Correction: The meeting of the UGS occurred on Dec. 13, not Jan. 11 as this article previously said. In addition, the Spring concert series will take place in Spring quarter, not Fall. The Daily regrets the errors.
Despite campaign promises and governing documents mandating transparency, student oversight of the ASSU remains lacking, as tracking ASSU financial transactions occasionally eludes even the organization’s student representatives.
The ASSU constitution mandates that “all records of any Association entity must be available for scrutiny by the public” and also requires that the ASSU “provide access in a timely, efficient manner.” The only exceptions to this rule, which do not apply to the following cases, are proprietary business information, banking of non-funded accounts as well as legal and personnel records for ASSU employees.
Over $350,000 buffer fund
The ASSU Senate recently drew its attention to a buffer fund with over $350,000, after several Senators became aware of the fund’s existence for the first time. When Stephen Trusheim ’13, former ASSU Elections Commissioner, went to the ASSU Undergraduate Senate to request $35,000 for a concert in the spring, he recommended the Senate look into using the buffer fund.
This suggestion was met with surprise and confusion by many Senators, who then requested an explanation from Neveen Mahmoud ’11, the CEO of Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE), the financial arm of the ASSU.
Mahmoud informed the Senate that the fund is created by a 10 percent surcharge placed on all Stanford students’ general fees to cover the cost of those who request refunds. The excess money has traditionally been used to fund student groups who did not receive special fees in a campus-wide vote.
Trusheim is currently an employee of the ASSU/SSE. Trusheim did not attend the meeting in which the vote occurred, despite a request from Senators that he attend. His bill was approved on Dec. 13 by an ASSU Senate that has not yet voted “no” on a funding bill this year.
Difficult to find the money
Student groups can only receive $6,000 from general fees, with a slightly higher cap for publications or groups who do community service. This stands in contrast to the $35,000 dispersed in accordance with Trusheim’s bill. Unless a group knew about the buffer fund, it would have no opportunity to request money from it.
Additionally, there are currently no rules or procedures for approving money from the fund. The appropriations committee did not have authority over suggestions for uses of the fund, and the money was not delegated in a traditional “funding bill,” sent out to the public Senate email list as attachments. Instead, the concert funding was passed as a regular bill, located within a Senate meeting agenda.
ASSU Senate finances scattered, untracked
In addition to the new and unregulated pool of money being given out to only a few student groups on campus, other areas of the ASSU severely lack transparency. Any student is entitled by the ASSU Constitution to request records concerning money spent by the ASSU Senate; however, this process is convoluted and oftentimes met with confusion.
Requests for the transactions from the SSE offices returned a series of transactions made from the ASSU Senate’s account; however student groups that received money were listed by a four-digit code used for MyGroups, the banking program for the SSE and ASSU.
After going through these documents and pairing each number with its student group, The Daily asked members of the ASSU appropriations committee to explain several significant oddities. Alon Elhanan ’14, in charge of communications and a member of the appropriations committee, responded by granting The Daily access to the Senate’s spending tracker, a Google document used by the Senate to record transactions.
Of the 39 transactions that were withdrawn from the ASSU spending account according to SSE, only 17 were included on the ASSU Senate’s spending tracker. Over $26,000 dollars withdrawn from the ASSU Senate’s account were not recorded in the spending tracker.
Chair of the appropriations committee Brianna Pang ’13 responded that all the spending was tracked in funding bills, which are sent out to the ASSU Senate’s email list each week. However, there exists no database for these documents, making the process of acquiring this information incredibly dense and time-consuming.
ASSU transparency moving forward
Pang acknowledged after a Senate meeting that these funding bills and spending trackers were not sufficiently updated or easy to access and promised to put all the funding bills in one place on the new ASSU Senate site. Pang and Senate Chair Rafael Vazquez ’12 both said they hope to do so in the coming week.
After a total of $75,000 was allocated from the fund (an additional $40,000 was given to the NAACP for Blackfest), Pang said she was working with Andrew Aguilar, director of the Division of Internal Review (DIR), to draft rules about the usage of the fund and to get a more detailed report from Mahmoud.