Op-Ed: ASSU Appropriations Committee: Reform needed

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I write today as the Director of the Stanford Project on Hunger (SPOON), a campus organization salvaging unused food from campus for the local homeless.

During the past year, I have been told on the floor of the Senate that it is not a “soup kitchen where groups can come back again and again for more money.” Not only are these comments inappropriate (especially since SPOON helps feed the local homeless), they represent a regrettable view about funding policies and transparency in our student government.

The ASSU Undergraduate Senate has not been supportive. Throughout the year, I have lobbied the Senate and other ASSU bodies to release their meeting minutes, post their funding policies online and hold the Appropriation Committee accountable for contradictory policies and statements.

My interest in the subject of funding policies began when two members of our group attempted to receive funding to attend a conference with monies drawn from SPOON’s reserves earlier this year. I submitted my application, talked with my advisors in the Haas Center and Student Activities and Leadership, emailed the CapGroup Funding Director and the Appropriations Committee Chairman about my plan to attend the conference and the means by which our group hoped to pay for it. Not only did our group need to wait three weeks for an interview, I only learned of relevant policies at the Appropriations Committee hearing. Something was up.

When I attended a Senate meeting to request additional funding, I was told two interesting bits of information. First, the Senate did not want to set a precedent to have “Financial Officers come here and request more money.” Second, during an Appropriations Committee report, the Chairman said his Committee had accepted only 33% of groups’ requests for funds. In 2008-2009, that figure was over 70%. While that number was surprising, more shocking was the comment added afterwards, “This means we are doing our jobs right.” This Appropriations Committee was not focused on enabling programming on campus, but instead blocking it.

I began to follow the process much more closely. I joined the ASSU Senate email list and found that a “Special Fees Funding Policies Review Session” was going to occur soon. I was personally invited to the “Review Session.” The document that came out of the meeting was sped through the Undergraduate Senate, bypassing normal week-long public comment periods. When I inquired as to why, I was informed that this Review Session was an “official meeting” of the ASSU Appropriations Committee and announced as such over the “public” Appropriations email list. So, I joined the email list immediately.

Next, I obtained the agendas for the entire year as documents of the Senate and its Committees are public records. From my analysis, it seemed that my group was not alone in lacking knowledge of these policies. The agendas of the Appropriations Committee are riddled with comments urging student groups to “READ THE POLICIES.”

Indeed, the meeting agendas, records of the groups to be interviewed at an Appropriations Committee meeting and comments by the Chair regarding the groups’ requests paint a peculiar portrait, with entries such as:

“Night Outreach to the Homeless- Not a Community Service Group”

“Does Men’s Club Soccer really need new socks for returning members?”

Dragon Boat: Those “paddles seem like part of a costume”

“UNICEF: READ THE POLICIES”

“BentSPOON Dance Company: READ THE POLICIES”

January 29th was a particularly interesting day in the life of the Appropriations Committee. It interviewed the Family Resource Desk, a service group helping patients navigate resource materials. The agenda item: “Family Resource Desk: Go away. More detail.” The Committee also interviewed the Stanford African Student Association. Agenda read: “GO AWAY! Itemize. Details. Why wasn’t this initially budgeted?” For the Pre-Law Society, it was a similar story, with the agenda reading, “Stanford Pre-Law Society: Go away. Itemize your request by line-items.”

Additionally, the Appropriations Committee directly contradicted their own policies. Interviewing the Black Student Union on January 8th and the 29th, the Committee worked with the BSU to create a budget plan for the Black History Month series of events. While I appreciate the great work of the BSU, I resent the Committee’s action at a recent Senate meeting. The Financial Officer of the BSU came to argue for $1,000 of additional funding and was granted this money after making her case on the Senate floor. Harkening back to my own experience, I was deeply surprised that the Committee had bent the rules so much for this group’s request for ten-times the amount I had requested earlier this year.

-Tommy Tobin ’10 is a a member of the ASSU Constitutional Council and the Director of the Stanford Project on Hunger

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