The veneer of Parents’ Weekend (or another critique of the administration)

Opinion by Adam Johnson
Feb. 25, 2013, 4:08 p.m.

While many opinion pieces of late have been written about the administration’s handling of Suites dining, food trucks and labor issues, I think it is important to highlight other administrative practices of a similar ethos. This piece will focus in on one relatively under-the-radar practice…

This Saturday, I was tidying up our house’s kitchen when two custodial workers entered to take out the trash. This was the first time I had seen custodial staff around the house on a weekend, so naturally I was a bit confused. Upon asking them why they were there, one of the ladies reminded me it was Parents’ Weekend.

Of course! NSO, reunions, Parents’ Weekend, Admit Weekend, graduation – whenever there are parents, alumni or prospective students around, Stanford spends even more money. There is better food in the dining halls, more frequent custodial service, greener grass, more luscious gardens and who know what else.

I’ve always had a negative impression of such practices. Is Stanford hiding something? Though the university is far from perfect, it is hard enough already to find faults in its superficial aspects; dining hall food is normally of high caliber, the custodial staff being absent on weekends has rarely been a problem and the campus is beautiful enough already. Why then does the administration continue to spend (read: waste) money making it appear even better?

These practices also send a message that the administration values parents, alumni and prospective students more than its current students. While we bring this campus to life nine months every year, we are less important when compared to potential sources of material gain – parents who pay tuition, alumni who donate to the university and future students who can boost the institution’s prestige. Not to say we are treated like dirt when parents and alumni are not around, but why does the university spend so much money to please people who do not go here?

Of course, this is not to say I want the administration to spend more money on superficial maintenance every other week of the year; this institution spends far too much on that already. But the costs of making Stanford appear better for five weekends every year likely runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If Stanford simply must spend that money, surely there are more worthwhile causes. Think of what the community centers could do with larger budgets. Or what about creating more service or research grants through the Haas Center, Bechtel Center or academic departments?

One might say that the costs of temporarily improving Stanford’s veneer have long-term financial benefits. Yet I highly doubt that an alumnus would donate more based on how green the grass was at her reunion or that a prospective student would choose Stanford over, say, Harvard on account of the dining hall food. In fact, deceptive practices like these only make me want to distance myself more from the university upon graduation.

I have no problem with the university displaying its better elements, such as the myriad student performance groups or the quality of its academic departments. There is a difference, though, between showcasing something that normally exists and temporarily improving amenities in order to mislead visitors. How I wish the university would stick to the former.

What other administrative practices make you cringe? Email Adam at [email protected].

Adam is a senior from Illinois. He is majoring in Biomechanical Engineering, although his intellectual interests span dozens of departments. This is his second year writing for the Daily (you may remember him from his work last year on the Editorial Board). Outside of writing, Adam enjoys acting, skiing, making music, and thrift-store shopping.

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