OPINIONS

Editorial: When the ‘wind of freedom’ falters

We share the disappointment of the Chi Theta Chi Alumni Board, expressed in a clear and compelling op-ed, in the University’s decision to not renew XOX’s ground lease, effective this year.

Moreover, we feel that the decision is part of a broader, systematic effort by Residential & Dining Enterprises and the Office of the Vice-Provost for Student Affairs to bring Stanford’s many and diverse housing and dining options under increasing levels of centralized control. This is an effort that threatens to permanently undermine this University’s long-standing traditions of student independence.

Student self-reliance has always been a hallmark of a complete Stanford education. Leland and Jane Stanford explicitly endowed a university grounded in the freewheeling spirit of the West, intended not simply to mold its students into fine thinkers but into men and women of action and vigor — in their words, “to qualify students for personal success and direct usefulness in life.”

From the days when students served as ushers at football games to help pay their way through school to the age-old custom of student hashing in the kitchens, independence and hard work have animated generations of Stanford students.

This is an independence that continues to manifest itself in the high levels of trust this University has long vested in us, the student body. From campus alcohol policy, which has effectively allowed students to drink while underage as long as they do so responsibly, to the wide latitude granted students searching for a major (you can choose from interdisciplinary majors offered nowhere else, and even make up your own), to its pioneering approach to coed living arrangements, David Starr Jordan’s “College of the West” has long trusted us to make responsible decisions and handle our personal lives with minimal interference from above.

This is changing.

In 2011, R&DE began to clamp down on the Row, citing a desire “to bring the Row program closer in line with the rest of the University” and an intent  to “increase oversight of all operational and financial activities in ResEd.” House dues were standardized, social dues were rerouted through students’ University bills rather than house financial managers, and vendors began to be paid through the University-administered Row Central Office rather than by individual FMs.

Also in 2011, R&DE began to exert increasing levels of control over the Suites Dining Societies on West Campus, flying in the face of 25 years of competent student management. Administrators threatened  to replace experienced student-elected management with expensive outside vendors (including a contracting company headed by the brother-in-law of ResEd assistant director Zac Sargeant), acquired control of Suites residents’ board bills and their distribution, forced cuts in pay to student hashers and placed the jobs of long-serving chefs in jeopardy. These changes significantly raised overhead costs for student management and created unnecessary inefficiencies for both Suites residents and staff.

So far this year, in addition to the XOX debacle, the University has threatened to paint over the community murals at Columbae and imposed an authoritarian ban ban on hard alcohol — even for students over 21 — during the summer session.

We could go on at some length, but the story is the same everywhere: more standardization, more centralization, more homogeneity. XOX is only the latest casualty of what appears to be a comprehensive plan to mitigate University risk at the expense of the student experience.

We believe this is a larger problem than Chi Theta Chi. We encourage anyone who is concerned about maintaining diversity and independence in student housing and dining to support XOX.

But we also encourage XOX residents and supporters to recognize that their problems with University administration are not unique; they are part of a broader pattern that requires broader solutions. And some of this communication failure must lie on their shoulders. The residents of XOX have failed to show the broader community that their situation is merely a fiber in a larger cloth. They have alienated many of the very groups they should be reaching out to for support.

Comments on stories featured on this website decry a Stanford where students, “work on startups that we’re only interested in because they could make us rich, and justify it all as hip Bay Area individualism and have wet dreams about becoming the next Mark Zuckerfuck.” They label R&DE’s decision as a, “chimeric triumph of capitalism, a debilitating and isolating overemphasis on sticking it alone, which is precisely at odds with the cooperative spirit of Chi Theta Chi.”

Another comment reads, “Our administration won’t be happy until every student is a fucking start-up obsessed facebooking premed drone who quietly finishes their degree with all A’s and then goes on to pour their corporate paychecks into the alumni donation coffers.”

And another, written by former XOX resident Peter McDonald, reads, “Yeah bro, who needs community when you’re making THIS MUCH MONEY, amirite business school? Econ majors? Startup bros? I mean seriously, have you seen how much money Stanford is making? I’d gladly spend all four years in a sensory deprivation chamber if it meant I got to make THAT MUCH MONEY coming out. Money is so awesome!”

XOX’s most vocal supporters deride and alienate anyone who is interested in starting his or her own company, other co-ops that promote alternative cultures, students who want to get all As on their transcripts and anyone who doesn’t inherently dislike money and capitalism. That’s too large a chunk of the student body to chew out, especially when you should be building bridges instead of burning them.

