Editorial Board: Students deserve transparency and accountability from the ASSU and the University

Feb. 21, 2021, 11:40 p.m.

Thousands of Stanford juniors and seniors are waiting for an email in the next five days that will announce whether they can return to campus for spring quarter. Most students want the option to return if medical experts say the risk is acceptable. Others — who feel that inviting students back unnecessarily endangers people with no other choice but to live on campus — fear it is not yet safe to do so.

Last week, the ASSU Executives authored a memo to University leadership recommending against inviting juniors and seniors back to campus. The memo prompted immediate response from the student community — backlash from those who disagreed with the recommendation and confusion from those who wondered why ASSU Exec had put forth such a strong opinion without notifying or soliciting ideas from students. A survey soliciting student body opinion was circulated retroactively by the Senate, a few days after the memo had been received by the University. 

We recognize that the turnaround the University gave the ASSU to produce a formal memo was relatively fast. This being said, there was ample time prior to this period when the University and ASSU could have consulted students. Furthermore, we also realize the University did not ask for ASSU to present the student perspective. Instead, they requested the individual opinions of the ASSU Executive members. This represents a large oversight on the part of the University.

As undergraduate students and members of the Editorial Board, we lack the relevant information and public health expertise to agree with or criticize the memo’s recommendations. We understand there are times when it is appropriate, even necessary, for student leadership to advise against aggregated student opinion. What students think is one data point in what should be a rigorous, science-driven and equitable decision-making process. 

However, it was disappointing to see that a recommendation, which claimed to “share students’ top priorities,” did not draw upon formal, transparent discussion with community stakeholders or solicit student opinion to formulate those priorities. There would have been value in collecting and presenting our thoughts to the University, regardless of whether or not our preferences were followed. Specifically, it is unfortunate a survey was not sent to the student body prior to the submission of the formal memo. 

Although many assume that most juniors and seniors want to return, it is only by directly soliciting student feedback, through a mechanism such as a survey, that this opinion can be confirmed and reasonings fully understood. For example, a survey can provide insight into how overwhelming this majority opinion is and whether it is consistent across all student groups. Furthermore, surveys can collect personal anecdotes that can be invaluable in understanding the present student experience. This way, even if a recommendation is made which overrules the students, these concerns can still be presented and, hopefully, result in an improved student circumstance. 

Before we close, we want to be clear that this piece is not seeking to place blame on any one person for what was a larger, institutional failure. Personal attacks serve as a distraction from a more substantive dialogue regarding the importance of transparency and accountability within our institutions. 

Ultimately, the failure of the ASSU and the University to communicate with students represents an institutional breakdown. At a time in which students are being asked to place their trust and safety in the hands of the institution, students — and the community — deserve better.

The Vol. 259 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Jackie O’Neil ’21, Elena Shao ’21, Rachel D’Agui ’22, Nadav Ziv ’22, Megha Parwani ’21, Richard Coca ’21, and Sharon Du ’22.

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The Vol. 259 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Jackie O'Neil ’21, Elena Shao ’21, Rachel D'Agui ’22, Nadav Ziv ’22, Megha Parwani ’21 and Sharon Du ’22. Contact the Editorial Board at editorialboard 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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