First I would like to thank Edward Ngai for his column yesterday on the ASSU and its problems (“Wildly self-actualizing next year’s ASSU,” Feb. 28) . As petitions start floating around, it is hard for me to accept that it was an entire year ago that I first contemplated a run for the ASSU Senate, and have been proudly serving the student body since April of last spring. While I cannot speak for the Executive, I believe it is important for the Undergraduate Senate to be clear about its functions and place in the University.
The Senate serves the student body in two main ways: appropriations and advocacy. The Appropriations Committee of the Senate handles hundreds of budget requests and modifications each year from student groups big and small. As the gatekeepers of student money, we closely adhere to our funding policies and openly publish our spending tracker to keep student groups and ourselves accountable to the students.
This past month, the Senate has been moving efficiently to advise and approve over 60 Special Fees budget requests, which will appear on the spring election ballot. While not glamorous or headline-grabbing, senators spent hours each week scrutinizing budgets line item by line item in order to make sure each dollar of student money is spent correctly.
Advocacy is a general term that encompasses everything else the Senate does. Whether it is speaking to Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR) through the Academic Affairs Committee about improving peer and pre-major advising, or expressing support for the residents of Chi Theta Chi through the Advocacy and Student Life Committees, senators together and individually work behind the scenes to assist students.
I will be the first one to tell any of you that the Senate has its limitations, and many objectives that my colleagues and I set out during our campaigns to achieve have not been actualized due to administrative hurdles, overlapping efforts and existing institutions but we strive to listen to the students, reflect their opinion and hold the Executive, as well as other branches of student government, accountable.
This past year, among many other things, the Senate held feedback sessions with the Study on Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES) study group and Judicial Review panel, made possible two Stanford spring traditions (Spring Fling and Blackfest), and expressed support for the California Dream Act and peaceful protests against the University of California police departments. Where we as a body deemed it in our constitutional scope to express broad student opinion, we did.
But I will also acknowledge some of the missteps that Ed rightly pointed out. In this connected age, it is indeed regrettable that our website and Twitter feeds are not as active and accessible as students would expect and like to see. There were multiple hurdles to getting the website up and running last quarter, and we are working hard to update the materials. Our Communications Committee is committed to expanding the Twitter presence in the near future and updating the website in the next week. In the meantime, all of our previous bills, minutes, agenda, and other documents are all available to the public on the website.
In the end, ASSU self-actualization has to be a two-way exchange. While the Senate as a whole can improve its online presence and physical outreach, and I for one would love to meet with anyone to speak about our work, students who are concerned and interested have the ability to do so. Our weekly meetings on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. in Nitery 209 are open to the public, and as seen by yesterday’s attendance by the Chi Theta Chi house and students concerned about specific bills we were discussing, our weekly meetings can be a forum for student feedback and interaction.
This week, my colleague and I drafted a one page Senate 101 aimed at expressing the basics of what the Senate is and its committees. This is one of many ways we believe we can better reach students, and as the petition and election season goes under way, I strongly urge any who wish to know more to seek out any of us to express your concerns.
Ian Chan ’14