Appropriations quietly tightens rules

By and
Feb. 1, 2010, 12:03 a.m.

The Appropriations Committee of the Undergraduate Senate continued, yesterday, its effort to curb spending by Stanford’s special fees groups — but unless groups’ financial officers are subscribed to the Senate e-mail list, they probably did not receive word of the Sunday afternoon meeting where special fees funding policies were revised.

Now, said committee chair Anton Zietsman ’12, groups have until 5 p.m. today to voice opposition to the changes before they are recommended as final to the Senate, which he said will vote on accepting the revised policies Tuesday. The policies would then apply to special fees groups until the 2011 review.

Zietsman said Sunday’s meeting was official, despite dubbing it a “review session” and scheduling it at a special time not during the committee’s usual Friday evening slot. He announced the meeting on the Senate e-mail list twice since Jan. 26.

He said he did not categorically notify financial officers of special fees groups, who would each be affected by yesterday’s revisions, because “the policy review process as been sort-of very internal to the Senate. It’s not customary to invite or notify all the financial officers when reviewing policies year to year.”

He defended his committee’s quick action, pointing to a section of the student body constitution that gives ASSU legislative groups — such as the Senate, of which the Appropriations Committee is a part — “ultimate authority” in distributing special fees. In an e-mail to attendees after the meeting, he wrote that “the reason we are moving swiftly is because we want groups to start planning their budgets early so that no one misses that deadline, as has happened in the past.”

One group representative, from the Black Student Union (BSU), attended the meeting. Stephanie Epps ’10, who now also works for the BSU, attended as a former Appropriations Committee member to lend advice to the current committee. A third student group representative, Tommy Tobin ’10 from the Stanford Project on Hunger, was also invited, Zietsman said, but did not attend.

The remaining handful of attendees were all ASSU-affiliated: members of the Senate, Elections Commission or Graduate Student Council.

Among them, the two-plus hour meeting raised what is emerging as the fundamental question in this year’s special fees discussion: whether student groups’ budgetary wishes or the special fees charge to individual students — some $119 per quarter this year — deserve overarching consideration by ASSU funding committees.

The discussion comes in the context of record-high rates of special fees refunds by individual students and warnings by leaders, including Zietsman and Matt McLaughlin ’08, the ASSU financial manager, that budget deficits may be imminent unless groups’ spending is reduced.

Senator Michael Cruz ’12, a committee member, cited the example of student groups who use special fees to fly members to out-of-state events.

“They can spend their money however they want,” Cruz said. “If they want to fly themselves around the country they can.”

Senator and committee member Alex Katz ’12 objected. “But can they use others’ money?” he asked. “They have to prove they’re providing a benefit to the student body.”

Epps said this was the question that the committee faces this year.

“The point of you guys is to make the hard decision and draw the line of what’s abuse,” Epps said.

For now, the committee has opted to make funding policies more strict. Among revisions they made yesterday, travel and lodging fares for guest speakers would now be considered as part of the honoraria line item, limited in total to a “soft cap” of $10 per student expected to attend the speaker’s event.

Event food would be funded, in limited cases, at $7 per student per meal, rather than the current $8 per dinner or $5 per lunch. The snack rate would remain at $2.

The cost of costumes — for example, for performing arts groups — would be funded for up to 75 percent of a group’s request or $75, whichever is lower, “if vital and necessary to the purpose of the group.”

Travel fares would be funded for up to $200 or 50 percent, whichever is lower, per student per trip; the current policy is $400 or 75 percent.

Gas would be reimbursed at $0.20 rather than $0.40 per mile. And registration fees would be funded for up to $100 or 50 percent of a group’s request, as opposed to the current 50 percent for up to $400 per year.

The committee would retain their right to fund all requests at its discretion.

Neither current special fees funding policies nor the proposed revisions are available on the committee’s Web page; their minutes are also absent. Zietsman and Katz both cited overall technical issues with the ASSU Web site this year.

The Senate hired a Web master last quarter to help resolve those issues. As to why his committee’s documents still are not available, Zietsman said Sunday, “That’s a great question.”

Login or create an account

Apply to The Daily’s High School Summer Program

deadline EXTENDED TO april 28!