By Neel Thakkar
For the first time in their 40-plus year history, Stanford’s six community centers are undergoing a review and assessment by Student Affairs. The review is the latest in a string of reviews conducted by Student Affairs, which began them in 2009 with the intention of evaluating each office under its supervision.
Calling the review process “purposeful, integrated [and] strategic,” Boardman said it consisted of three parts: a self-evaluation completed by each center, a review done by an internal steering committee and finally a review done by an external committee of people chosen by Boardman in collaboration with the community centers.
“When I became vice provost of student affairs, we didn’t do a very good job with student assessment as a division,” said Greg Boardman, who took the position in 2006 and currently holds the post. “Within the departments, some were doing them, some were not.”
“For me, personally, there is always that scare when an organization gets reviewed,” said Vince Moua ’13, a staff member at the Asian American Activities Center (A3C). “Because we have received budget cuts in the past few years already, it won’t come as a surprise if we were to get budget cut, but there are a lot of programs and a lot of other things that all the community centers do that are very necessary for mental health and for the well-being of students on campus.”
The centers experienced substantial budget cuts in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn, most of which have not yet been restored. Frances Morales, the director of El Centro Chicano, said at the time that the center’s “programming and student salary budget will be reduced by 34 percent.” Additionally, professional staff at the centers saw their hours during the months of July and August cut in half.
Boardman, however, said he did not foresee more cuts to the center’s programming.
“We’re not looking to reduce anyone’s funding,” he said. “If anything, there’s a possibility of increased funding if we identify additional needs that are not being met.”
Community center directors and staff said the review was still in its early stages but stressed the importance of the services the community centers provide.
“We are constantly doing self-assessment for each of our programs,” said Cindy Ng, director of the A3C. “This is something I think the University as a whole is trying to create: a culture of assessment.”
Ng said she hopes the funding cut in 2009 will be restored as a result of the review process, describing the A3C’s role in “promoting a sense of belonging, academic success” and “educating the larger Stanford community about the Asian-American experience.”
While most of the funding the centers lost has not yet returned, the University has established other offices, like the Office of Diversity and First-Generation Programs and the Leland Scholars program, to step into roles that the community centers have usually filled. For example, the Leland Scholars program — a three-week summer immersion program for incoming freshmen from low-income backgrounds — stepped into the shoes of a smaller, three-week immersion program run for Native students by the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) that was reduced to three days after budget cuts.
“The community centers — we’ve always been very lean, in terms of staffing as well as funding,” Ng said. “While we are the face of diversity at Stanford, there can sometimes be a disconnect between the resources and the needs.”
According to Sally Dickson, associate vice provost for student affairs, the funding disparity between the community centers and the new Office of Diversity and First-Generation Programs results from the fact that the latter is funded by an anonymous donor, who provided a gift for the establishment of the office in April 2011.
“[The creation of the Office of Diversity and First-Generation Programs] doesn’t take any recognition away from the community centers, which have historically and continue to provide support to students,” Dickson said. “But why not give this population additional resources?”
Still, Dickson admitted that there were funding issues to be addressed.
“Is there a question about additional resources needed?” she said. “Yes. I’m just going to leave it at that.”
Both Dickson and Boardman declined to speculate on how the results of the review might affect the community centers.
“I have no agenda of what the future will look like,” Boardman said. “That’s what the purpose of this review is.”
Dickson hopes to have the recommendations from the review finalized by the beginning of the next academic year. In the meantime, the community center directors said they are cautiously optimistic.
“This is a new process for the whole review team, and I think everything is on the table,” said Karen Biestman, director of the Native American Community Center. “There’s too many things we don’t know yet, but I’m hopeful based on the good will and the trust and the participation so far that that’s the case.”