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The GAO Report: An Open Letter to the University

My weekly columns in Volumes 236 and 237 of The Daily have been underpinned by the concept of shared governance, where we, the students have an active input in shaping the University’s decision making. As important stakeholders in our University’s governance, we have a responsibility to improve Stanford for the sake of our own time here, but also to leave the Farm a better place than we found it. So, as the year ends, I would like to summarize what I think are the most important issues:

Undergraduate Education

Now that the worst of the budget cuts crisis is over, and given the largely optimistic assessment offered by the provost in his annual budget presentation to the Faculty Senate last week, Stanford can once more focus on strengthening the core and distinct elements of undergraduate education. Opportunities like Introductory Seminars, Sophomore College, research grants, study abroad options and Stanford in Washington are highlights of the academic experience, helping to cultivate faculty relationships and stimulate new intellectual interests and advanced scholarship.

The current framework of pre-major advising is adequate. Rather than making cosmetic enhancements like “Major’s Nights,” the University needs to create incentives for tenure track faculty to serve as advisors for freshmen and sophomores. While professional staff members can play a role, nothing can replace direct interaction with experts in the field. Additionally, individual departments in collaboration with VPUE should offer comprehensive non-professional schools advising, particularly for students interested in pursuing MA and Ph.D. degrees in humanities and social sciences.

In terms of General Education Requirements (GERs), the Study on Undergraduate Education needs to take a long and critical look at Introduction to Humanities (IHUM) and the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR). After years of so–called “reform,” manifested in “Open Houses” that adds nothing except to endorse the status quo, these programs require serious structural change. On a campus dominated by science and engineering, humanities are relegated to obscurity in classroom and campus discourse. The curricular shift away from Western Civilization and the classics will frankly produce a generation of future elites utterly ignorant of the foundation of Western literature, philosophy and politics.

Admission and Financial Aid

Stanford needs to invest in international need-blind admissions to truly realize its role as a global university and its internationalization agenda. Although it is a part of the Stanford Challenge, the University needs to reprioritize fundraising efforts to ensure that non-U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents can access a Stanford education regardless of their financial backgrounds. With an already lower percentage of foreign undergraduates compared to Ivy League peers (six percent vs. 10 percent), Stanford is lagging behind our peers. The current practice of rejecting many compelling candidates who would be admitted if their ability to pay were not a consideration diminishes Stanford’s ability to attract the world’s best talent. Furthermore, it jeopardizes Jane Stanford’s directive that the University serve as “an avenue whereby the deserving and exceptional may rise through their own efforts from the lowest to the highest station in life.”

Residential Education and Housing

The mission of Residential Education(ResEd) and its manifestation needs to be thoroughly evaluated. The overwhelming programming in freshman dorms under the guise of “community building” that stifles individualism and enforces ideological conformity needs to be eliminated.

Despite the progress made in housing-student relations due to “unstuffing” of undergraduate residences, the recent mishap in assignment process that resulted in many row house staffers next year being deprived of their single has caused the eruption of new tensions. ResEd: seriously, get your act together. Students: stop being so helpless. Do not just sit there and let your God-given right to a single be stripped due to sheer incompetence of bureaucracy. Agitate, unionize and strike!

The most significant barrier to ensuring legitimate student participation in University decision-making and the realization of the above goals is one of our own making. Certainly, there is a structural component. Instead of championing pragmatic academic and student life issues, vocal interest groups dominate the student government, pushing forward a narrow agenda that has questionable overall benefits but is nevertheless implicitly endorsed as result of the oppressive culture of political correctness on campus.

This really should be an open letter to my fellow peers. If the notion of good stewardship and shared governance do not appeal to you, then consider the $50,000 a year you pay in tuition and board. The value of our money gives rise to the expectation that we deserve to receive a high level of service from Stanford. So, be engaged with campus news. Be assertive when dealing with administrators or applying for programs and funds. Be proactive in making Stanford the experience you want it to be.

Shelley Gao ’11 loved being a columnist. But, she loves Stanford even more. Contact Shelley at sxgao@stanford.edu.

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