By Fangzhou Liu
The first meeting of the 18th Undergraduate Senate centered around elections and the legacy of the past Senate. Elections for Senate chair, deputy chair and committee chairs took up the bulk of the time.
Reflecting on the past Senate’s handling of the Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE) financial manager appointment, the Senate also decided to nominate a second Senate representative to the SSE Board of Directors to ensure Senate oversight over the SSE. Senators also debated a bill to censure current Senator Hattie Gawande ’18 for taking a leave of absence while serving on the previous Senate, with input from the outgoing ASSU presidents and financial managers.
Senate chair election
The newly-elected Senate kicked off the meeting with a vote on the next Senate chair. Returning Senator Gawande and new Senator Shanta Katipamula ’19 contested for the role of chair, giving brief personal speeches before taking questions from the Senate and audience members. Katipamula won with a vote of 8-6, with all five returning Senators voting for Gawande and nearly all new Senators voting for Katipamula. Senator Mylan Gray ’19 also ran uncontested for deputy chair.
Both Gawande and Katipamula discussed the benefits and costs of experience serving in the previous Senate. While Gawande pointed to her work in sexual assault prevention and the bill against anti-Semitism, Katipamula said she was eager to begin a new style of outreach to campus communities.
“I talked in my campaign about making sure I’m accessible, going to dining halls, having office hours as a Senator,” Katipamula said. “[It’s] so people can say, ‘This is something I care about, what are you doing about it.’”
An added level of tension came from the tension that allegedly arose between incoming Senators and the five returning Senators.
Alluding to the concerns, returning Senator Jasmin Espinosa ’18 said, “I want to voice concern about some of the lobbying that went on this week. I’m pretty disappointed with how we went about talking to each other. In terms of wanting to push forward things, certain manipulations happened at times.”
The Legacy of the 17th Senate
While Gawande pointed to her previous work in sexual assault prevention and the bill against anti-Semitism, she also acknowledged the tensions between the previous Senate and the ASSU Executive as well as the Graduate Student Council (GSC).
Then-ASSU President John-Lancaster Finley ’16 had heavily criticized the 17th Undergraduate Senate for voting unanimously against appointing Zubair Ahmed ’11 M.S. ’13 as SSE Financial Manager, despite not participating in the extensive selection process.
Addressing Gawande during the question-and-answer round of the chair elections, Finley said, “With the Financial Manager search process last week, lots of bodies in the ASSU felt directly disrespected by some of [the Senate’s] actions, namely the [ASSU Executives] and the Graduate Student Council. We thought you treated it like a political game rather than a fair political process, and we may face a lawsuit for that process.”
Gawande replied that she regretted the manner in which the situation had unfolded, but stood by the Senate’s decision unequivocally. Both Gawande and Katipamula said that they were actively reaching out to GSC members to re-establish a productive working relationship.
Gawande also responded to criticisms that the Senate representative on the SSE Board of Directors had shirked its responsibility to take part in the selection process.
“We had problems with chairmanship in the last Senate … partially because [there was] not enough leadership experience on the former chair’s part,” she acknowledged.
Previous Senate chair Sina Javidan-Nejad ’17 had forfeited his seat on the SSE Board of Directors, which Senate chairs are appointed to by ASSU bylaws.
In response, the Senate passed a bill nominating returning Senator Matthew Cohen ’18 to serve as the Senate’s second representative on the SSE board, in addition to chair Katipamula.
In a final reaction to the previous Senate’s actions, ASSU assistant financial manager Sean Means ’18 also read a bill to censure Gawande for taking a leave of absence during the start of her Senate term. The Senate responded to her decision by retroactively changing the bylaws on expelling absentee Senators to keep her on the Senate.
The Senate voted unanimously against the bill to censure, and many Senators argued that Gawande should not have been the target of censure.
Espinosa said, “I think the target is wrong. Instead of censuring the Senator directly, I would propose that we censure the 17th Undergraduate Senate.”
She pointed out that it was the Senate itself that had voted to violate the bylaws on automatic expulsion.
Cohen also quoted another bylaw that mandated that the Senate vote on every decision, including the expulsion of Senators.
Cohen argued, “Obviously it could have turned out better, but in terms of breaking laws or rules I’m not certain we did that.”
Funding precedents and elections for treasurer
The newly elected Senate also touched on their direction for funding in the year to come. Romeo Umaña ’19 was elected Senate treasurer on the basis that he would focus on the fair use of discretionary funds.
Since the treasurer handles the Senate’s discretionary funds, Senators Mylan Gray ‘19 and Jayaram Ravi ’19 were particularly concerned with the use of these funds to help first-generation, low-income students as well as students of color.
Umaña said that his top priority is to expand and make permanent Espinosa’s initiative to get meal subsidies for low-income students over spring break this year.
“I want to look into another solution such as using buffer funds or writing a bill or resolution to get some long-term action done for people who can’t afford meals here over spring break,” explained Umaña.
The Senate also debated the Stanford College Republicans’ request for transport funding to attend a convention which would keep the club in good standing with the state organization.
Newly-elected Appropriations Committee chair Cenobio Hernandez ’18 had motioned to vote on the bill on grounds that the Senate traditionally funded groups in events that would help maintain their status as an organization.
However, ASSU assistant financial managers pointed out that the organization’s non-profit tax status prohibited the use of funds for political activity, placing the funding request in a gray area.
Senator Gabe Rosen ’19 argued in favor of funding the trip on the basis of fairness.
“We should make sure to ask, if their name wasn’t ‘Stanford College Republicans’,’ would we still be having this conversation? What if they were the Stanford Democrats instead?” Rosen questioned, while acknowledging that he was a member of the Stanford Democrats.
In view of the urgency of the group’s request, Senator TG Sido ’18 proposed that the Senate consider retroactively funding the group if the ASSU’s legal consultants decided that it would not compromise the ASSU’s tax status. However, Senators and the ASSU assistant financial managers opposed retroactive funding to avoid running out of funds, and chose to defer a vote on the bill until they had sought legal advice.
Finally, the new Senate heard an ASSU Executive bill to subsidize dues for lower-income students participating in Greek life that had been tabled by the previous Senate. They also approved funding for a newly established beekeeping student group and a Stanford Design Initiative showcase.
Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.