After being denied annual grant funding for the 2023-2024 academic year, Tiffany Liu ’23 and Emily Gurwitz ’24 posted a petition on their organization’s Instagram to gather the support of the student body – 15% of the student body, to be exact.
However, Liu and Gurwitz are not alone. So far, this year’s application cycle has the highest percentage of annual funding rejections in at least the last four fiscal years with over a third of clubs that applied for annual grants receiving recommendations for no funding from the ASSU.
Students across campus began to spread Liu and Gurwitz’s petition outlining what they believed to be a mistake by the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) in rejecting them an annual grant.
Kids with Dreams (KWD), a VSO “dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with special needs” according to their Cardinal Service website, is one of many campus organizations requesting help from the Stanford community to support their petition.
In a Daily op-ed written by KWD co-presidents Liu and Gurwitz, the two club leaders wrote that the Stanford community should pay attention to “ASSU’s unfair decision-making process for dealing with their budget shortfall, conflicting funding policies and lack of transparency.”
“We totally understand that the ASSU does not have unlimited funds to dole out and we are asking for a small amount relative to other groups. But, we feel like we spend it really responsibly and our club does great work,” Gurwitz said.
Originally, KWD requested $5,619 for the next academic year — a number that they requested and were fully granted in the previous two academic years.
“We didn’t get any personalized feedback on our revised grant. [The ASSU] just said we’re not considering any submissions at this time,” Gurwitz said. After learning KWD would receive no money from the ASSU, she and Liu decided to pursue a petition.
The question for many KWD supporters remains, how could the ASSU reject funding from a club with a relatively small funding request?
The answer lies in newly enforced policies that have left many small clubs on campus without funding or guidance.
ASSU funding, by the numbers
Out of the 214 volunteer student organizations (VSOs) that applied for an annual funding grant through the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), at least 80 applications were rejected.
ASSU’s Appropriations Committee wrote in a statement to The Daily that these VSOs can still receive their budget requests, “they just will not receive it through an annual grant.” Other alternatives for clubs include quick and standard grants.
According to data provided by the ASSU, the organization received annual grant applications from 214 VSOs this year, a notable increase from last year’s total of 139 as well as 2021’s total of 117.
These numbers also do not include other forms of ASSU funding such as quick and standard grants which are given throughout the year. Applications submitted this year are for funds granted next academic year (2023-2024).
For the academic year of 2022-2023, 23 applications for funding were rejected and 33 applications were given 100% of their requested amount — the remaining 83 received partial funding. In the academic year of 2021-2022, 7 applications were rejected funding and 38 applications were given 100% of their requested amount — the remaining 72 received partial funding.
The current total funding requested across all VSOs this year is $5.5 million. This total is still higher than data the past four fiscal years, reaching numbers higher than pre-pandemic totals.
These denials in funding come in the wake of Daily reporting showing Stanford’s neighborhood system is flush with unused funds.
The Appropriations Committee wrote that the proportional relationship between the requested and allocated amount is “not the best metric to say that we denied or decreased their funding.”
According to the Appropriations Committee, some clubs requested “dramatic increases from their previous years”, causing the ASSU to not fulfill their requested funds entirely.
All VSOs applying for funding for 2023-2024 were required to have a minimum request of $6,600; VSOs who requested less than this amount were rejected immediately, according to ASSU’s funding policies. Along with this minimum, requested amounts were capped to at most 7% for undergraduate groups and 5% for graduate groups above what was requested in the previous year.
The Appropriations Committee wrote that these percent caps on undergraduate groups historically allowed for a 5% increase from previous years. However, the cap has increased this year due to “the incredible amount of inflation,” according to the Appropriations Committee.
These minimums and caps have caused many VSOs to be rejected from annual grant funding due to not having a grant request that fits under this criteria.
According to the Appropriations Committee, another reason for this year’s denials and deductions in annual grant requests is clubs having large reserve funds, or saving accounts of clubs that did not spend all of their money in previous years.
