The Mixed Messages of Modernism: ASSU–you’re doing it wrong

Oct. 7, 2011, 12:28 a.m.

The Mixed Messages of Modernism: ASSU--you're doing it wrong

Corrections: In this opinions column, “The Mixed Messages of Modernism: ASSU–you’re doing it wrong” (Oct. 7), The Daily originally incorrectly reported that the ASSU Senate is entirely unpaid. In fact, the Senate’s Chair and Deputy Chair, as well as the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, all receive stipends. The Daily also incorrectly reported that the ASSU Press Officer is a paid position. The position is unpaid.

The ASSU has never seemed to be a very serious organization; a close look at this year’s version (2.0? really?) reveals an inauspicious picture. Unless you feel that an ASSU Twitter feed and Facebook account amount to much, the new team seems to have little in store for us other than a stock of cliches about entrepreneurship. I assume this is par for the course. Most student governments have few duties outside of party planning, and the depth of their rhetoric often matches the depth of their responsibility. Anytime someone promises to use “entrepreneurial culture, your academic expertise, Silicon Valley’s technology, and the grassroots leadership style” to improve my quality of life, I am naturally skeptical of their ability to do so and, very honestly, I would not care.

It would not bother me in the slightest that their platform uses the word entrepreneurship five times in as many paragraphs, and references both Silicon Valley and innovation twice. It would not bother me that the student government an enormously silly and undefined chair of entrepreneurship. It would not bother me that 90 percent of the things discussed on Stanford 2.0’s website are outside of the power of the ASSU and extremely unlikely to be affected at all. None of this would even cross my mind as an issue of substance were it not for the fact the executive and its cabinet are going to cost the student body a combined $38,000 (including a paid “press officer” who comments on articles on The Unofficial Stanford Blog). Considering the wealth of other and better things that funds could be spent on and the apparent wrongheadedness of the current executive, I am seriously disinclined to give my support or even my silence. Also, keep in mind that senators are entirely unpaid. While the compensation budget for cabinet consultants balloons (why?), they are left behind.

The TUSB article was right to call out the current executive on its hubris, but after a certain point hubris goes beyond arrogance into the realm of the entirely stupid. Its blueprints for improving campus are little more than startup jargon and unsubstantiated word vomit. Precious little of it is actionable, most of it is way beyond the scope of the ASSU and all of it is worded in such a manner as to misrepresent distant possibilities as probable outcomes. Entrepreneurship and innovation are both catchphrases for the creation and implementation of new ideas. This, however, is not a plan or a strategy, but a broad philosophy that speaks of openness. We can have openness to ideas, but as yet we have no ideas. Precious little real planning has been done, but innovation has been trumped to ridiculous heights. Perhaps you could say it is too early to judge. When I saw this morning that the ASSU executives both received summer stipends of nearly $3,000, and then looked at their blueprints (presumably the product of a summer of hard work), I was legitimately appalled. Add this to the fact that the executive has the largest amount of discretionary funding ever, and there is much reason to worry.

It further shocked me when I opened The Daily on Wednesday morning to see that what the ASSU had accomplished last night was to pass resolutions regarding the California DREAM Act and a letter to Jerry Brown about SB185. It seems to me that this is indicative of an executive with endless ambition and no sense of what it can or should do. No one is deluded enough to believe that the ASSU has political clout, but there is extreme hubris in claiming to represent the political views of a campus that has elected you to improve their quality of life–not pursue your own crusades against leader X, for cause Y or demanding measure Z. Who would’ve thought that we were electing a representative to the state and federal government when we ticked a ballot box? I say this as not as someone who is angered by the views taken, but only by the taking of views.

The ASSU has real issues to address and important goals to strive for. We are one of few undergraduate student bodies without any substantive power in the faculty senate. With campaigning and effort, the ASSU could actually become a significant force on campus. There have been noticeable declines in the quality of dining halls since the introduction of Arrillaga Dining Commons. There is a sexual assault judicial system on campus that, in its jury advice, says that “acting persuasive and logical” is a sign of guilt. But lo, its concentration lies in designing apps, improving the sleekness of its website banners and making sure we have an ample number of Twitter updates to keep our feeds flowing. Senators and students alike should demand more of the executive, because we currently have a shambolic array of cliches arranged on a sleek Apple-esque background to guide us.

Many thanks to the surname-less Kristi of The Unofficial Stanford Blog for bringing these issues to the fore.

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