After becoming the only special fees group to be denied their funding request in this year’s ASSU elections, the Legal Counseling Office (LCO) — a service offered by the ASSU to both undergraduate and graduate students — faces uncertainty about its future.
Over 50 percent of the students who voted on the LCO’s petition approved the funding request. However, the total number of students voting to approve the request did not meet the minimum threshold of 15 percent of the aggregate student body.
According to LCO Office Manager Heather Kirton, the Office offers free legal advice to students. It is open for four hours twice a week, providing advice to an average of five-and-a-half students per day. On average, 126 students use the service each quarter, seeking advice on a wide range of issues from possession of alcohol by a minor to landlord disputes.
The LCO requested $133,715 in special fees during this year’s ASSU elections, a sum that would have covered the entirety of Office’s operation, including the rental of office space, payment for consulting attorneys and marketing. The last category includes advertisements in the Stanford Unofficial Guide, dorm flyering, an ASSU website page and a Facebook page.
“We probably should have made a better effort [to campaign for special fees], but when you’re approved more than 20 years in a row and you get people that come in and thank you for the help and appreciate the service, you just assume that at least enough people will vote,” Kirton said.
According to Senator Viraj Bindra ‘15, there are no current plans to find alternate sources of funding for the LCO through the ASSU Undergraduate Senate.
“I definitely see [the LCO] as an incredibly valuable resource, and I think we should find some way to keep it or the ASSU should provide it with funding,” Bindra said. “That being said, I also do believe in the integrity of the process. If students decide that they don’t necessarily want to fund it because they don’t see value in it, we don’t have a right to circumvent that process. I’m really torn on the issue.”
Outgoing ASSU President Robbie Zimbroff ‘12 M.A.’13 said that he wants to collaborate with the Senate on other possible ways of funding the LCO, including reserve fees or buffer funds. Reserve fees are general unspent ASSU funds, and buffer funds comprise what remains of a 10 percent and an eight percent surcharge levied on undergraduates’ and graduates’ special fees, respectively.
“This is a great case study to think about what the buffer fund and reserve fees are for,” Zimbroff emphasized, citing last year’s controversy surrounding the use of buffer fund monies to support Frost Revival and Blackfest without any clear or uniform rules to govern that spending.
In an email sent to the Graduate Student Council on Sunday, Zimbroff outlined the current funding status of the LCO. Zimbroff wrote that he and ASSU Vice President William Wagstaff ‘12 M.A.’13 will allocate the ASSU Executive’s remaining discretionary funds to the LCO’s budget. Even after that funding injection and the LCO’s reserves, a $90,000 shortfall exists from the Office’s special fees request.
Zimbroff argued that because the LCO’s history of successful special fees requests has resulted in the gradual accrual of surcharges to the buffer fund, the use of some of that funding to sustain the LCO in the year to come would be justified. He emphasized, however, the importance of considering ways to reduce the LCO’s expenses if other funding doesn’t materialize.
“My general thought is that the LCO is an important enough service to the student body that we should really strongly consider helping it out, but the question is how,” Zimbroff said. “However, what kind of precedent does it set if you bail out this group and not some group in the future that might not get joint special fees?”