Senate discusses support for campus service workers, free speech in penultimate meeting

April 17, 2019, 1:06 a.m.

Nitery 209 was packed for the penultimate meeting of the 20th Undergraduate Senate. Attendees included members of the current Senate as well as many of the senators-elect, both incoming ASSU Executives, the ASSU director of academic freedom and representatives from Stanford College Republicans (SCR).

During the meeting, Senators voted on and unanimously passed two pieces of legislation, one of which confirmed Saturday’s preliminary election results. Additionally, two new bills regarding campus free speech were introduced and the bill on electoral reform, introduced at the last Senate meeting, was further discussed.

Support of campus service workers

After a brief meeting that was closed to members outside of the current Senators and Senators-elect as well as a series of rapid-fire updates, deputy chair Jianna So ’21 re-introduced her resolution that would make the Senate sign a petition supporting Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2007’s “demands that Stanford provide its workers equitable benefits and a living wage,” according to the language of the document.

“[This is] about people who swipe us into dining halls every day, who cook our food, and who clean our dorms, among many, many other people,” So began. “[The resolution] essentially establishes campus workers as an invaluable part of our community and that they aren’t currently treated as such by Stanford.”

This resolution comes in the wake of the campus workers rally in White Plaza last week, where campus workers and students came together to speak up about inadequate pay and unaffordable housing, among many other issues.

In addition to signing onto SEIU’s petition, the resolution encourages Senate support of campus workers’ future rallies and including education about campus workers’ rights and labor issues in the Senate class of order so that the next Senate continues work in this area.

“The resolution is unanimously passed,” So said at the conclusion of the vote. “Thank you so much, everyone. I’m really excited this went through.”

Electoral reform

Senators Gabe Rosen ’19 and Matt Wigler ’19 discussed the next bill, which was initially introduced at last week’s meeting. The bill would create a standing committee tasked with researching and investigating the electoral measures and systems currently in place in Stanford’s student government. Ultimately, it would produce ballot measures — allowing public feedback through town halls — for possible changes to Stanford’s electoral system that would be voted on next spring.

The main issues the committee would focus on, as listed in the bill, are: “The use of first-past-the-post voting for all non-Exec races, campaign expenditure caps, issues of electoral districting [and] endorsement group transparency.”

“Of course, there are still a wide array of issues that go beyond these four,” Rosen contended. “But these are the four primary areas that Matt and I have heard complaints about for years now in various shapes and forms. And it can lead to a perceived belief among students that the electoral system isn’t as accessible or fair as it can be.”

Wigler and Rosen both stated that the bill’s intention is to make the electoral process more open and transparent for future elections.

In addition, the bill includes some of Wigler and Rosen’s own ideas for electoral reforms. Some of Rosen’s suggestions include changing Senate terms to create a staggered effect in turnover, decentralizing Senate power by allowing access of some of the Senate’s powers to Frosh Council and class presidents and creating a district system for undergraduate elections.

It was this third issue that Senator Jon Johnson ’21 — who inexplicably brought a proxy to the meeting despite his attendance of the full meeting — took issue with, kicking off a debate among the senators.

“I do caution because I see this moving closer to our U.S. model with the electoral districts,” Johnson said. “We already know the problems that are associated with that: voter suppression, gerrymandering. These things bring up those thoughts.”

Current Senator and Senator-elect Martin Altenburg ’21 questioned the timeline of the bill’s recommended committee and why the bill does not recommend a point person for the formation and execution of the committee and its job.

“Why not an incumbent senator?” Wigler joked, implying that Altenburg would fill the point person position. The room erupted in laughter and chatter, causing So to call the meeting back to order.

In response to Altenburg’s question, Rosen said that the bill was intentionally open to the next Senate, although he did mention that the administration and rules committee was written into the bill as having partial responsibility for making sure the electoral reform committee is filled.

Outgoing ASSU Executive Shanta Katipamula ’19 brought up a concern that, although the proposed electoral reform committee would be a joint effort between the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and the Undergraduate Senate, the GSC has yet to be included in the discussion.