Each year, the ASSU’s Appropriations Committee creates a “recommendation” for each clubs, a total that the committee recommends should be granted based on a review of the expenses.
The median amount requested across all applications this year is $13,405, more than $4,000 more than the median amount recommended across all applications of $9,139.
While some petitions remain open, some VSOs have already received a final decision on their annual grants. Sexual Health Peer Resources Center (SHPRC), Society for International Affairs (SIAS), Asian American Students’ Association (AASA) and Stanford Video Game Association (SVGA) all received 100% of their requested amount for this year.
Stanford Club Sports requested $433,179 making it the highest annual grant request this year. Other VSOs with the largest requested amounts include the Stanford Concert Network (SCN) with $243,771 and the Black Family Gathering Committee (BFGC) with $224,190.
This year, many VSOs such as Lion Dance or Kappa Sigma applied for annual grant funding for the first time. According to the Appropriations Committee, due to a lack of historical data to go off of, these “first-time groups have always received large cuts as we try to only fund their essential needs.”
VSOs that would like to request more funding than what the ASSU recommended are able to petition — a process that involves gathering 15% of the relevant study body population (undergraduate, graduate or a combination depending on grants being requested) and receiving a majority vote from the student body.
Clubs that fail to meet these requirements are denied funding entirely, even if the ASSU’s initial recommendation included some funds. This rule has prevented some clubs from petitioning their lower than expected approved grants in fear that they will be granted no funding at all.
Clubs at crossroads
Gerardo Alvarez ’22 M.S. ‘23, Society of Latinx Engineer’s (SOLE) financial officer, is seeking to reverse his club’s annual grant decision. Like Gurwitz, Alvarez said that this year’s application process was more confusing compared to previous years.
“On the website, it was really confusing on what I need, what specifically counts as receipts and what doesn’t. Like I didn’t know what to do,” Alvarez said. He also mentioned instances in which ASSU senators did not show up to office hours.
According to the Appropriations Committee, in previous years, each annual grant was required to be checked by an ASSU senator prior to being submitted. However, the Appropriations Committee wrote that the ASSU “received mixed reviews” over this process and were advised not to have this rule as it could pose a barrier to club officers who could not attend office hours.
Despite this, the Appropriations Committee wrote that the ASSU received feedback that the optional office hours was “not enough” and that more communication was desired. The ASSU intends to include these complaints to train and guide the Appropriations Committee for the next Senate.
Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE) External Manager Johan sent an email to all VSO leaders about these frustrations surrounding office hours. He wrote that the ASSU Funding Committee has “become unreliable in supporting students in the funding process.” In the same message, Sotelo suggested that club leaders turn to SEE as the “best resource for Annual Grant support.”
In a written statement signed by the Members of the Undergraduate Senate Appropriations Committee, the ASSU said that they have also received reports that some senators have missed their weekly Zoom office hours. However, the committee asserts that there was only one instance where a senator missed office hours “due to a last minute emergency with technical difficulties.”
Last year, SOLE requested $4,896 and received about 98% of that amount in annual grant funding. This year, SOLE requested $26,972, an increase greater than the 7% increase cap, attributed to the organization wanting to be less dependent on outside corporate funding, according to Alvarez.
The ASSU then notified the organization that they would not be receiving any annual grant funding this year, telling SOLE that they should apply for standard or quick grants instead.
Because of the $6,600 minimum and the 7% increase cap, SOLE was unable to request an amount within the parameters of this year’s annual grant policy. This was also the case for many other clubs who have historically requested amounts smaller than the $6,600 minimum, resulting in many funding application rejections.
SOLE posted a petition in March to help fund their club’s expenses, which include Diversity Study Nights, professional headshots for members and sponsoring individuals for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers National Conference.
Since then, SOLE has reached the required number of signatures and their petition will appear on the spring elections ballot on April 14 and 15.
“We’re sort of stuck in the middle — we can’t go lower and we can’t go higher on what we’re requesting,” Alvarez said. “It’s puzzling for many students.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed quotes from the Appropriations Committee. The Daily regrets this error.