Officials clarify ASSU-University relationship

April 27, 2011, 2:01 a.m.

There’s no doubt that the ASSU is a part of every Stanford student’s life—every student is a member, pays fees as a part of tuition and benefits from the activities funded by these fees. But the legal standing of the ASSU relative to the University lies in a gray area.

Established in 1969, the current ASSU is officially an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit. The company runs its own finances through Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE), including managing its own endowment. The ASSU Constitution section titled “Independence” states that the ASSU is “a body independent from control or suspension by Stanford University” and explicitly denies the University veto power on legislation that both the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council approve.

Yet, the unmistakably strong relationship between the ASSU and Stanford is murkier than pure independence.

“The University and the ASSU work together on a variety of issues, in many situations, and act as independent bodies in other situations,” wrote ASSU President Michael Cruz ‘12 in an email to The Daily.

The ASSU Constitution itself is a document accepted by both the ASSU and Stanford, and defines the relationship between the two parties. This does, in practice, officially allocate many powers of the running of the ASSU to Stanford and amendments to the contract must be approved through letters from the University president.

One notable clause regarding the ASSU’s independence came in a May 10, 1996 letter from then-University President Gerhard Casper, which explained the implementation of proposed amendments. The letter cites the 1963 Constitution that allowed the ASSU “to exercise and discharge major privileges and responsibilities within the framework of policies and regulations established by the University through the President of the University and the Board of Trustees.”

This clause both gives the ASSU University-sanctioned authority and obligates it to uphold the University’s established standards. The University officially gives many rights and privileges to the ASSU, like providing meeting space, allowing use of the Stanford name and, perhaps most importantly, allowing the ASSU Nominations Committee (NomCom) to nominate delegates to sit on faculty committees in charge of making University decisions.

Notably, former ASSU President Angelina Cardona ‘11, former ASSU Senator Deepa Kannappan ‘13, Graduate Student Council representative and Ph.D. candidate Justin Brown and at-large representative Jonathan McMaster ’11 attended Faculty Senate meetings this year. They exercised speaking rights at the meetings, putting them in the conversation on major academic and curricular decisions.

“[NomCom] interviews and places students on over a hundred University committees to ensure student voice at all levels of administrative decisions,” Cardona wrote in an email to The Daily.

“I believe that Stanford has more students on more University committees than most other institutions I know,” said Associate Dean of the Office of Student Activities Nanci Howe.

Despite the University allowing the ASSU plenty of direct involvement in the University, Casper’s 1996 letter expressed some concern about the ASSU’s independence, stating, “the Board cannot abdicate its responsibilities under the Founding Grant by ceding management and control in the area of student affairs.” He referred to the Board of Trustees’ founding duty “to manage and control the institution hereby founded.”

All in all, the ASSU and Stanford are two separate companies. But through contracts, amendments and day-to-day necessity, the overlap and sharing of rights can make this distinction difficult to see.

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