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Editorial: When the ‘wind of freedom’ falters

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We share the disappointment of the Chi Theta Chi Alumni Board, expressed in a clear and compelling op-ed, in the University’s decision to not renew XOX’s ground lease, effective this year.

Moreover, we feel that the decision is part of a broader, systematic effort by Residential & Dining Enterprises and the Office of the Vice-Provost for Student Affairs to bring Stanford’s many and diverse housing and dining options under increasing levels of centralized control. This is an effort that threatens to permanently undermine this University’s long-standing traditions of student independence.

Student self-reliance has always been a hallmark of a complete Stanford education. Leland and Jane Stanford explicitly endowed a university grounded in the freewheeling spirit of the West, intended not simply to mold its students into fine thinkers but into men and women of action and vigor — in their words, “to qualify students for personal success and direct usefulness in life.”

From the days when students served as ushers at football games to help pay their way through school to the age-old custom of student hashing in the kitchens, independence and hard work have animated generations of Stanford students.

This is an independence that continues to manifest itself in the high levels of trust this University has long vested in us, the student body. From campus alcohol policy, which has effectively allowed students to drink while underage as long as they do so responsibly, to the wide latitude granted students searching for a major (you can choose from interdisciplinary majors offered nowhere else, and even make up your own), to its pioneering approach to coed living arrangements, David Starr Jordan’s “College of the West” has long trusted us to make responsible decisions and handle our personal lives with minimal interference from above.

This is changing.

In 2011, R&DE began to clamp down on the Row, citing a desire “to bring the Row program closer in line with the rest of the University” and an intent  to “increase oversight of all operational and financial activities in ResEd.” House dues were standardized, social dues were rerouted through students’ University bills rather than house financial managers, and vendors began to be paid through the University-administered Row Central Office rather than by individual FMs.

Also in 2011, R&DE began to exert increasing levels of control over the Suites Dining Societies on West Campus, flying in the face of 25 years of competent student management. Administrators threatened  to replace experienced student-elected management with expensive outside vendors (including a contracting company headed by the brother-in-law of ResEd assistant director Zac Sargeant), acquired control of Suites residents’ board bills and their distribution, forced cuts in pay to student hashers and placed the jobs of long-serving chefs in jeopardy. These changes significantly raised overhead costs for student management and created unnecessary inefficiencies for both Suites residents and staff.

So far this year, in addition to the XOX debacle, the University has threatened to paint over the community murals at Columbae and imposed an authoritarian ban ban on hard alcohol — even for students over 21 — during the summer session.

We could go on at some length, but the story is the same everywhere: more standardization, more centralization, more homogeneity. XOX is only the latest casualty of what appears to be a comprehensive plan to mitigate University risk at the expense of the student experience.

We believe this is a larger problem than Chi Theta Chi. We encourage anyone who is concerned about maintaining diversity and independence in student housing and dining to support XOX.

But we also encourage XOX residents and supporters to recognize that their problems with University administration are not unique; they are part of a broader pattern that requires broader solutions. And some of this communication failure must lie on their shoulders. The residents of XOX have failed to show the broader community that their situation is merely a fiber in a larger cloth. They have alienated many of the very groups they should be reaching out to for support.

Comments on stories featured on this website decry a Stanford where students, “work on startups that we’re only interested in because they could make us rich, and justify it all as hip Bay Area individualism and have wet dreams about becoming the next Mark Zuckerfuck.” They label R&DE’s decision as a, “chimeric triumph of capitalism, a debilitating and isolating overemphasis on sticking it alone, which is precisely at odds with the cooperative spirit of Chi Theta Chi.”

Another comment reads, “Our administration won’t be happy until every student is a fucking start-up obsessed facebooking premed drone who quietly finishes their degree with all A’s and then goes on to pour their corporate paychecks into the alumni donation coffers.”

And another, written by former XOX resident Peter McDonald, reads, “Yeah bro, who needs community when you’re making THIS MUCH MONEY, amirite business school? Econ majors? Startup bros? I mean seriously, have you seen how much money Stanford is making? I’d gladly spend all four years in a sensory deprivation chamber if it meant I got to make THAT MUCH MONEY coming out. Money is so awesome!”

XOX’s most vocal supporters deride and alienate anyone who is interested in starting his or her own company, other co-ops that promote alternative cultures, students who want to get all As on their transcripts and anyone who doesn’t inherently dislike money and capitalism. That’s too large a chunk of the student body to chew out, especially when you should be building bridges instead of burning them.

Whether we are econ majors or dedicated artists, residents of Chi Theta Chi or Crothers, we all have an interest in defending the diversity and independence that have long made the Stanford experience unique. On this issue we stand and fall together, and we should work together to solve what has now become everyone’s problem.

It may be too late to save Chi Theta Chi. But this will not be the last erosion of student independence. Whether you are a member of a Greek community increasingly restricted by unfair policies, a freshman who can no longer bring alcohol to your friends’ dorms or part of a student government that must increasingly fight the University bureaucracy, we must all speak out against infringements on student independence, wherever they are found

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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]