ASSU Elections and the Stanford Student Freedom Project

April 1, 2013, 5:19 p.m.

As ASSU elections season gears up for action over the next two weeks, the coalition of students concerned about this year’s Suites decision has formed into a new student group: the Stanford Student Freedom Project (SSFP).

SSFP will be endorsing candidates for ASSU office this year who share the group’s core mission: improving the quality, frequency and transparency of communication between Residential Education (ResEd) and Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) administrators and students; strengthening student voices in decisions that concern residential life; protecting the jobs and wages of the residential and dining workers who make students’ experience here what it is; and preserving student residential independence. We hope that by establishing clear, substantive and continuous lines of communication between students and residential administration, we can help avoid future catastrophes like this year’s battle over Suites Dining.

As negotiations continue (and look very promising) about the future of Suites Dining, it’s become clear that ResEd administrators aren’t bad people bent on the utter destruction of student life. They are simply people like you and me, doing their jobs as best they can but operating within a larger, Stanford-wide institutional framework, largely put into place over the last five years, whose key values tend to run counter to many students’ wishes.

This larger administrative framework prioritizes risk management over the educational value of letting students make mistakes and learn from them; emphasizes cost-efficiency and economies of scale over student autonomy and small-scale food production; tends to standardize the University experience at the expense of the weird and unusual places that make Stanford student life unique; fears potential lawsuits more than it does the gradual erosion of student-run enterprises and residences; and worries about what could go wrong more than it celebrates what is already going right. ResEd acts as the public voice, but not the architect, of this framework, and Suites is far from the only instance of decisions made according to its metrics.

The members of the newly formed SSFP understand that. We simply hope that as this great University moves forward into a new era of all-time-high fundraising records and all-time-low admissions percentages, we as students can help make a constructive case for the educational and formative value of student freedom on campus.

Stanford – in the classroom, on the athletic field, in the lab or workshop – aims to create individuals who stand out, who lead their fields, who break new ground. The University aims to shape minds whose research pushes back boundaries, who refuse to accept the adequacy of the status quo, who speak up when injustices affect the people around us and who take the hard path of leadership rather than blend quietly into the crowd – and, as Leland and Jane Stanford put it, “grapple successfully with the practicalities of life.”

In short, Stanford, apparently in every area except residential life, is all about taking big risks that might not pay off, thinking outside the existing box and not being afraid to fail. This University was founded by a man who invested with no guarantee of success and risked everything to build a school that looked and acted differently from any other.

The members of SSFP think that this admirable mission can be furthered and enhanced by a residential experience that lets students take the lead in managing their own lives; gives them the latitude to explore modes of living outside traditional dorm life; acquaints them with the practical difficulties of managing a budget, filing paperwork and scrubbing floors; asks students practical ethical questions like “Are you willing to pay a little more on your board bill if it means your chefs have the opportunity to keep their jobs and earn a higher wage?”; and allows students a voice in the decisions that affect them.

We are hopeful that students can work with, rather than against, ResEd and R&DE in fulfilling this mission and that these can be goals we all share. If this last month’s negotiations are any indication, we should be hopeful about that.

I’ll have more specifics for you about SSFP’s platform and policy positions in next Monday’s paper. Until then, we’ll be working hard to endorse candidates for next week’s ASSU elections: one President/Vice-President Executive slate, a maximum of 10 Senate candidates and one class president slate per class that best demonstrate the ability to keep student life independent and our workers treated well. We look forward to working with those candidates!

Contact Miles with any questions or comments at [email protected].

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