ASSU Senators argue for relevance

At its Nov. 13 meeting, the ASSU Undergraduate Senate discussed plans for improving the Senate’s transparency through a new website that will provide updates on Senate activities and a summary of the body’s duties.

The website was developed by Student Life Committee Chair Viraj Bindra ‘15, who predicted that it would be fully functional by the beginning of winter quarter. Bindra said his two main goals in updating the website were to make it easier to navigate and to centralize Senate documents and information. The website is scheduled to have meeting minutes, information about the Senate, current issues, funding processes and summaries of the ASSU Constitution and bylaws.

“The main aim is to fully commit and see through our promise of increased transparency by allowing the student body to see what any committee on Senate is working on at any given moment,” Bindra said.

Part of the discussion surrounding increased transparency was sparked by The Daily’s recent editorial encouraging the dissolution of the Senate. While most senators agreed with some of the frustrations expressed in the article, they also defended their work.

“I disagree with the statement that the Senate does not serve a purpose and that it should be dissolved,” Bindra said. “There are a lot of things that we are doing that have a lot of impact.”

Bindra referenced efforts by Senator Shahab Fadavi ‘15 to establish a need-blind financial aid policy for international students and his own work trying to get more practice space for student musicians as examples.

Though Bindra admitted that he was “bitter” when he first read the article, he encouraged senators to look at the article’s suggestions objectively and not read it as a personal attack.

“The article was looking at the Senate as an institution and not the people,” Bindra said. “There were some very relevant things in there.”

However, Senator Anna Brezhneva ‘15 took issue with the editorial’s statement that the Senate is not representative of the student body.

“For how much 14 people can represent Stanford, we do a good job,” Brezhneva said. “There is a lot of diversity going on in this room.”

Appropriations Chair Nancy Pham ‘14 disagreed with the Editorial Board’s characterization of funding bills as “meaningless.”

“These bills are what fund almost everything that happens on campus,” Pham said. “It may seem boring and dry to look at applications over and over but it’s something that’s necessary and it’s an important part of what we do.”

Senator Janhavi Vartak ‘15, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said that while funding bills may seem “really dry” by the time they get to the general Senate meetings, the Appropriations Committee puts in a lot of effort getting them to that point.

“In appropriations we are looking at every dollar, every bill, every line. We are really thorough,” Vartak said, adding that appropriations meetings can “get intense.”

Vartak suggested that the Senate’s new website should include a list of the student groups that were granted funding at each week’s meeting so that students can see how the Senate is allocating money.

Pham said that the Appropriations Committee met with ASSU Assistant Financial Manager Stephen Trusheim ‘13 to discuss possible uses for the Senate’s buffer and reserve funds.

In particular, the committee is interested in creating a grant for general fees groups that would like to request more than $6,000, which is the current maximum. According to Pham, many groups that sponsor events that cost between $6,000 and $10,000 don’t apply for special fees because of the effort involved in campaigning. The new grant would allow these groups to obtain this funding from the reserve or buffer funds, which currently hold about $1.2 million.

“The money just accumulates in there. We want to use it in a way that benefits students, instead of letting it just lay there,” Pham said. “We thought this grant was a really good idea because it would hold anyone who is requesting this large amount of money accountable for an event that is supposed to promote undergraduate student life.”

The Senate also passed funding bills allocating $15,548 to student organizations from general fees and $30,637 in budget modifications for special fees groups, including two budget modifications for the Asian American Student Association that totaled $28,937.

About Justine Moore