Daily endorses Liodakis/Jones for ASSU Executive

April 9, 2015, 12:30 a.m.

At the end of the day, this year’s ASSU Executive election boils down to two words: mental health.

The significant problems surrounding the funding and structure of Stanford’s mental health ecosystem have propelled the issue to the forefront of students’ concerns, and reforming these issues remains the urgent and defining topic of this election.

Consequently, The Stanford Daily Editorial Board endorses the slate with the most detailed policy goals and deepest understanding of the mental health crisis on campus for ASSU Executive: Nikos Liodakis ’16 and Dottie Jones ’16.

While no slate is perfect and all include compelling ideas in various areas, we feel that Liodakis/Jones is best prepared to act on mental health, and other issues that will surface over the coming year. We conducted hour-long interviews with three slates — Liodakis/Jones, Finley/Hill and Troderman/Kulkarni — to identify the best ideas being suggested in this election and promote those policies that will serve students the best.


Mental health

Liodakis and Jones demonstrate a keen awareness of the specific institutional frailties currently plaguing the Stanford community. They have articulated a detailed, six-point plan for addressing the problem, headlined by an appeal for CAPS to make follow-up calls, forming a list of counselors categorized by availability and tackling the important, but difficult, challenge of mental health amongst student-athletes. Their plan additionally includes developing (mental) health literacy, lowering barriers to entry — especially with regard to transportation to off-campus appointments — and further expanding and spreading the Wellness Network to support RAs. While these changes are many, Liodakis/Jones demonstrated extensive knowledge of existing institutions and issues, feasible solutions and the ability to prioritize between competing concerns.

Moreover, both Liodakis’ and Jones’ personal experience add to their credibility as the slate most qualified to take on the current mental health ecosystem. Jones has served as a Bridge Peer Counselor and a board member of the Duck Stops Advisory Board. Through his current role as an RA, Liodakis knows the difficulties of navigating the existing system of resources, having assisted residents facing mental health challenges.

More than any other slate, Liodakis and Jones understand that the ASSU works on cycles lasting longer than a single term. They bring to the table a command of the important work that has already been done by the current executive. For example, citing the University-wide survey of nearly 1,600 students that took months to assemble, they focus on implementation in the year to come rather than more data-gathering. Lastly, Liodakis and Jones recognize that 2015-16 will be important for not only initiating policy changes but also preparing a three-year plan for future cabinets.

In addition to increasing funding for CAPS, John-Lancaster Finley ’16 and Brandon Hill ’16 also propose integrating counseling services more closely with residential life by promoting the use of Residential Deans (RDs) as a mental health resource and building off of the new residential counselors program. Drawing on both his negative experience using CAPS and positive experience with his RD, Finley, in particular, brings a candid perspective to the issue.

The Board worries that — while a novel idea — adding additional responsibilities onto the role of RDs will ultimately produce lackluster returns. In reality, Stanford’s seven RDs are responsible for the administrative umbrella which responds to the concerns of every undergraduate on campus, from roommate disputes to leaves of absence. RDs are also not in a position to help graduate students, a segment that cannot be forgotten on this issue.

The Board commends Finley/Hill’s suggestion to better integrate mental health resources with community centers, but overall, Finley and Hill did not provide a clear picture of how they would implement their policy goals on mental health.

The Troderman/Kulkarni slate has also identified mental health as its top priority. As executive, Joe Troderman ’16 and Nitish Kulkarni ’16 plan on relinquishing stipends for themselves and their cabinet (with exceptions for students with financial need) and directing that money, which totals about $50,000, towards mental health resources on campus. They argue that this move will send a strong message to the University administration that the student body is serious about reform. In addition, they plan to advocate for increased funding for CAPS and to create a multi-tiered counseling structure to give students more options depending on their specific needs.

Troderman and Kulkarni’s pledge to forgo executive stipends is one of the most novel proposals in this election. The Board, however, is concerned with their vague vision for where to direct this money, as their proposal — to let the administration decide — all but guarantees that this sacrifice will have little impact in light of Student Affairs’ $64.3-million budget. Troderman/Kulkarni’s $50,000 would go much farther if they targeted specific programs that could benefit from a small infusion of cash, like wellness events sponsored by PHEs. Overall, the slate lacks direction when it comes to reforming mental health resources. Troderman and Kulkarni also have not demonstrated that they will effectively build on the existing progress on mental health; for example, their emphasis on further polling of the student body reflects a lack of awareness of the thorough survey conducted by this year’s executives.


