Amid funding shortage, student groups frustrated with special fees process

March 31, 2016, 12:35 a.m.

As a result of Club Sports filing solely a special fees request with the Undergraduate Senate and not a joint-fees request, the Senate lacks sufficient funds to accommodate many other student groups’ special fees requests for next year. Many student groups were forced to spend the final weeks of winter quarter petitioning the student body for funding, leading some of these groups to question the transparency of the ASSU Senate’s recommendation process for funding requests.

The Undergraduate Senate offers several types of funding to student groups, one of which is special fees. These grants are annual requests over $6,000 that are drawn from the student body, according to the ASSU website. If approved, each group’s requests are then put on the ballot which is voted on by the student body in April.

In regular years, the Senate has allowed returning groups to request fees with a 7.1 percent increase which corresponds to normal increases plus inflation. However, this year, because Club Sports applied for funding solely through the Undergraduate Senate, the Senate was left with not enough funds to meet special fees requests that went above five percent.

Previous years, club sports filed for joint-fees, which pulled funding from the undergraduate and graduate student bodies. However, historically low voter turnout rates among graduate students meant Club Sports did not receive enough votes for funding last year.

“[Club Sports] are now only applying for undergraduate special fees,” said ASSU Senator Hattie Gawande ’18, who serves on the appropriations committee. “That means we have to shoulder their entire request now, instead of splitting it with the graduate students, and [the amount] was huge.”

Club Sports requested over $200,000 but was recommended for under $150,000 by the Senate, according to Gawande.

A returning group that requests over a 7.1 percent increase can get on the ballot by acquiring either a Senate recommendation or a petition signed by at least 15 percent of the undergraduate community.

This year, many groups sought but were unable to receive a Senate recommendation for the funding they requested. One such group is Kids with Dreams (KWD), an organization that benefits local families with special needs children. Hosting smaller sporting events every two weeks and around three larger events per quarter, such as their Winter Formal, KWD requested special fees to provide activity supplies and food for participants.

Because of expanding club size and greater number of events for special needs children, the club was seeking a 12 percent increase in special fees from last year, which totaled to $6,670, according to KWD co-president Dev Bhargava ’17.

“Our board has grown from seven or eight members to 20 members,” Bhargava said. “As the organization has gotten bigger, of course, it gets more expensive. We also always want to do better. Our personal goal is always to make the next event better than the one before.”

However, KWD did not receive the Senate’s recommendation and had to petition for signatures in order for their request to be placed on the ballot.

“It’s hard because we’d like to think that Stanford is super supportive of what we do, and when we don’t get recommended for money when we are not asking for very much, that is a very hard thing,” Bhargava said.

The Asian American Students’ Association (AASA) also requested more than the allotted increase in funding. The group, an umbrella organization for over 30 officially or unofficially affiliated Asian Pacific American subgroups at Stanford, underestimated their budget last year and used up too much money from its reserve. To accommodate for last year’s under-budgeting, the group is seeking a 30 percent increase, which amounts to $77,824 in special fees, according to AASA president Annie Phan ’16. AASA ultimately had to petition for signatures as well.

Both KWD’s and AASA’s leaders have expressed desire for the Senate to offer more concrete reasons for not recommending their groups. Although groups receive an email notification and invitation to the Senate meeting regarding the debate of the group’s funding request, group members are not present during deliberations, when the appropriations committee decides to recommend or not recommend certain groups.

“I think it needs to be more transparent, when the senate has the discussion where they’re recommending groups,” Bhargava said. “Because I would’ve liked to see what a discussion where most of the senators vote against a group that supports kids with special needs looks like.”

“I wish Senate would be more public about why they choose to recommend or not recommend organizations for special fees,” Phan said.

The Senate’s policy for recommending a group is contingent on the student groups’ benefit to the undergraduate student body as a whole. The recommendation process is meant to be a faster path to the ballot, and the petition process is a safety mechanism to double check funding requests the Senate is uncertain about, according to Gawande.

“If we don’t recommend you, you just have to collect signatures, because we’re not sure if it’s beneficial to the student body, so you have to verify it with the student body yourself,” Gawande said.

As for new groups on campus, they automatically have to petition for signatures to be approved for special fees. One such group is Stanford’s Biological Interdisciplinary Open Maker Environment (BIOME) club, focused on providing laboratory space for students interested in carrying out or learning about bioengineering projects.

BIOME board members used different tactics to garner enough signatures, including passing out donut holes as incentives, emailing and Facebook messaging friends. Members spent so much time lobbying that several were banned from sending messages by Facebook, according to BIOME financial officer Chloe Rickards ’18.

“It makes sense that a first-year club would have another barrier to go through as compared to another club that has been on campus for a long time,” Rickards said. “I thought that the barrier was too high. We still crossed the barrier but we worked really, really hard at this, trying to get the signatures we needed.”

Larger groups automatically have more manpower available to collect signatures, according to Bhargava. The imbalance can be unfavorable for smaller organizations and new groups. Another concern with the petition process was that groups that requested significantly different amounts were asked to obtain the same number of signatures, according to Rickards. For reference, BIOME is requesting around $46,500 whereas another group Stanford Collaborative Orchestra is requesting $8,497 and Stanford Jazz Consortium is asking for $85,400.

“If petition signatures were to be proportional to the amount requested, that would help out a lot of groups, too,” Rickards said.


Contact Ariel Liu at [email protected].

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