Controversial special fees bill approved

Jan. 21, 2010, 12:05 a.m.

Regulation changes dominated Wednesday’s Graduate Student Council (GSC) meeting, with a heated debate prior to passage of a special fees bill — recently passed by the Undergraduate Senate — and a discussion about amending campaign rules.

Special Fees Stalemate

On Tuesday, the ASSU Senate approved a bill to end the practice that allowed student groups to automatically receive a 10 percent increase to their inflation-adjusted special fees funding.

The ongoing dispute over the legislation resulted in several students’ proposing an amendment to revise the bill. The amendment was rejected and the special fees bill was subsequently passed by the GSC by an overwhelming margin.

Still, the bill resulted in heated debate.

GSC members entertained ideas of changing the bylaw to include an annually adjusted amount, maintaining the automatic 10 percent increase, or voting down the proposals entirely.

Doctoral candidate in computer science Adam Beberg proposed an amendment that the automatic increase amount be determined each year by relevant legislative bodies. The bill in question proposed cutting automatic increases completely.

Chief Financial Officer and graduate student in chemical engineering Ryan Peacock emphasized the overall importance of accountability for student groups. “We need to keep in mind that it’s a privilege for groups to do special fees,” he said.

“I think we’re being too sympathetic to them, and I think that’s the problem,” Peacock added.

But Beberg commented that the extended process of petitions for any increase beyond inflation would cause groups to be discouraged to petition, thereby reducing programming.

GSC members decided to vote after examining pros and cons. Twelve members opposed and one abstained on Beberg’s proposed amendment.

The original bill, which strikes the 10 percent automatic increase clause completely, was approved with 10 members in favor, one opposed and two abstaining.

“The Undergraduate Senate needs to start saying no [to special fees increases],” said GSC Programming Coordinator and third-year student in electrical engineering Addy Satija. “This change will just keep them accountable.”

Campaign Fairness

Elections commissioner Quinn Slack ‘11 proposed two changes to election regulations. The first change concerned campaign flyers: Slack proposed to remove the stickers-regulated flyer limit and hand over the issue to environmental groups.

“Green student groups can make this into an environmental issue,” Slack said, “rather than a mundane enforcement issue.”

Co-chair Eric Osborne, a third-year law student, responded to the idea: “The green student groups can’t enforce like 50 students from going crazy with flyers,” he said.

Adamant about not allowing a change in the current sticker policy, ASSU President David Gobaud brought up issues of sustainability and equality. According to Gobaud, a co-terminal student in computer science, lifting the regulation will result in too many flyers and an unfair advantage for students with more money to spare.

“We need to level the playing field for those who don’t have a lot of money to spend on the election,” Gobaud said. “The election should not be determined by the ones who have the most money. Anyone should be able to enter the race and have a fair chance of winning regardless of their socioeconomic background.”

The second change concerned campaigning time limits. Currently, students are not allowed to continue campaigning while students are voting. The proposed change would lift the buffer time.

Secrecy and privacy also were brought up in the discussion. Determined not to allow this second change to happen, Gobaud insisted that capping campaigning during elections allows people to have a clearer mind.

“If you have someone going around campaigning during the election, then you’ll have certain situations that are going to be very uncomfortable,” he said. “There’s peer pressure. We should not open the elections to be controlled by peer pressure.”

Because of the controversy surrounding the issue, Osborne decided to hold a straw poll. The flyer enforcement change was determined to be unpopular, while the vote on letting candidates campaign until the day of voting split evenly.

Revision will not be made until further discussion.

Fundraising and Fund Approvals

Before discussion of special fees and campaigns, the meeting began with ASSU updates. After announcing that there will be a joint legislative meeting on Feb. 17 at 6 p.m., the executives went on to talk about their fundraising efforts in Haiti.

According to Gobaud, the campaign has generated $24,000 from the Stanford community in less than 72 hours and $150,000 from 17 partner schools in less than four days.

“It’s very powerful,” Gobaud said of the campus response. “All donations will be going to Partners in Health to help the earthquake victims.”

The upbeat sentiment contrasted with concerns raised Tuesday at the meeting of the Undergraduate Senate, where the focus was on increasing student donations believed to be anemic compared to other participating institutions.

The meeting continued with funding requests from five student groups. The GSC approved $1,974 for the Beyond Borders Beyond Identity event held by Southeast Asian student groups, $1,330 for the Chinese Women Collective, $820 for the Stanford India Association, $700 for the Coastal Society and $250 for the French Stanford Students Association.

Programming and operations followed funding requests. The masquerade ball ticket sales have steadily increased, with 898 people projected to come. Attendance for the ball will be capped at 1,100 people.

Members went on to discuss what to do with a ping-pong table purchased by the GSC approximately three years ago. After brief discussion, they voted to sell the table and direct the money back into the GSC programming funds account.

Elicia Blackford M.A. ‘10, a Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) student, was confirmed as the executive director of the student services division.

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