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Final Thoughts on Suites

This will be my final individual column on Suites Dining. (I may, however, co-author a short op-ed with Associate Dean of Residential Education Nate Boswell on the process of working together and the lessons we’ve learned.) After weeks of negotiation and discussions between Suites representatives, Boswell and ResEd Director of Operations Aaron Buzay, I am very happy to report, as The Daily did last week, that Suites Dining will remain student-run next year, as it has for the past 30 years.

In this column, I’d like to do a few things: first, clarify what exactly Suites is going to look like next year; second, outline what still has to be done before the final papers are signed; and third, offer a few thoughts on how the process has gone, and share a few brief reflections on why I think it has gone so well.

First, it is my pleasure to report that the governance structure of Suites Dining will look nearly identical to the form it has had since Suites Dining’s founding in 1982. This year’s CEO and CFO have already selected next year’s student leadership team. There will be, as there have been in past years, eight student managers (two per club) and one CFO and CEO pair to oversee all four clubs. That student leadership team will retain independent control over Suites Dining’s finances and operations to the same (or perhaps, as I’ll note later, even greater) extent that managers have exercised up to this point.

Suites Dining will also be able to rehire the current four chefs: Dennis, Caroline, Tony, and Frank. (This is something about which I am, and I think many Suites residents are, especially happy.) The chefs’ compensation levels have yet to be finalized, although they will likely be similar, and the current CEO and CFO of Suites are currently compiling next year’s projected budget. That budget, happily, will likely include the continued hiring of student hashers – another major component of Suites Dining culture. Furthermore, the budget is likely to eliminate the fiscal problems caused by ResEd’s over-allocation of student money to food by reducing the percentage of money that must be directed towards food purchases.

There will be one major change to Suites Dining’s current governance structure: the establishment of a long-term Board of Directors to oversee and provide advice to all eight managers, the CEO and CFO and the chefs. That Board of Directors will most likely include former student managers/CEOs/CFOs, current Suites residents, one or more ASSU representatives from the Senate or Exec and one University representative. (Who in particular that will be has not yet been determined.)

The Board will serve three crucial functions: first, providing a continuous body (with the same or similar membership composition each year) to be accountable for any major complaints that future Suites residents might have; second, serving as the body responsible for any major structural changes to Suites Dining’s structure or governing policies, in case those prove to be necessary; and third, serving as a communicative liaison between Suites residents and the University.

There are, to be fair, some relatively significant issues that still have to be worked out. Perhaps most seriously, there remain barriers to the efficient allocation of food and capital expenses between all four clubs. Prior to 2008, food and capital expenditures were almost entirely flexible; money could be freely moved between clubs as well as between food and non-food expenses almost at will, meaning that money was very rarely wasted or misallocated.

That flexibility is unlikely to return completely, given heightened (and often quite reasonable) University restrictions on the management of student money. But by working together with ResEd and other University offices over the next year, we hope that we can move in that direction by establishing and maintaining our own reserve accounts, rather than accounts held by the University; rendering the process of purchasing capital improvements easier and less cumbersome for student managers; and assuming greater responsibility for the training, payment and management of Suites staff and hashers.

Overall, however, I think I can honestly report that the campaign to save Suites has been almost entirely successful. I believe that there are a few big reasons for that, and I’d like to share them with you.

First, the tremendous amount of support Suites has received from the entire student body made an enormous difference. This campaign has awakened me to the remarkable solidarity that communities across campus can share when we really put in the effort – solidarity that proved essential to gaining over 2,500 signatures on a petition to save Suites, solidarity that earned a unanimous statement of support for Suites’ independence from the Undergraduate Senate, and solidarity that showed up in serious force at a protest in White Plaza. Thank you so much for the help, Stanford! We owe you one.

Second, when we speak up forcefully about things we as students really care about, the administration can and often will listen. That is a huge blessing and not one that should be taken lightly. Nate Boswell and Aaron Buzay, after enduring some pretty heated rhetoric from the student side, were happy and willing to sit down with us and work out a satisfactory solution. I’m very grateful for that, and I think they’ll be equally happy to listen the next time this type of situation rolls around. And I’d also like to sincerely thank whoever it was in the higher echelons of the Stanford hierarchy who changed his or her mind and decided to make the decision to keep Suites the way it is. Thank you so much.

And third, there is a lot of work left to be done across campus, and it will be hard work. One of the biggest lessons I took away from this whole experience is that the need for student freedom and independence reaches way beyond Suites. The last five years have brought, as I have mentioned before, a new institutional attitude toward the management of independent residences and kitchens – an attitude that tends to prioritize subcontracting, standardization and risk management over student autonomy, residential freedom and the interests of campus workers.

In some cases, that institutional attitude is entirely justified and warranted. In others, it isn’t.

I won’t be here next year – a moving-on I couldn’t regret more, as I have loved this place since the day I arrived – but I hope that, if our campaign this year did anything, it inspired future students to push back against that trend in ways that are reasonable, informed and enriched by the memory of what Stanford used to be.

This is a pretty special campus. It’s weird, quirky, and thrives on the little things – the little things that can all-too-often get ground up in the gears of administrative machinery.

Let’s keep Stanford special, and keep it free.

Miles would like to thank everyone who helped keep Suites free (that’s a lot of you!). Email him anytime at [email protected]

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