Undergraduate Senate accountability starts with transparency

Jan. 21, 2020, 11:31 p.m.

The importance of transparency in government is a concept familiar to most Stanford students. Yet until this week, a student seeking to discover what our 21st Undergraduate Senate had been up to would have encountered dead end after dead end. Prior to making a Freedom of Information request and beginning reporting for this piece, The Daily found that the last record of minutes from an Undergraduate Senate Meeting available on the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) website was from March 6, 2018. Only five senators had their pictures and bios uploaded on the ASSU’s website. And only five senators provided information for the Senate’s singular “Update Letter” this school year.  

Senator and Senate Director of Communications Mustafa Khan ’22 summed it up in an interview with The Daily: “The thing that has been really really shocking to me is that even now if you go to the Senate website, it’s not well-built in the sense that you can’t really figure out what’s happening.”

The website is in better shape now. Nine senators have their pictures uploaded, and the link to the Senate’s Google Drive features updated minutes. But for a slate of candidates who promised transparency serving in a body whose constitution enshrines it, the 21st Undergraduate Senate has spent more than a quarter falling short of baseline standards of accountability and accessibility. 

The ASSU Constitution mandates that “all minutes of meetings of Association legislative bodies … must be made available in electronic form within seven days of being approved.” Preceding her election as Senate Chair, Munira Alimire ’22 promised to reliably post these meeting minutes online. Prior to The Daily’s request for access to these minutes, the Google Drive folder was spotty, containing an incomplete record across fall and winter quarters. 

Alimire wasn’t the only senator to promise transparency. Sarah Saboorian’s ’22 platform suggested implementing ASSU Town Halls “in an effort to have greater transparency within the ASSU.” Anthony Duarte’s ’22 platform discussed “transparency between ASSU and the Student Body” and Martin Altenburg ’21 said that he was “passionate about … ASSU transparency,” adding that “transparency between the ASSU and the student body is important.”

Transparency should not be a yearly platform promise. It should be a bottom-line requirement embedded and protected in the structure of the Senate.

Undergraduate senators are “designated representatives for Stanford undergraduates” operating under the three general pillars of ASSU: advocacy, financial support and leadership. The Senate is the “representative to University administrators on hot button issues affecting the undergraduate community ranging from Title IX to sustainability.” Administrators are often heard lamenting how difficult it is to communicate with the student body; ASSU senators play an integral part in facilitating dialogue between students and key decision-makers. Moreover, the Senate finances over 600 student groups with approximately $2.5 million in funding. 

The labyrinthine process required to find morsels of information available from the 21st Undergraduate Senate’s tenure online was enough to demoralize anyone from trying. Students should not be burdened with chasing down updates from their elected representatives; senators’ activities should be readily accessible for discussion and criticism among the student body. Because we are unsettled by this lack of transparency and accessibility, we make the following demands for this and all future Undergraduate Senates:

  1. Maintain an updated Google Drive with agendas, meeting minutes and proposed bills and resolutions. Agendas and meeting minutes should be uploaded within 24 hours of the end of Senate meetings, and proposed bills and resolutions should be uploaded within 24 hours of when they’re introduced.
  2. Send weekly emails to the student body with updates on Senate projects and other happenings. Though there is an option to sign up for a Senate email list that sends out agendas, this is an obscure feature few know about. Why is the system opt-in rather than opt-out? If every student is a member of the Association, then every student should be automatically placed on the Senate email list to receive agendas and other updates. When bills and resolutions are passed, the student body should be notified via email newsletter.
  3. Keep an updated tab on the ASSU website with senators’ bios, original platforms and contact information. Additionally, ensure that the website is user-friendly and accessible, and that information and links are easy to find.

The Senate has made progress on numerous issues its members had set out to address: from alleviating course fees to making feminine hygiene products free in dorms to gathering support from various campus organizations to address cases of sexual violence. We think more people deserve to know. 

This article has been corrected to reflect that Mustafa Khan’s title is Senate Director of Communications, not ASSU Director of Communications. The latter position represents the organization at large; Khan represents the Senate. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact the Volume 256 Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Vol. 256 Editorial Board consists of Editor-in-Chief Julia Ingram '21, Executive Editor Holden Foreman '21, Managing Editor of Opinions Jasmine Liu '20, Megha Parwani '21, Nadav Zhiv '22 and Layo Laniyan '19. To contact the Editorial Board, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at [email protected].

Login or create an account

Apply to The Daily’s High School Winter Program

Applications Due Soon