“I’m a little confused why this isn’t going to both bodies if you’re making this a joint committee,” Katipamula queried.

“We wanted to make sure that this was initially, primarily, a Senate task force,” Rosen explain.  “We want to demonstrate by having the Senate take the initiative early on that then the grads will be able to join on in,” Rosen explain. “We’ll be in touch with the grads as well.”

Katipamula responded, “I would make the suggestion that you should include all relevant parties from the get-go because I think, oftentimes, communication between legislative bodies is very poor and that there’s then a lot of bad feelings that occur.”

After a few more questions from senators, the decreasing time left in the meeting closed the debate and at Katipamula’s request, the vote on the bill was pushed down the agenda to next week.

Free speech

After quickly and unanimously voting to confirm the preliminary results of last week’s election, the Senate turned to the final two pieces of legislation on its agenda. Both were bills that will partially comprise a “toolkit” for free speech, as termed by director of academic freedom Zintis Inde Ph.D. ’19. While both bills address free speech on campus, each advocates a separate approach.

The first bill dominated the Senate’s debate. If passed, it would require an ASSU event statement on free speech and community values to be displayed on all student groups’ event announcements and flyers. The bill would create a working group to determine the specific language of the statement and the protocol for those who fail to comply.

From general wording clarifications to specific critiques, the senators’ questions were expansive.

“My first issue, which is completely practical, is that I think that this is kind of too long,” Senator Tim Vrakas ’21 said of the statement. “And 120 words is a good portion of a flyer … think about how it could minimize the effect it has on people who otherwise wouldn’t have to deal with this.”

“How granular will the enforcement get?” Rosen asked. “If we see one poster for an event that doesn’t have this on [it], that’s a violation, right? Is the [appropriations] committee going to have to be deputized, basically, to walk around and police when this out there? If so, I hope people will be informed of the fact that they’re going to be watched by people on Senate.”

Rosen continued, painting vivid pictures of the lengths to which groups would have to go to make sure that the statement is seen by attendees and members, including reading it aloud at dorm meetings and having Facebook content tagged for failing to comply to the policy.

“It’s not farcical, you know,” Rosen closed.

Katipamula and Inde responded by highlighting the importance of Rosen’s questions and reminding the Senate that the working group that would be formed if the bill is passed would have adequate time to determine how to resolve all of these problems.

The debate continued with Senators continuing to ask questions about the implications and effects of the bill. Wigler likened the proposed statement to warning labels on a pack of cigarettes.

“I wonder if it’s not problematic to treat free speech like it’s a package of cigarettes,” he said. “Particularly, when the message is longer than something that would fit on any package of cigarettes I’ve ever seen at 120 words.”

The Senate erupted in laughter again, but quieted down once Wigler began to ask his questions.

“I don’t trust the requirement not to be used by a less responsible Senate than either of the two that are in this room to try to put some groups out of existence if they fall victim, whether purposefully or not, by intentionally or [un]intentionally not putting this on their documents.”

Inde and Katipamula continued to respond to the questions, offering other universities’ success with similar programs and promises to change the wording of the bill.

The debate eventually closed with a comment from Ben Esposito ’21, the recently-named president of SCR.

“I think Zintis has a very good statement, a very positive statement … I don’t know about the peaceful protest part especially when stink bombs in CEMEX Auditorium, I don’t know if we should respect that…” he continued, expressing some of his own suggestions. “Just thinking about the best way to express these principles to Stanford University students … I think it would be much more effective if it was maybe read out before every event funded by special fees or event that the group decides.”

The debate ultimately ended with the meeting. Both freedom of speech bills will be voted on at the final Senate meeting.

Contact Zora Ilunga-Reed at zora814 ‘at’

Zora Ilunga-Reed is a columnist and a junior studying Philosophy & Literature. A native New Yorker, she was a Copy Editor, Desk Editor and Staff Writer in volumes past. Read her column if you want to hear her thoughts on the woes of humanities students, tech culture and more.

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