A look back at the history of the ASSU

March 30, 2016, 12:30 a.m.

As we approach the 2016 Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) elections, students will have the opportunity to vote on a student body Executive, a Senate, class presidents, special fees for student groups and referenda to express the student body’s opinion. Over the course of the ASSU’s 100-year history, each of the ASSU’s branches has undergone great change and controversy, with the current structure of the ASSU having been created relatively recently. The Daily thus takes a brief look back at the ASSU’s history and the evolution of student government at Stanford.

The ASSU comes into being

On Feb. 28, 1894, one of the first drafts of the ASSU constitution was published in The Daily Palo Alto. This constitution united the student body under the banner of the Associated Students of the Leland Stanford Junior University and created two committees, the first being the Executive Committee. Like the current Executive branch, the Executive Committee had a president, a senior, along with a vice president, secretary and treasurer. This constitution also created the Athletic Committee, which was made up of 11 members, with a president and representatives from each undergraduate class. This committee would elect managers for the University’s sports, including baseball, track and football. Though this draft saw no mention of the current Senate, the ASSU’s role in funding or class presidents, this is where the ASSU truly got its start.

On March 2, 1894, The Daily Palo Alto wrote that a discussion surrounding the constitution brought “out a large crowd,” with over 250 enthusiastic students gathering at the doors of the chapel where the meeting was held. From the ASSU’s inception, the constitution faced controversy and reform. This article curiously notes that it was surprising that over one-fourth of those in attendance were “young ladies.” The article later notes that “the extraordinary attendance of the women” resulted in the proposal of an amendment to increase female representation on the Athletic Board and to create a Women’s Athletic Association, but this amendment was later rejected. Discussion also circled around whether the managers of the sports teams elected by the Athletic committee should get a share of the net profits made by their teams.

This constitution would undergo many more amendments throughout its life. To highlight a few instances, a committee was made to study and rewrite the constitution in 1949; an ASSU Vice President candidate called the ASSU a “total and absolute farce” and suggested a constitutional rewrite in 1968, with the legislative branch being reformed later in the year; and a proposed new constitution was turned down in 1986.

ASSU creates The Daily Palo Alto

One of the first actions of the ASSU — even before the constitution was drafted — was to create The Daily Palo Alto in 1893. The Daily Palo Alto would be governed by the ASSU, and a board elected by the ASSU would be in charge of deciding the paper’s editor-in-chief and business manager. This constitution made it so the paper must publish every day besides Saturday and Sunday throughout the college year.

In 1926, the ASSU changed the name of the paper to The Stanford Daily, as many thought the former name did not indicate that it was connected to Stanford. There was also confusion between the campus paper and the local paper, which was called The Daily Palo Times.

Nearly 50 years later, students voted to detach The Daily from the ASSU and transfer all assets of The Daily to an independent non-profit known as The Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation. In January 1973, the Secretary of State’s office in Sacramento approved the incorporation of The Daily. This change was sparked when someone who had been jailed wrote a column in the paper advocating for violence against two people who had testified against him. University president Richard Lyman then urged the paper to seek independence from the University.

“Independence will mean more work and responsibility for both our editorial and business staffs, but this is a small price to pay for total freedom from the threat of control by the University, the ASSU or any other special interest group,” said editor-in-chief Donald Tollefson ’73. “We are very happy.”

Legislature and the Senate

The current ASSU Senate is actually a fairly recent development for the ASSU. Until 1968, the legislative branch of the ASSU was run by the Legislature of the ASSU, or the LASSU.

“The old LASSU was an amorphous mass of more than 140 members, elected according to residences or petitions from off-campus students,” wrote Daily writer Marshall Kilduff ’71. “Attendance was spotty, and voting credentials rarely checked. LASSU often was dominated by strong personalities or members who were masters of parliamentary procedure.”

The LASSU would sometimes fail to create student budgets and sometimes saw less than a third of its members attend meetings. In search for a better and more functional replacement of the LASSU, the student body approved the idea of the ASSU Senate in 1968. The Senate was a smaller 40-person group that was intended to better represent the student body, with the makeup of the Senate proportional to the size of the undergraduate and graduate schools. The following year, the first elections for the Senate were held and more than 125 students sought the 40 senate slots. Voters were able to rank as many candidates as they wanted in order of preference.

The Senate would have its first meeting later in the year, after which an anonymous Senate member wrote a column in The Daily chastising the new body. At the meeting, the Senate discussed the election of a chairman, procedures for funding and the formation of committees, which the anonymous writer noted was discussed amid “Machiavellian engineering, parliamentary wrangles and shouting matches reminiscent of the dear old LASSU at its worst.”

The anonymous writer would then detail an incident surrounded by a “pink card” passed around the Senate, the initiator being designated as Y.B.

“Y.B., prominent member of the old LASSU, added his unique contribution to the discussion of candidates for Chairman,” the anonymous Senate member wrote. “That contribution came in the form of a pink, 3×5 index card on which were written the name of one candidate, references to the armed forces and counter-insurgency research, and the innuendo ‘C.1.A.??’ This card was passed among the Senate, was the object of a physical struggle at one point, and finally was read — with its cryptic abbreviations — before the whole body. Said Y.B. later in the evening: ‘I assassinated his character inadvertently.’ Garbage.”

Fees and class presidents

Class presidents are a fairly recent addition to the ASSU. In 1995, the ASSU voted nearly unanimously in favor of creating sophomore and junior presidents as well as creating a frosh council. This was enacted in hopes of creating more community among upperclassmen.

“There’s a lack of class unity,” said bill author and ASSU Senator Rupali Gandhi ’97. “There’s a lot of frosh class unity. They come out of the dorms and then there’s nothing.”

Determining funding for groups was always a responsibility for the ASSU, but the fee and funding system has been under constant reform. To name just a few instances: In 1983, the ASSU proposed a new system of having groups apply for either association fees or special fees, and only granting students who voted in the election the ability to obtain refunds and waive their fees. This was seemingly in response to an instance in 1972 in which about 800 students did not pay their mandatory $3 ASSU activities fee for spring quarter. In 1995, students voted against a controversial funding reform called “The Balanced Funding Deal,” which would have “eliminated the fee refund and split graduate and undergraduate fees,” wrote Daily writer Brian Singer ’98,

“The election results have sent a decisive message to the senate,” said ASSU Senator Andre Vanier ’97. “The student body wants real reform that will benefit all students.”

Nonetheless, one of the people behind the bill, Mork Murdock ’95, was satisfied with the nearly 25-percent voter turnout.

“I’m satisfied because we got a good voter turnout.” Murdock said. “People were able to vote successfully on the World Wide Web.”


Contact Jeremy Quach at jquach ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Jeremy Quach is a sophomore Desk Editor for the Student Groups beat and is from Kansas City, Kansas. He can often be found smiling, stuffing his face full of french fries, and mumbling Beatles lyrics to himself. He can be contacted at jquach ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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