bubble.  Yes, the current Executives host a few Town Halls as well as advertise office hours, but very few students actually take-up these opportunities and even fewer Town Halls actually have a purpose.  More needs to be done by all branches to encourage student involvement at the micro-level.  What can I as a student do to make Stanford a better place?  There are so many issues on a campus as large as diverse as Stanford, so please tell me what I can do to help.

Communicate with Constituents

Besides telling us how we can be agents of change, keep us in the loop.  As much as I love reading Tweets from our Executives, it just does not cut it.  Set-up a booth at Tresidder or Old Union during lunch hours, come to house meetings, write some articles for the Daily.  Even a simple ASSU Newsletter each month would help everyone understand what is really going on behind the scenes.

Commit to Financial Accountability and Transparency

It is hard to believe that practically no oversight is currently in place to make sure that our elected officials are spending our money in good faith.  While the Undergraduate Senate has began putting financial policies into place that at least shows some accountability, more needs to be done to ensure that our money is being spent properly.  All branches of the ASSU as well as concerned VSO’s that are supported under ASSU discretionary funds need to meet to create some form of oversight procedures to ensure that student funds are no longer spent on steak dinners and midnight runs to Jack in the Box.

Utilize the Constitutional Council

This may be hard to believe but the ASSU actually has a Supreme Court called the Constitutional Council.  In a year of many constitutional uncertainties encountered by the ASSU legislative bodies, the Constitutional Council was never used.  Whether intentional or not, the Constitutional Council exists for a reason and needs to be better utilized.  By focusing more on constitutionality in decision-making, the more likely that we will begin restoring credibility to our student government.

Restructure the Undergraduate Senate

The final resolution for 2010 is more of a potential constitutional amendment that I believe is well worth pursuing in the coming months.  As it stands, the current Undergraduate Senate has fifteen members that can be voted on from a pool of thirty to fifty candidates.  Each voter then chooses fifteen preferred candidates from the given pool.  The problem, however, is a disproportionate number of underclassmen are elected to these positions with very little representation from Juniors and Seniors.  My proposal is that  we instead develop a system of proportional representation in which the Senate is composed of five Sophomores, five Juniors and five Seniors.  May be a long shot, but hey, what are New Year’s Resolutions for anyways?

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.

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