Funding reform

The second major component of the Liodakis/Jones platform is reforming funding for student groups, a plan driven by the idea to move certain organizations into the President’s Fund — a move that will save the ASSU money and protect certain designated organizations, such as The Bridge, from the perils of Annual Grants voting.

While this is a strong proposal, Liodakis — a former ASSU senator and the organization’s current financial coordinator — and Jones do not present specific criteria for designating President’s Fund groups, merely citing The Bridge, Alternative Spring Break and Stanford in Government as examples. The Board also worries that such a fund would create another tier in the hierarchy of student groups on campus and further promote the divisiveness prevalent in the current funding predicament.

Finley is certainly familiar with funding reform, as he authored the comprehensive bill passed by the student body in a special election in December. The third major component of the Finley/Hill slate is to fully implement the new system over the next year as executives, by monitoring funding allocations and increasing communication between the ASSU and student groups that receive funding. Though this does not sound ambitious, we agree that it will be a key responsibility for the next executives.


Campus unity and social life

In this regard, Liodakis/Jones fell short. In our discussion of the University’s decision to suspend the on-campus housing privileges of the SAE fraternity, Jones demonstrated only a surface understanding. This conflict, one where the University and students have very different understandings of the situation, is ideal for Jones, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, to lead. However, she failed to identify specifically how to bridge the gap between the University and a Greek system that is increasingly afraid of the administration. Other ideas by the slate to build campus spirit were uninspired: It’s unlikely the ASSU will be able to fill Sunken Diamond for a baseball game, just as it’s unlikely that the SUDPS will stop giving out MIPs at public tailgates.

Improving social life and particularly finding “a vision for the campus party scene” is a major priority for Finley/Hill. By working with the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, Cardinal Nights and Greek organizations, Finley and Hill hope that the ASSU can support parties on campus, which, they argue, will promote campus unity and curb increasing cases of binge drinking and alcohol transports. While Hill mentioned that it was a trying year on campus, he was abroad for both fall and winter quarters. We worry about his absence and his performance as sophomore class president: Hill said his former fellow co-presidents would consider him “hard to work with,” and the sophomore class presidents failed to put on a formal while he was in office.


Sexual assault

All three of the slates discussed the importance of continuing the current executives’ work on sexual assault. A particularly strong proposal is Troderman/Kulkarni’s plan to grandfather existing students into the affirmative consent education that was required of freshmen for the first time this year. With the recommendations of the Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices now released, we anticipate more specific discussion of the executives’ role in sexual assault policy in the coming year.


Additional policies

In our consideration, Troderman/Kulkarni has never been a “joke” slate. However, they need to clarify and, in the opinion of the board, drop their notion that humor is the most effective way to reach the student body, which is the approach they pursued in their petition. The issues facing Stanford in the year to come are serious: supporting a wellness infrastructure that has reached its breaking point, acting on the recommendations of the Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices and carefully managing the implementation of our new funding system. In this context, “joking” about corruption and the abuse of power is unbecoming if only because the two candidates have very real ideas.

Implementing need-blind financial aid for international students is a worthy goal, but past student leaders have shown it’s just not something the ASSU has jurisdiction over. In light of the University’s recent decision to waive tuition for families making under $125,000, Troderman/Kulkarni’s prospects for achieving this goal are dim. Regardless, the Board maintains that Stanford passes over some of the best talent in the world with an international financial aid policy that lags behind that of our peer institutions.


Editor’s note: Since the interview, Troderman/Kulkarni have decided they will devote the $50,000 in forfeited executive and cabinet stipends to hiring LGBTQ-specific support at CAPS.

Nick Ahamed, Desk Editor for the Editorial Board, recused himself from the Board’s vote due to personal relationships with all three slates. 


The Volume 247 Editorial Board is comprised of the senior staff of the opinions section and The Stanford Daily. It is chaired by Aimee Trujillo '15, the managing editor of opinions, and Joseph Beyda '15, the editor in chief. The Board is managed by Nick Ahamed '15. Executive editor Ashley Westhem '16 and senior staffers Ed Ngai '15 and Vihan Lakshman '16 comprise the rest of the Board. Winston Shi '16 was on the Board during Winter Quarter and is currently abroad.

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