Widgets Magazine


The veneer of Parents’ Weekend (or another critique of the administration)

While many opinion pieces of late have been written about the administration’s handling of Suites dining, food trucks and labor issues, I think it is important to highlight other administrative practices of a similar ethos. This piece will focus in on one relatively under-the-radar practice…

This Saturday, I was tidying up our house’s kitchen when two custodial workers entered to take out the trash. This was the first time I had seen custodial staff around the house on a weekend, so naturally I was a bit confused. Upon asking them why they were there, one of the ladies reminded me it was Parents’ Weekend.

Of course! NSO, reunions, Parents’ Weekend, Admit Weekend, graduation – whenever there are parents, alumni or prospective students around, Stanford spends even more money. There is better food in the dining halls, more frequent custodial service, greener grass, more luscious gardens and who know what else.

I’ve always had a negative impression of such practices. Is Stanford hiding something? Though the university is far from perfect, it is hard enough already to find faults in its superficial aspects; dining hall food is normally of high caliber, the custodial staff being absent on weekends has rarely been a problem and the campus is beautiful enough already. Why then does the administration continue to spend (read: waste) money making it appear even better?

These practices also send a message that the administration values parents, alumni and prospective students more than its current students. While we bring this campus to life nine months every year, we are less important when compared to potential sources of material gain – parents who pay tuition, alumni who donate to the university and future students who can boost the institution’s prestige. Not to say we are treated like dirt when parents and alumni are not around, but why does the university spend so much money to please people who do not go here?

Of course, this is not to say I want the administration to spend more money on superficial maintenance every other week of the year; this institution spends far too much on that already. But the costs of making Stanford appear better for five weekends every year likely runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If Stanford simply must spend that money, surely there are more worthwhile causes. Think of what the community centers could do with larger budgets. Or what about creating more service or research grants through the Haas Center, Bechtel Center or academic departments?

One might say that the costs of temporarily improving Stanford’s veneer have long-term financial benefits. Yet I highly doubt that an alumnus would donate more based on how green the grass was at her reunion or that a prospective student would choose Stanford over, say, Harvard on account of the dining hall food. In fact, deceptive practices like these only make me want to distance myself more from the university upon graduation.

I have no problem with the university displaying its better elements, such as the myriad student performance groups or the quality of its academic departments. There is a difference, though, between showcasing something that normally exists and temporarily improving amenities in order to mislead visitors. How I wish the university would stick to the former.

What other administrative practices make you cringe? Email Adam at adamj11@stanford.edu.

About Adam Johnson

Adam is a senior from Illinois. He is majoring in Biomechanical Engineering, although his intellectual interests span dozens of departments. This is his second year writing for the Daily (you may remember him from his work last year on the Editorial Board). Outside of writing, Adam enjoys acting, skiing, making music, and thrift-store shopping.
  • Solana

    My God man, you are at Stanford! It is really good you are soon to be facing the real world. Maybe you will learn to appreciate what you have had at Stanford. Any 18-22 year old would gladly change places with you! BTW, like on parents weekend, there were 3000 more people milling around. Use your brain, maybe that many extra people on campus warrants a few more people doing extra work. What a sniveling, whiny article! I will be very happy to see this years group of writers leave Stanford. Good riddance!

  • face it

    Though I like a lot of your pieces, I think you miss this mark here. You aimed either too high or too low.

    On the one hand, I can’t fault an organization’s wanting to put on its best face on special occasions, conditioned on the nature and existence of the organization in the first place. Few individuals, and probably no corporations, are willing to show their true selves, if such a thing is even knowable, on special or any occasions. And this particular occasion is good extra money for workers.

    On the other hand, if your criticism is at veneers in general, you’ve hardly scratched the surface.

  • student

    Yeah dude this one…not so much. Do you clean your room when you have guests coming over? What about if you have 3,000 guests and all of their precious little angels now live in said “room,” would you clean it? It’s not like we live in a dungeon year round and then Stanford suddenly air-drops the main quad in for admit/parents weekend. Stanford students will always find something to bitch about eloquently.

  • james

    In the past year the Stanford Daily writers have tried too hard to become relevant or create “news”. As a result this publication has lost credibility. The attitude of the Daily staff seems to be, “If we can’t attract attention with good reporting we will make up crazy accusations against the University to get attention.” It is a losing strategy if your goal is good journalism.

