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Editorial: Failure and accountability – NomCom and the future of the ASSU

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One of the central functions of the ASSU is to act as a liaison between the student body and the administration, a role exemplified by the existence of the Nominations Commission, or NomCom. NomCom is responsible for screening and appointing 40 student representatives to committees across campus, including committees to the Board of Trustees and Faculty Senate. This critical function is one of the primary mechanisms through which student voices can be heard in administrative conversations about a variety of topics from academics to judicial affairs. Yet last week, it was revealed that a NomCom for the 2012-2013 school year had never been assembled, and the ensuing crisis offers a case study on the future of the ASSU: its failures, its strengths and where it can go from here.

Let us first pause and consider the magnitude of the NomCom problem, which spans multiple generations of ASSU leadership. A new NomCom was never recruited because of the assumption that a proposed revised constitution, which reformed the NomCom process, would pass. When it never went to ballot, this assumption no longer held, and yet an interim committee was never established. The 14th ASSU Senate debated their limited options at a May 16 meeting with the ultimate decision to revive the 2011-2012 NomCom in order to fill 40 committee spots reserved for students by June 1.

In discussing the NomCom issue, we do not wish to point fingers at individual ASSU members or at the 14th Undergraduate Senate, which has only been in office for a few weeks. However, we hope that in providing constructive criticism over the Senate’s handling of the issue, we can offer a perspective on how the Senate and the ASSU as a whole can restore their credibility with the student body. Our central argument is this: Students don’t care about parliamentary procedure, nuanced debate or a Google Doc of meeting minutes. They care about results, which in the case of NomCom have extremely high stakes.

Students lack trust in the ASSU because they perceive many of its actions as self-serving, disconnected and inefficient. These claims may not be entirely accurate – indeed, the majority of the ASSU is hard-working and invested in the student body – but we do believe that they summarize the sources of student frustration. Parliamentary procedure and the rules of debate are undoubtedly important, but when students see senators arguing over bylaws instead of proposing creative solutions to a problem, the crisis of confidence continues. Much of the problem is one of perception. It may be that in debating the substance of the bylaws, ASSU senators are actively tackling the problem at hand. However, that’s not something that translates into the student body’s consciousness.

Our advice to the 2012-2013 ASSU is threefold: Focus on tangible results, communicate those results to your peers and most importantly, take responsibility for your mistakes. The first two pieces of advice are self-evident in light of the NomCom controversy: Many students were shocked to hear that NomCom, which is traditionally assembled in February or March, languished until mid-May with a June deadline looming.

The third piece of advice – admitting shortcomings – is the most important. With the NomCom issue, it seemed that every member of the ASSU with a stake, past and present, was scrambling to blame someone else. On this issue we must be emphatic: There is no shame in failure, and the “pass the buck” mentality that comes to the fore whenever the Senate, Executive, and GSC bicker is unacceptable. At every level of ASSU involvement, there is a great deal of conversation about accountability and transparency, and yet there are precious few instances in which members of the ASSU own up to their mistakes and shortcomings. Everyone has a stake in ASSU action (or inaction). It’s time for ASSU representatives to put egos aside and focus on results. Their credibility in the eyes of students, faculty and administrators depends on it.

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Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board consists of President and Editor-in-Chief Victor Xu '17, Executive Editor Will Ferrer '18, Managing Editor of Opinions Michael Gioia '17, Desk Editor of Opinions Jimmy Stephens '17, Senior Staff Writer Kylie Jue '17, Senior Staff Writer Olivia Hummer '17 and Senior Staff Writer Andrew Vogeley '17. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at [email protected]