Whether we are econ majors or dedicated artists, residents of Chi Theta Chi or Crothers, we all have an interest in defending the diversity and independence that have long made the Stanford experience unique. On this issue we stand and fall together, and we should work together to solve what has now become everyone’s problem.

It may be too late to save Chi Theta Chi. But this will not be the last erosion of student independence. Whether you are a member of a Greek community increasingly restricted by unfair policies, a freshman who can no longer bring alcohol to your friends’ dorms or part of a student government that must increasingly fight the University bureaucracy, we must all speak out against infringements on student independence, wherever they are found

About Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board is chaired by President and Editor in Chief George Chen, who is joined by Executive Editor Marshall Watkins, Managing Editor of News Catherine Zaw, Managing Editor of Sports Do-Hyoung Park and Managing Editor of Opinions Winston Shi. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at eic@stanforddaily.com.
  • Laura McMartin

    XOX did explicitly seek to join forces with other students and causes. Many students from co-ops, row houses, fraternities, etc. across campus attended our 5/14/12 march on Greg Boardman’s office. A student from EBF gave a speech at the march about how he and his housemates too feel University encroachment on their day-to-day freedoms. Chi Theta Chi residents dined with Synergy, seeking support not only for our cause, but to oppose restriction of co-op freedom generally. We also aligned the XOX takeover with Housing’s desire to put electronic locks/alarms on the the doors of all row houses, which violates the openness that is elemental to the co-op ethos. Unfortunately, widespread solidarity was not in the cards, likely because other students did not face such an egregious act as the theft of their home.

    Nevertheless, I am glad the message is finally getting out there that this is indeed an institution-wide problem. As a great Stanford alumnus put it:

    “Clearly, the admin’s decision to take over XOX can only be the tip of an iceberg of a pathology of thinking, attitude, and behavior within the administration that is a matter of concern to all Stanford students, and alumni who are loyal to the institution. The administration has invaded student life by a thousand cuts, each too small to mobilize an insurrection. But the taking of alumni property goes way over the line — a line that the community must simply not allow them to cross. Save XOX can potentially be seen as a rallying issue for all who are concerned about the soul of Stanford University.”

    Tragically, the administration did cross that line, but we must continue to fight against each and every cut in order to preserve a semblance of independence and real-world living on this campus.

    Laura McMartin
    XOX Resident 2011-2013
    KM Summer 2012

  • pol_incorrect

    “Leland and Jane Stanford explicitly endowed a university grounded in
    the freewheeling spirit of the West, intended not simply to mold its
    students into fine thinkers but into men and women of action and
    vigor — in their words, “to qualify students for personal success and
    direct usefulness in life.””

    BS, this is a prime example of idiotic selective outrage. I think that Leland Stanford would have more important reasons to spin in his grave than this XOX thing. Considering that he, a Republican with profound moral values, founded a university that has become a stronghold of the American left, and its culture of reliance on government, as well as a haven for gay activists; he would be probably appalled that current Stanford students worry more about this stupid XOX issue than the brain washing they are subjected to everyday in class by their leftist professors.

  • Trees

    As someone who supported xox, I agree that some of language used by theta chi residents was alienating to members of the student body.

  • Trees

    some members*

  • Coop resident

    Your utter ignorance of Leland Stanford’s political leanings is amusing. Please spout your bullshit somewhere else

    Leland was a huge fan of cooperatives, specifically worker cooperatives: http://dynamics.org/~altenber/PAPERS/BCLSFV/

  • pol_incorrect

    This is what liberal, in the sense of leftist, education does to the brain, it damages it beyond repair. Where in that article do you get that Stanford was FOR government intervention in the economy and FOR government forced creation of those cooperatives? From your link in his own words (the capital letters are mine for emphasis ), “VOLUNTARY association of labor into co-operative relation secures
    to itself both the wages and the premium”. To a certain degree that vision has become reality in Silicon Valley through compensation mechanisms that favor equity/stock options over big salaries. He was the prime example of a self made man who wanted others to share his success not to have government redistribute HIS wealth as government saw fit. In fact, he/Jane left their fortune to Stanford University because they understood too well that their legacy would be in better hands that way than in government’s hands. In fact Jane Stanford fought vigorously attempts by the federal government to seize the university’s estate after his death http://janestanford.stanford.edu/timeline.html . As to the morality of the Stanfords, it’s well known, so much so that from the university’s own website: http://janestanford.stanford.edu/values.html “Jane’s strong Christian beliefs sustained her in the difficult years
    after the deaths of her son and her husband. She spoke often of her
    belief that she would be reunited with them after death. Jane also cared
    passionately about the moral development of Stanford students. She
    considered Memorial Church the heart of the university, and insisted
    that all services held there be nondenominational.” And this is the late XIX-th century Christianity we are talking about. So forget about recent revisionist attempts to rewrite Christianity’s historic opposition to homosexuality (let alone gay marriage). I am not so sure she’d be ecstatic about the trustees decision to let Memorial Church be used for Dalai Lama’s Kumbayas and the like.

