A Fistful of Dollars

If you’re reading this article and you went to Stanford last year, there’s a 50 percent chance you didn’t vote last year. Half of our student body doesn’t.

For those who don’t follow Stanford student politics, Stanford’s undergraduate Senate is composed of 15 elected senators. Each undergraduate voter has 15 votes to cast and election winners are simply the 15 candidates that receive the most votes.

In recent memory, this body elected to represent the Stanford student body is overwhelmingly composed of sophomores. Last year, no one who was a senator ran for re-election and only one non-freshman candidate was elected.

Each spring, there’s a campaign season where candidates run via an intense campaign of canvasing, endorsements and dining hall and dorm-to-dorm conversations. The endorsement process consists of various Stanford student groups interviewing potential candidates and giving a subset of this group their stamp of approval. Then, said endorsing group will spam their email list asking their community members to vote for their endorsees.

Last year, one of the biggest endorsement groups, the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC), endorsed 12 students, and every one of their endorsees won a seat in the Senate. Though personal campaigning gets your name out, one of the most effective ways to get elected is to get endorsed.

Last year, 3,420 undergraduates voted out of a 6,678 undergraduate potential voter pool: that’s a 51.2-percent turnout.  Freshmen vote the most and election turnout gets progressively worse as students grow older. At the end of the spring election season, 15 students become officially elected senators.

The Senate’s power comes from the purse: They approve funding for students groups and events on campus. The ASSU provides funding for over 500 volunteer student organizations (aka student groups). The secret about ASSU funding is that there’s more money available than actually gets distributed to Stanford student groups just about every year.

Because Stanford is excessively wealthy, our student government can liberally finance student groups. The Senate can dole out up to $6,000 dollars per student group through general fees, and we gave out close to $2.5 million dollars in last year’s special fees.

This quarter, our current Senate is looking to give $50,000 dollars away in the Winter Grant Program, money they hope will create new events for Stanford students during the somewhat dreary winter quarter. Last month, the Senate passed the Senate Innovation Fund, which allocates “$3,000 to each elected Senator.” According to the Senate’s Spartan WordPress website, “Senators are ‘hereby charged to spend their Innovation Fund to make a meaningful difference in the undergraduate community,’ meaning that they are able to sponsor events, projects and initiatives of individuals and groups at their own volition.” The Fund was created last month and has an annual budget of $52,000 dollars.

As stated on their website, “each Senator has $3,000 in their pocket to give you, the Student body.” The Senate Innovation Fund’s page also states, “There is no funding process each Senator is free to fund whatever they deem is appropriate to their personal or the campus’ collective goals.”

In effect, the Senate Innovation Fund sounds like the Senate passed legislation to give themselves $3,000 dollars of personal discretionary spending. Dear senators, just because your face stared at me whenever I went to the bathroom in my freshman dorm doesn’t mean I consented to this amount of money being arbitrarily allocated.

I know several of the current senators and like them, but they certainly aren’t representative of Stanford’s student body: Nearly all of them are in the Class of 2016. If freshmen are the only students who vote, the Senate next year will, again, consist of mostly sophomores.

Engage in your political process, people. Last month, the Senate essentially created a committee to give themselves (and hopefully us) more money. If you’re interested in huge amounts of free cash, you should meet your representatives, figure out the bureaucracy and apply for the funding. Involving yourself in the process as a whole will help enforce proper standards of accountability and make sure that the ASSU doesn’t serve as senators’ personal piggy banks.

 

Contact McKenzie Andrews at andrews7@stanford.edu

About McKenzie Andrews

McKenzie Andrews writes as an opinions columnist for The Stanford Daily. Originally from Nashville, McKenzie is a sophomore pursing a B.A. in Economics. She interns at the Graduate School of Business, serves as the Financial Officer for a Christian student group and competes with the traveling Model United Nations team. She covers global and local issues that affect the Stanford student body.