As you flip through the pages of this edition of The Daily, you should come across an article discussing an item known as the “refund rate.” We ask you to not immediately move on. If you have the time, read the piece, because you will gain a greater understanding of one of the least-understood, and most-important, aspects of Stanford student life.
Buried under bylaws and sub-paragraphs in the governing documents of the ASSU lies the refund rate. Every year, students vote in the spring ASSU election on whether or not to provide special-fees funds to voluntary student organizations (VSOs). A self-imposed tax on campus voters, special fees are charged to each and every one of our tuition bills under the heading “activities fees.” They pay for the workings and survival of 50 of the largest student groups on campus. (The Daily is one of them.) But this is not nearly the end of the story.
Not only are you able to vote on whether or not a student group should receive student funding, but you have the option at the beginning of each quarter, for a concise period of time, to go online to refund.stanford.edu and refund your portion of those student groups’ budgets. In effect, if you are to vote to fund a group, you can negate, or refund, your vote later. But if you do so, those student groups are then entitled to deny you the services they otherwise provide to the campus writ large.
If you do not fully understand the above paragraphs, do not worry too much. You are in good company. A great many student group leaders and elected officials, the individuals charged with engaging in this process, haven’t the foggiest as to how the system works. Even the editorial board, with a whole host of experiences across campus, could not explicate fully all the intricacies of special fees and the refund rate. This is a major problem.
What we currently have at Stanford is a convoluted and problematic system that is understood by a select few individuals, which only compounds the fundamental institutional issues.
The editorial board believes it is incumbent upon student leaders in major VSOs, as well as the halls of elected office, to better explain what exactly the special fees and refund process is and how it affects undergraduate life on this campus. While we acknowledge the financial town hall the Undergraduate Senate recently held, the Appropriations Committee still exists largely independent of the average Stanford student. Almost all of the information about elections, budgets and refund rates exists as public information online, and as a campus community we must individually educate ourselves about the process, but we need elected and supported leaders to help synthesize these matters.
Furthermore, the editorial board urges the ASSU and Stanford Student Enterprises to take a deeper look at the special fees process itself. While the board was not unanimous on the specific issue, it had a deep discussion about exploring the possibility of doing away with the refund process. Nowhere in the real world will you find a place where you can negate your vote later. By doing away with the refund rate, your vote in the spring election would carry with it a greater level of weight. Responsible student groups should be able to demonstrate their worth over the course of seven months, and students must pay greater attention to what exactly their vote means.
There are no simple fixes to what is a major factor in the world of student life, and this is not a black and white issue. But to do nothing is not only irresponsible, it further impinges on the betterment of the undergraduate experience.