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Op-Ed: Holding ASSU Senate Candidates Accountable

Every year, several students decide they want to enter the world of student politics. They design platforms, they campaign, and eventually, a few of these students are selected by their peers to join the ASSU Undergraduate Senate.  The candidates campaign on platforms of sustainability, ethics reform, transparency, and a variety of other important issues. This year was no exception. Just as in previous years, several candidates campaigned in an effort to win a spot on the Senate, and just as in previous years, the students chose 15 candidates to represent them.

But this year, the election process was marred by unethical action undertaken by two of the Senate candidates.  Like many of their peers, these candidates sought and received the endorsements of several student groups on campus. Specifically, these candidates received the endorsement of GAIA, an environmental umbrella group. As part of the endorsement, the candidates agreed to run a sustainable campaign. They agreed to use pre-used paper for all of their campaign fliers.  But after receiving the endorsement, they quickly discovered they would not be able to abide by the rules and expectations put forth by GAIA – they did not have enough pre-used paper to print all of their campaign fliers.  At this point, the candidates acted in a way that was irrefutably unethical. They printed fliers on virgin paper, and included the GAIA logo on these fliers so the student body would think they were in compliance with GAIA’s rules even though they were not. This was a deliberate act of deception.  They did not inform the student body of this switch, nor did they inform GAIA. But this is only the beginning. Not only did they use new paper – they took actions to make their new paper seem like pre-used paper even though it was not. Specifically, they printed the full text of the health care bill on the back of their fliers so that students and GAIA members would think they were still in compliance with environmental regulations.  These two candidates, Carolyn Simmons and Rebecca Sachs, took actions which are clearly unethical and intolerable.  Their actions were not the products of accidental missteps or campaign negligence. Rather, their actions represent a deliberate attempt to deceive the students of Stanford. Their actions are unacceptable.

Simmons and Sachs were elected by their peers to sit in the Senate. I do not dispute that, nor do I contest their right to serve. But Rebecca Sachs campaigned on a platform of ethics reform, and Carolyn Simmons campaigned on a platform of sustainability and government transparency. Their actions, however, represent the opposite of those ideals. Their actions call into question the legitimacy of their Senatorship. Actions speak louder than words. If Senators Sachs and Simmons truly value the ideals on which they campaigned – if they truly value ethics in the ASSU and if they truly want our student government to be open, accessible, and honest, then they should step forward and acknowledge that what they have done is wrong. They should apologize to the students of Stanford, whom they deceived and showed little respect for throughout their campaigns. Further, they should promise never to take actions of this nature again. Additionally, they should champion a code of ethics upon taking office that would apply to current and prospective members of the ASSU government.

I find it particularly distressing that such unethical action can take place without students in Stanford knowing about it.   Simmons’ and Sachs’ actions were described in only one location on campus, and even then, it was displayed online only and was published only after a significant number of votes had already been cast. Most students, even aware students, still don’t know what happened. The students of Stanford deserve better. They deserve to know about any ethical misdeeds taken by Senate candidates and by Senators. To accept anything less would be to accept a corrupt and ineffective democracy.

Adam Adler ‘12

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