  • Tim

    Interestingly, I just had an argument with a friend about this same issue, but more broadly (i.e. not just regarding the excess “pristineness” on those “special” weekends throughout the year, but rather the general impeccable beauty of our campus in general.) However, where you focus your finger-wagging on the administration, I believe we as students are just as complicit in this “culture of perfection.” And, if anything, I think actions like the ones you described are indicative of the culture of elite higher education in the US as a whole.

    First, I acknowledge that cleaning up campus for PW, AW etc. is the “practical” thing to do — an argument I think some of your detractors intended here. The $ spent on campus upkeep –> $$$ from fundraising because alumni, parents etc. like to come to campus and pat themselves on the back on what a great, wonderful, paradisical university I/my son/my daughter attends/attended — an emotion Stanford has discovered leads to a lucrative flurry of wallet-grabbing. (And it’s working too. How bout that 1 billion, eh Harvard?) And money, of course, is good for students. Right? I’m not so sure. In what ways is a 112 million dollar concert hall making a difference in the lives of students? (From what I’ve heard, a grand total of like 3 student groups get to use it.)

    But how are we as students complicit? Well, we’re the ones who essentially elected to pay for it.

    In an ideal world Students would pick a university based on its academic merit, culture and extra-curricular opportunities with things like food quality and “palace like dorms” being more of an afterthought. However, in today’s market driven economy of private education, universities are forced to turn to superficial means as a way of luring students to their campuses. (Take these beautiful dorms Vandy just built for example: http://commons.vanderbilt.edu/) We students, as naive high schoolers who, to be honest, probably had very little knowledge of what we really wanted out of college and chose Stanford because of its high USNWR ranking, palm trees and the intoxicating sounds of Taiko drums on a sunny afternoon at activities fair during admit weekend. This “proliferation of amenities” certainly contributes to the skyrocketing costs of higher education and also encourages us to base our college decisions on entirely the wrong reasons. For, after being here a few years the illusion is shattered. You realize that how pristine the campus is has little bearing on your happiness (if anything, it negatively affects it) and you start wishing they’d mow the lawn a little less often and instead renovate the death-trap that is Roble Gym so there would be actually enough space for performance groups to rehearse on campus — or at least fund the groups sufficiently to begin with.

    Therefore, I think it is our responsibility to tell the university what we really want. What really makes us happy. What would really be in our best interests. Because otherwise the Disneyfication of Stanford will probably continue and pretty soon they’ll be pumping the smell of fresh baked bread in the morning through the steam tunnels… Brave New World, blah, blah, blah. I do, however, believe in the merits of Stanford, and I think it does use a lot of its money in productive ways (our excellently funded BOSP one of many examples) that directly benefit students. Therefore, as soon-to-be alumni we should be conscious of what motivates our giving. If we would have rather had more funding for our academic and extra-curricular interests, we must be more skeptical when they roll out the red carpet for our padded pockets at our five year reunion.

  • Leave of absence

    It seems like a piece of this whole puzzle is that of ownership. To whom does the school belong? Students of course claim ownership: without them the University would have no reason to exist. Parents claim ownership: their tuition money keeps the school intact and the fruits of their collective loins comprise the student body. Alumni claim at least some ownership, at least those who tire endlessly to promote the University across the globe, who give incredibly generously to the school which gave them so much. Faculty can certainly claim ownership: it is their effort which provides students with the academic experience which is at the heart of our University. Finally, administrators who have devoted their lives to navigating the bureaucracy in order to maintain and improve a level of excellence at Stanford must have their share of ownership.

    This shared ownership demands a system of shared input on the school’s direction, and herein lies the problem. With so many clamoring for contradictory efforts on the basis of their legitimate claim to ownership, how is Stanford to make any progress?

    Ultimately, for an answer to this question we must look to the prescience of NBA All-Star and icon Rasheed Wallace: “As long as somebody CTC, at the end of the day I’m with them. For all you that don’t know what CTC means, that’s ‘Cut the Check.’ ” Sit back and let Sheed’s gentle wisdom wash over you. Are you cutting the check?