  • pol_incorrect

    More from your own article, ”
    The VOLUNTARY nature of this alternative was central to Stanford’s viewpoint,
    and he was HIGHLY CRITICAL of COERCIVE or GOVERNMENTAL REDISTRIBUTION
    OF WEALTH, which was advocated by communist and other movements of the
    time. The inalienable rights of the citizen were paramount to Stanford;
    he pointed to the principles in the Declaration of Independence as being
    essential for just government, and that
    with these principles fully recognized, agrarianism and communism can
    have only an ephemeral existence. … [Cooperatives] will accomplish all
    that is sought to be secured by the labor leagues,
    trades-unions and other federations of workmen, and will be free from
    the objection of even impliedly attempting to take the unauthorized or
    wrongful control of the property, capital or time of others.26″

  • haydn dufrene
  • Snoopy

    Another article to look at if you’re interested in how the XOX issue should be an alarm for the rest of the Stanford student body, provoking a discussion about the need for community independence, free expression, shared common spaces, and true student democracy.
    “IT’S TIME FOR US TO GROW UP, COLLECTIVELY ORGANIZE, AND FIGHT BACK: PROTECTING XOX (AND YOURSELF) FROM STANFORD’S “ERA OF INFANTILIZATION”
    http://stnfrdstatic.com/2012/06/05/its-time-for-us-to-grow-up-collectively-organize-and-fight-back-protecting-xox-and-yourself-from-stanfords-era-of-infantilization/

  • AntiSlice

    A few comments in response to yours. I’m assuming you’re being earnest here and I hope I’m not feeding a troll.

    In no particular order:
    – Please reread your statements about Jane Stanford’s insistence on nondenominational services and Memorial Church’s usage for the Dalai Lama’s speech. That’s about as non-denominational as it gets. But if you’re upset about MemChu being used against her wishes, complain about the Catholic services held there.

    – The printing of comments on the XOX articles is not the point. The point is that this university, that I assume you attend(ed), given the level of emotion you’re displaying, this university is taking away the agency of its students in bits and pieces. This has nothing to do with the politics of the professors. Look at the administration as government. They are taking control away from what was essentially small businesses. I’d think that would fit in quite well with your worldview.

  • AntiSlice

    It’s pieces like this that almost make me glad I graduated and don’t have to deal with the bullshit that is Stanford’s administration.

    Luckily, I *can* ignore all their pleas for money and only donate to the pieces I care about.

  • pol_incorrect

    - Nondenominational meant, in the context during which Memorial Church was built and so is reflected in Jane Stanford’s own life and actions, a non denominational CHRISTIAN church. Memorial Church has unequivocal Christian symbols everywhere; you’d need to be blind not to see them. So if Jane Stanford’s will was that Memorial Church be used for non Christian services, she forgot to tell anybody, write down her intentions in writing or decorate Memorial Church in a way that other faiths would see their symbols represented. Instead, what you have in Memorial Church is one of the most beautifully decorated Christian Churches in the Bay Area.
    It’s the Board of Trustees of the sixties that perpetrated the travesty of allowing it to be used for Dalai Lama Kumbayas and the like (the Trustees that served during the sixties and after perpetrated other travesties, but that’s a different matter).

    – Second, yes I graduated from Stanford. The whole point of my comments has been that this whole outrage about XOX is just a reflection of the shallowness of the current student body. Appealing to the Stanfords’ intentions on this matter is cheap and petty because if those intentions were a prime concern of students, they would revolt about the matters of substance with which liberal professors brainwash students everyday on campus; matters that are in direct contradiction with the type of education, and citizenship values, that the Stanfords had in mind for the university’s students. Instead these “elite students” revolt about irrelevant stuff. I think that this whole affair just shows the caricature that undergraduate education, in the sense of an education intended to create responsible citizens, has become at Stanford.

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