Editorial: Dissolve the ASSU Senate

Opinion by Editorial Board
Nov. 11, 2012, 11:24 p.m.

The ASSU Undergraduate Senate is an abject failure. It should be immediately dissolved and what little authority it has should be transferred in full to the ASSU Executive.

The Senate fails to fairly and accurately represent the student body. Senators run, mostly as freshmen, for an organization they know close to nothing about, and quickly realize they’ve inherited an impossible set of rules and regulations. And, for whatever reason, the institutional inertia of this organization and shortcomings of its members preclude the possibility of any reform from within. We are now convinced that our best, indeed our only, chance at serious reform is complete dissolution.

Any regular attendee of Senate meetings can describe how obtuse parliamentary procedures delay the passage of meaningless bills that are ignored by students and administrators equally. Discussion either goes on for far too long or far too short and real issues are avoided in favor of routine funding bills or, occasionally, abstract declarations about international affairs.

The problem has compounded itself year after year, as senators do not seek reelection and the Senate makeup shifts even more exclusively towards rising sophomores. The 13th Undergraduate Senate struggled to pass meaningful legislation, wasting its time on seemingly endless bills and initiatives that had zero impact on the student body. No members of the 13th Undergraduate Senate sought reelection.

At many schools, student government senate elections are hotly contested. During our 2012 election, by contrast, only 18 students — less than .003 percent of the undergraduate population — ran for 15 spots. Thirteen of the 15 elected senators were freshmen. It was the first time in seven years that less than 30 students sought election and voter turnout in 2012 was the lowest it has been in at least five years. When these figures are compared to the hundreds of students who try out for a cappella groups, publications and any number of student groups that often require a larger time commitment than the ASSU Senate, it is difficult to comprehend how the Senate pretends to represent the entire student body.

We’re less than one-fifth of the way through the school year, and already we are seeing the boredom, complacency and frustration we have come to expect from our student representatives in the Senate. Attendance problems plague the Senate, with one senator stepping down for medical reasons and another missing enough meetings to automatically trigger a bill to expel them from the Senate.

Why does all this matter? There’s the obvious answer of money — senators are paid $400 a year and manage discretionary accounts worth several thousand more. But more importantly, despite the lack of student interest, government representation remains a crucial function of life at Stanford. As the University administration continues to expand its bureaucracy and the decision-makers who affect student life are increasingly removed from students, the ability to speak and act as a unified student body becomes more important.

The Senate is currently responsible, for example, for approving the new Alternative Review Process, which determines Stanford’s policy regarding sexual assault, on behalf of the undergraduate student body. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has given Stanford a “yellow light” warning, listing four administrative policies that “too easily encourage administrative abuse and arbitrary application.” Compounded with the revocation of Chi Theta Chi’s lease and its larger implications for student housing and overall independence, as well as a harsher, ominous crackdown on underage drinking and the gradual shift away from residential dining programs, it is clear there are real challenges to be addressed at this university.

By allowing a small group that completely changes every year to ineffectively represent our interests, the student body is allowing the University administration to ignore a kangaroo court as the “student representation,” rather than listening to individual students, well-organized student groups and student staff for feedback. We must stop this.

This is not about individual senators. As the journalists who go to ASSU meetings and who have read the hundreds of pages of their governing documents, the organization’s bylaws and a convoluted institutional structure are more to blame for the chaos than the actions of any specific representatives.

Dissolving the Senate has been suggested before. To quote from a victorious 1985 Chaparral slate for ASSU Executive: “The time has come to change, even to replace, this government that once at least pretended to serve the student interest. No longer. Even that pretense is a thing of the past.”  The Daily endorsed that Senate-destroying Chappie slate in 1985, and we’d like to endorse the same action again.

The real work of the Undergraduate Senate, namely funding and representation, can be accomplished more effectively and equally transparently by the ASSU Executive. We strongly encourage the ASSU Executive to write a short and clear Constitutional amendment transferring all powers of the Undergraduate Senate to the executive branch, obtain the required signatures of 15 percent of the undergraduate population and submit their petition to the ASSU Elections commission, forcing a vote on the issue.

We need a system of student representation that doesn’t suffer from the same gridlock and absurdity with which the ASSU Senate has been plagued for several years now. Understanding the hand the senators have been dealt, we can’t blame them for accomplishing so little. But we can work toward fixing the problem, and we can transfer authority to positions that aren’t drowning in their own bureaucracy. Tell ASSU Executives Robbie Zimbroff ([email protected]) and William Wagstaff ([email protected]) to propose an amendment dissolving the ASSU Undergraduate Senate and assume its responsibilities. The ASSU Executive has proven itself competent and responsive so far this year, and we think they’ve earned the chance to fix this mess.

All they need to do now is ask for it.

The Editorial Board includes a chair, who is appointed by the editor in chief, and six other members. The editor in chief and executive editors are ex-officio members, who may debate on and veto articles, but cannot vote or otherwise contribute to the writing process. Current voting members include Editorial Board Chair Nadia Jo ’24 and members Seamus Allen ’25, Joyce Chen ’25, YuQing Jiang ’25, Jackson Kinsella ’27, Alondra Martinez ’26 and Anoushka Rao ’24.

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